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If you are reading this because you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts or making plans to end your/their life, you should seek help. Speak to a friend or family member or if you would rather speak to someone who isn’t directly involved in your personal life, you can contact the Samaritans 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 116 123. You can also contact your doctor or local A&E department.

What is suicide?

Suicide is the act of intentionally ending your life. A suicide attempt is made when a person is suffering so deeply that they can’t see any other option. This may be difficult for a person who is not in a suicidal depression to understand, which contributes in part to the continued stigma around suicide.

The reasons that might drive someone to want to commit suicide are usually varied, numerous and complicated. Mental health issues such as severe depression, addiction, PTSD or a personality disorder might make someone more vulnerable to suicidal thoughts and attempts. The impact of external stressors such as financial stress, bereavement or being bullied, are also reasons someone might take action to end their life.

If someone has made an attempt in the past they are statistically more likely to try again, and if they have had direct experience of losing someone through suicide, such as a family member or friend, they are also more likely to attempt suicide themselves.

Suicide is the 10th biggest killer in the world, with more men than women making successful attempts. Men are four times as likely to succeed in killing themselves as women; however in the UK women are four times as likely to make an attempt.

Warning signs that someone may be feeling suicidal:

  • Self-harming
  • Emotional instability
  • Reckless behaviour without seeming concerned about the consequences
  • Complaining of feeling hopeless, trapped, stuck, worthless, and/or that they lack purpose
  • Saying that they feel their partner/family would be better off without them
  • Substance abuse
  • Becoming withdrawn from friends, family and colleagues
  • Sudden mood swings (a sudden lift in mood after a depressive period is sometimes indicative that a person has made the decision to attempt suicide)
  • Talking a lot about death and dying
  • Researching ways to carry out suicide
  • Putting affairs in order, such as writing a will or generally tying up loose ends

suicidal thoughts and feelings

Teenagers and suicide

Teenagers are at a higher risk of suicide than any other age group and although all the advice given here also applies to them, there are some warning signs that are specific to young people, they are:

  • Uncharacteristically rebellious behaviour
  • A decline in school work
  • Disengagement from friends, family and usual activities
  • Frequent physical complaints such as headaches, tiredness and stomach aches

How do I know if I’m feeling suicidal?

This may seem like an unusual question; however it is not always clear what it means to feel suicidal. Many people think they can’t possibly be feeling suicidal unless they have made plans to end their lives, whereas others might be shocked to find a suicidal thought crossing their mind. Everyone is different.

You may feel sure that you want to die. Or you may not want to take action to end your life, but feel that you would welcome death; as though death would offer relief. You may feel that you don’t care whether you live or die and find yourself behaving recklessly. You may have a specific source of distress, or no idea at all why you are feeling the way you are feeling.

Wherever you fall on this spectrum, you should ask for help. Talking to a good friend or close family member is a good start, but you can bypass that altogether and talk to a professional if you would rather. The Samaritans are available 24/7 and you can find a therapist here on welldoing.

A therapist is a trained professional who will have experience in working with not only the many reasons that may be the root cause of suicidal thoughts - such as depression, disordered eating, addiction, PTSD, bullying, financial stress, marriage breakdown - but also will likely have experience working with people who have felt similarly to you and are dealing with suicidal thoughts. A therapist will also not be a stranger to the idea that someone does not know why they are feeling the way they are.

Talking to a therapist will help you understand your frame of mind and hopefully help you gain a sense of control over the things in your life causing you so much distress.

Myths about suicide

People who commit suicide are selfish

It is painful to lose someone to suicide, of course, and feelings of anger are natural. Unfortunately it is common that those who end their lives are judged; for leaving their loved ones behind, for giving up on themselves. Suicide is not a selfish act. A person who commits suicide most likely just wants the pain to stop, they don’t necessarily want to die or inflict pain on anyone else. A person in a suicidal mindset cannot see that there is any other option than ending their life, even if they want there to be.

People who commit suicide are severely mentally ill

Not necessarily. Though clinical depression, personality disorders, eating disorders, addiction and PTSD increase a person’s risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts, really anyone is vulnerable to reaching this severely low point, and sometimes quite suddenly. That’s why talking about suicide and suicidal thoughts openly and taking people seriously is so important.

You can’t stop someone who is intent on taking their own life

Even the most deeply suicidal person will likely still have conflicting opinions on suicide. Overcoming the instinct to survive is a remarkable feat, and many will have doubts up until the last moment. Talk to those you are worried about and take people seriously if they come to you asking for help.

People who commit suicide don’t want help

There is evidence that the vast majority of people who commit suicide approached their health services in the year prior to their death. It is always worth trying to help someone you are worried about.

I am worried about someone

If you are worried that someone you care about is feeling suicidal, there are various things you can do. Firstly, if you feel there is immediate danger of a suicide attempt, do your best to ensure that this person is not left alone.

One of the most important things you can do is talk to them, ask them how they are and listen to them attentively. It may be difficult to breach the subject, especially if the person you are worried about hasn’t come forward themselves to ask for help. But remember that just because someone hasn’t asked for help, it doesn’t mean they don’t need it, or that they wouldn’t welcome it.

People are often worried about asking someone if they’re suicidal as they fear putting ideas into their head or making them feel worse somehow; but in reality this is not the case, bringing it up and discussing it openly is often the first step in helping someone.

If you have a close relationship with this person, it might be difficult to hear that they are feeling like ending the life of which you are a big part. It is very important to try to understand that a person’s reasons for feeling suicidal might have nothing to do with their daily life, indeed there may not be any tangible, discernible reason that a person feels suicidal.

Becoming frustrated and telling the person to think about all the good things they have in their lives is not often the right course to take. There is still a stigma attached to suicide in our society, so if a person has come to you to share these thoughts and feelings try not to be judgemental or angry.

Talking openly about suicide and suicidal thoughts could save someone’s life. Most people who attempt suicide don’t want to die; they just want to stop hurting. Talking to someone can be enormously healing.

What to say to someone you are worried about:

  • ‘How long have you been feeling like this?’
  • ‘How can I best support you?’
  • ‘Did something happen to make you feel this way?’
  • ‘I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I am here to listen to you and I won’t judge’
  • ‘Have you considered getting help?’
  • Let them know you are here for them and are happy to help them find help if they need it

What to avoid saying:

  • Anything that may be considered judgmental, such as ‘You have so much to live for’, ‘What about your family and friends?’, ‘How could you think about doing that when people care about you?’
  • Taking it personally. You are not to blame and a person’s happiness or lack thereof is not your responsibility
  • Don’t suggest ways to ‘fix’ their problems. Most people want to be listened to, not reasoned with or offered practical tips
  • Avoid being sworn to secrecy. A person’s life is at risk and you may at some point need to involve other people, such as a mental health professional or family member

Should I take someone’s threat of suicide seriously?

If someone is threatening to end their life, you should take it seriously. You can offer support and help and educate yourself and this person about the best route to take. Ask them if they have a plan and check whether they have the means to carry it out. If they do, this is a sign that they are ‘high risk’ and professional help should be sought immediately, if necessary you can take a suicidal person to A&E where they will be seen by a duty psychiatrist.

However, if you are in a situation where someone is threatening suicide as a consequence if you do not do something or act a certain way then the relationship you have with this person is likely unhealthy and you may need to address your boundaries and whether maintaining the relationship is the right thing to do at this time. Read about relationship difficulties.

Someone I care about has committed suicide

Losing someone close to you is a hugely upsetting life event. You can read about bereavement here, but you may find that the usual description of the stages of bereavement don’t necessarily sum up how you feel. Losing someone to suicide is different to losing someone from an accident or natural causes. You may feel very angry that this person made the decision they did. You may feel abandoned and let down. You may feel guilty.

It can be difficult to accept that you may not have the answers to the questions running through your head; you may never know why exactly this person ended their life. You should consider getting support at this time. Whatever you are feeling, however overwhelming and confusing it may seem, is perfectly natural and you deserve to be listened to and supported.

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Last updated on 29 March 2016

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