World Suicide Prevention Day
Each year, on the 10th of September, World Suicide Prevention Day is observed by countries across the globe. It was first held in 2003, with the aim of providing worldwide commitment and action towards preventing suicides, and has been recognised every year since then. According to the World Health Organization, over 700,000 people die by suicide each year with many more people attempting suicide. It is a global issue in all regions of the world and one which is typically entirely preventable.
Suicidal feelings and thoughts vary in intensity and how long they last, most people will have experienced them to some degree. Suicidal ideation can be passive or active, and both should be taken equally seriously.
Stigma surrounding suicide
Stigma is defined as a ‘mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person’. When it comes to suicide, stigma is still very prevalent. Whilst stigma and discussion surrounding mental health has somewhat improved, when it comes to mental illnesses, disorders, and suicide, the stigma that still exists in society is shocking.
Lack of education, awareness or fear can all contribute to increased stigma surrounding suicide. It can also come from stereotypes that are often offensive, negative and inaccurate which are then ingrained in a person’s beliefs and applied to a wider group of people. Contributing to the stigma surrounding suicide is the terminology used. The phrase ‘commit suicide’ stems from the fact that suicide was considered a crime, and still is in some cultures. Even suicide attempts are punishable by law, this is mostly applicable in several African and some Asian countries. In the UK, suicide was decriminalised in 1961 and was previously seen as an immoral and criminal offence against God and the Crown.
Stigma may be subtle, but to a person considering suicide, or anyone who is not mentally in a strong place, it can have a severe impact. Consequences of stigma include:
- Avoiding treatment
- Worsening of symptoms
- Lower self-esteem
Reducing stigma surrounding suicide comes from education and increased awareness of more accurate perceptions. Getting involved in conversations to help dispel stereotypes and inaccurate assumptions and beliefs can help in diffusing stigma.
Groups at risk
Although anyone can experience suicidal thoughts and ideation, some demographics are more at risk, and have higher rates of suicide than others.
- Men are around 3 times more likely to commit suicide than women which is likely due to a complex variety of reasons including social perceptions around masculinity.
- People living in less well-off areas are at increased risk.
- Suicide attempt survivors are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts and ideations again.
- Those suffering from poor mental health, mental illnesses and disorders are at increased risk of suicide.
- The LGBTQ+ community have higher rates of suicide in comparison to the general population.
- Veterans or people suffering from traumatic life events and abuse have higher risk of suicide.
- People experiencing poor quality housing, homelessness, debt, poverty, or unemployment have increased risk.
- In an analysis covering an 18 year time period, the Office For National Statistics found that suicide was the leading cause of death for age group 20-34 between 2001 – 2018 and for males aged 35-49 between 2011 – 2015.
Prevention is better than treatment. When it comes to suicide, there is no treatment, making prevention the only option which all too often is not successful.
Suicide prevention is so much more than asking someone how they are. Prevention is early identification and assessment, it is having access to healthcare, housing, and education. It is financial stability and a sense of community; prevention is accessibility, inclusion and understanding.
Continuing to advocate for policy changes, improvements to the system and funding for resources will help prevent suicides in the future. Accessible and affordable services in schools, workplaces and communities should continue to be shared and implemented.
Sometimes all you can do is be there for someone. It can be distressing to know someone who is having suicidal feelings and being worried about them. There are some things you can do to help someone if you’re concerned about them:
- Help them implement a plan or identify support
- Encourage them to talk about how they are feeling
- Watch out for signs of distress or changes in behaviour, although this may not always be obvious
- Encourage them to seek treatment or support
- Offer emotional or practical support and ask them what you can do, sometimes all someone may need is for you to just sit there and be with them
- Remain calm and compassionate and do not overreact or become upset
- If possible, remove anything they may use to harm themselves
- Get emergency help if necessary by calling 999
It is important to remember to look after yourself as well. Unless you are trained, it can be difficult and overwhelming to support someone with suicidal thoughts and feelings and you should seek professional help if needed.
How to cope
If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts and feelings, there are people and resources available to you.
- Going to your GP to get a referral to specialist services
- Helplines, charities and listening services
- Finding support from groups who have similar experiences, this can be online or in person
- Therapy or counselling
- Emergency services if you are in crisis and unable to keep yourself safe
- Sometimes distracting yourself can help, find, and implement healthy coping techniques for when things get overwhelming in the short and long term
- Follow your safety plan if you have one
- Speak to a friend or someone you trust
Most of us will have been impacted by suicide in some way and we have come a long way in suicide prevention, but mental health should continue to be a priority. We need to do our part to reduce stigma, encourage open and honest conversations and push for further implementation of preventative measures because in this case, prevention is treatment.