According to the Samaritans Suicide Statistics Report 2017, there were 6,188 suicides in the UK and 451 in the Republic of Ireland in 2015. But according to the NHS, the number of attempted suicides is much higher.
These figures may be a surprise to some people. This could be because suicide is often not reported in the press - and for a very good reason. Suicide contagion can be described as when suicide becomes 'contagious'. Indeed, there are numerous examples where news of a suicide triggers more people to take their own lives.
Indeed suicide is more common than many people may think. Yet suicide is preventable. If you're having thoughts about taking your life, talking to someone and asking for help can help those feelings to pass. And if you suspect someone you know is at risk, encouraging them to talk about what's troubling them - without judging - can make a huge difference.
How to help yourself
If you've having suicidal thoughts, try to remember that they won't last - like all other feelings, they will disappear in time. Here are some practical tips from the mental health charity Mind that may help make them go away more quickly.
If you're thinking of harming yourself, find something that will help you cope, such as:
- Holding an ice cub in your hand until it melts
- Tearing something up into hundreds of pieces
- Taking a very cold shower or bath
Also try taking long, deep breaths - breathe out for longer than you breathe in, as it can help make you feel calmer. Focus on your senses by thinking about what you can smell, taste, touch, hear and see - it can make you feel more grounded. Go outdoors to feel the sun or wind on your skin if you're feeling numb or disconnected from your body, and resist the idea of taking drugs or alcohol, as this will just make you feel worse.
Challenge your thoughts
However bad you're feeling, try to make a deal with yourself that you won't act on those feelings today. Try to think of things you could look forward to, and make plans to do something you enjoy very soon. Then do something nice for yourself - even something small like watching your favourite film or TV show. And keep telling yourself you can get through this.
If you need help to get through the next five minutes, there are lots of suggestions at lifelineforattemptsurvivors.org.
But most importantly, speak to someone about how you're feeling. Your GP is a good person to start with, as family doctors are used to listening to patients who are experiencing difficult feelings. They can also suggest treatments that may help, such as counselling or psychotherapy, or medication that may help you cope.
If you feel you can't speak to someone you know, call one of the organisations listed at the bottom of this page. Or try Elefriends, a supportive online community set up by Mind where you can listen, share and be heard.
How to help someone else
There are many signs that may suggest someone is thinking of taking their own life. If you're worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, listening to them is arguably the best way to help. Try to encourage them to open up about their feelings - ask them open questions (questions that provoke more than a 'yes' or 'no' response), such as 'How are you feeling?', or 'How do you feel about…?'.
Samaritans has compiled a guide to starting difficult conversations for those who are worried about someone and don't know how to tackle the subject. The charity's tips include the following:
- Find a good time and place
Choose somewhere the other person will feel comfortable at a time they can talk
- Ask, don't tell
Ask questions, and don't tell them anything (telling doesn't help). By asking questions you're helping them to find their own answers. Asking open-ended questions is also more helpful as it encourages them to talk through their problems instead of saying 'yes' or 'no'
- Ask how they feel
If the person you're talking to tells you the facts of what's happening and why, remember to ask them how they feel about it too. Being invited to reveal their feelings could be a big relief - and you may find out more about what they're really worried about
- Don't push them
It's natural to want to help people who are suffering and give them advice. But if they don't want help, try not to put any pressure on them. Encourage them to think of their options, but let them decide what they want to do. Try to be there for them in other ways, such as giving them help with practical matters
- Look after yourself too
Talking to others about their problems and worries can also have an affect on you. So when you're trying to help someone, make sure you make time for yourself to do the things you like doing, and if necessary find someone you can confide in. Try to avoid taking other people's problems to heart so much that you start feeling down yourself too
Where to get more support
Whether you're having thoughts of suicide yourself or you're trying to help someone you're worried about, besides your GP there are lots of sources of help available:
Call 116 123 any day, any time. If you prefer to express your feelings in writing, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
CALM is a resource for young men who are feeling unhappy. Call the helpline on 0800 58 58 58.
This voluntary organisation aims to support young people thinking about suicide and those who are concerned about a young person. Call 0800 068 41 41.
The SANE mental health helpline responds to 15,000 calls each year. Operating from 4.30pm to 10.30pm every day of the year, the helpline can be reached on 0300 304 7000.
A LGBT+ helpline, this is open from 10am to 10pm every day. Call on 0300 300 0630.
If you feel you're at risk you can also contact your GP for an emergency appointment or call NHS 111. If you need immediate help you can go to any hospital A&E department or call 999 and ask for an ambulance.
You can also talk to our trained Support Officers whenever you need emotional support. Our services are free, confidential and available 24/7. Call us on 0800 107 6163 or chat to one of our advisors online, any day or time.