To mark World Suicide Prevention Day on 10th September, Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Andy Elwood sets out to bust some of the myths about suicide.
Suicide is a big problem in modern society. To put some context around it, here are some statistics. Each week around 120 people die by suicide in the UK, and globally one man a minute will end his life by suicide. The UK is no different from other countries around the world although of the four home nations, Scotland has the highest rate of suicide followed by Northern Ireland.
In addition to these deaths, about 140,000 people present at hospital each year as a result of an attempted suicide as well. It’s difficult to be accurate about this, but that equates to about 25 times the number of people who end their life by suicide. So, it does affect large numbers of people.
Around 10% of those suicides, or attempted suicides, are work related, and the dental sector is a high-risk sector. So, people who work in the dental sector have a greater risk of suicide than many other types of profession.
The consequences of suicide are far reaching too. Research shows that up to 135 people are affected when a person dies by suicide. In terms of UK GDP the cost of a death by suicide is more than £1m. So, aside from the huge emotional toll it takes on those who knew the person, there is also a tangible financial cost to suicide.
Debunking the myths
Raising awareness of the fact that suicide is not inevitable is a major part of World Suicide Prevention Day. It is the leading cause of death for people aged under 35 in the UK. However, the group most at risk of suicide is men and women in their late forties.
We don’t really talk about suicide very much in everyday conversation, which means there are still a number of myths surrounding it. So, the aim here is to debunk some of the most common ones.
The first myth is that if we talk to someone about suicide, then we could be planting a seed in their mind that they might not have thought of before, and they might carry it out. That is absolutely proven without doubt to be wrong.
Talking about suicide is the best thing we can do. That’s a key message from all the work done around suicide. If you’re worried about someone, ask them directly about suicide. Let’s use the word suicide. By doing that we are being clear and showing real concern for this person. They will then realise that you have some empathy and understanding of their situation and how they’re feeling, and acting, and that you want to know more.
So, normalising the conversation about suicide starts with using the word suicide. And being clear is being kind. Talking about it and asking directly saves lives.
Someone who talks about suicide won’t do it. That is a myth as well. Talking about suicide has proven to be one of the clear warning signs. Anyone talking about death, dying, suicide, or that people would be better off without them, these are all red flags. They want their pain and suffering to end. In these circumstances, we need to be curious about things and find out more about what that person means, what’s going on for them.
Someone that attempts suicide is always going to have thoughts of suicide or feel suicidal. Not true. We know that these feelings are temporary, and they will pass. How long they last for each person is very individual. But when someone is experiencing that real urge to engage with their thoughts of suicide or a suicide plan that they may have developed, it’s been found that those thoughts last for around 45 minutes on average. So, these thoughts genuinely are temporary, and they will pass. Which means, if we can support someone through that period with some practical steps, we can make a massive difference and save lives.
If someone is thinking about suicide, there’s nothing that you can do. That’s absolutely wrong. Suicide is a preventable death, and there are steps people can take to help someone thinking about taking their own life. The first of which we’ve already covered which is talking about it and asking directly about suicide.
Most suicides happen without warning. Well, that’s just incorrect. Some may do, but generally there are warning signs. So, by having more knowledge, we can have greater understanding, and confidence to pick up on someone’s distress and be able to offer them some help.
Hopefully, by busting these myths, we can move closer to a position where conversations about suicide are normalised. Where they’re no longer taboo and we can feel more prepared to raise the subject with people around us who may be struggling.
Here are some more resources to help increase your knowledge and confidence about talking about suicide.
Andy is running a webinar for World Suicide Prevention Day on Tuesday 19th September between 12.30pm and 1pm. Join using this link.
Samaritans call 116123
Text ’shout’ to 85258
NHS 111 in Eng and Scotland; Wales 0845 46 47; N.Ireland Lifelines 0808 808 8000
More about suicide myths
Animated 5 min video from NHS Scotland to build your understanding and confidence to have a conversation about suicide.
Guide to having a conversation about suicide
Other guides/ webinars from Metal Health UK
Free App to create a support plan or support someone with thoughts of suicide
Support for those affected by a suicide
Andy Elwood is a Mental Health First Aid instructor and an ambassador for Movember. He creates safety and trust by sharing his own vulnerability and gives a unique ‘behind the scenes’ insight into life and death situations from his 20 years’ experience working in the emergency services as a paramedic on search and rescue helicopters.