Suicide - when someone intentionally takes their own life - is a very complex issue.
What are suicidal feelings?
People feel suicidal for a variety of reasons, for example:
- Life has become too difficult or hopeless because of external events like a relationship break-up or the symptoms of a mental health problem.
- They are experiencing intrusive thoughts about suicide or hearing voices which instruct them to take their own life.
The risk of someone taking action to end their life can be made worse by heightened feelings of carelessness or impulsivity. This might be caused by symptoms of a mental health problem, such as mania, or if they have been consuming drink or drugs.
One day I came home and the only bearable option seemed to be suicide. I couldn’t take feeling this worried - Carly
How common are suicidal feelings?
It is difficult to know how common suicidal feelings are, as many people describe them in different ways and many will never ask for support. However, a recent survey estimated that around 20% of the population will experience suicidal feelings in their lifetime and 6.7% of people will take action to end their lives.
What are some of the myths and misconceptions about suicidal feelings?
Suicide and suicidal feelings can be hard to talk about because some people think they are a sign of weakness or being selfish. This can then lead to people hiding how they feel when they need help and puts lives at risk.
Some common misconceptions are:
Someone with suicidal feelings will definitely take action to end their life
If someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings, it does not always mean they intend to act on them. People feel suicidal for a variety of reasons:
- They may be experiencing intrusive thoughts or hearing voices (hallucinations) which do not reflect how they actually feel.
- They may be experiencing very low mood which they are resisting and know will pass.
Because someone tells you they’re feeling suicidal, they won't take action
There is a myth that because someone asks for help or shares their feelings about wanting to end their life, they are not serious about acting on their feelings. Some people think a suicide attempt is a ‘cry for help’ and not a genuine intention to end their life. This is both an inaccurate and uncaring description:
- Many people who take actions to end their lives want to die even if they survive and come to a different perspective later.
- Even for those who would like someone to intervene, if someone is so desperate they are willing to risk their lives, they need attention and compassion, not judgment and dismissal.
Suicide is selfish
Some people criticise the person who has died by suicide for not considering the feelings of friends and family or even strangers who are disrupted if the act has taken place in public. There is in fact a strong argument to say that suggesting someone who is suffering so extremely that they want to die should put the needs of others ahead of their own is the selfish attitude.
People who are feeling suicidal are in no position to consider the needs of others, their distress is so great. Some also describe feeling strongly that their loved ones would be better off without them.
Suicide is painless or ‘the easy way out’
People who have survived suicide attempts describe excruciating pain before, during, and afterwards. It is in no way easy or painless.
How do suicidal feelings affect people's lives?
Suicidal feelings can be something that someone experiences once or they might be something that they have to deal with on and off their whole lives. Suicidal thoughts can take over someone’s life, prevent them from maintaining relationships, doing their jobs or looking after their physical health. It is extremely stressful and frightening to consider death for long periods of time, with no hope of relief. Going about your day to day life when you feel life is not worth living is also exhausting.
Sometimes my working day feels like it's two days long, I limp through that and I then get to experience the joy of being on my own, fighting my mind, fighting anxiety, fighting alcohol dependencies and just…fighting to simply stay alive - Davy
I tried to complete suicide. I hated myself and the fact that I couldn’t hold down friendships or jobs. I felt completely broken and with the fear that I would always feel so alone and angry at myself - Eli
How can I help someone with suicidal feelings?
Talking about suicide is not easy, even for those of us who do not believe it is shameful and want to be compassionate. This means we sometimes use euphemisms or talk around the topic instead of approaching it directly. If you are concerned someone is thinking of ending their life, ask them honestly whether they feel unsafe and whether they have a specific plan.
Not only will it help you find out how best to support them, but by being direct you will be taking away some of the shame and secrecy around suicidal feelings, which can also reduce their impact.
Whoever reads this post I hope would learn not to be quiet when someone is experiencing such thoughts, and to talk to friends if they're acting different - Lewis
Listen, don’t judge
Someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts can feel a great deal of shame. If you listen calmly without making assumptions or judgments, you can help them to feel the situation is more manageable. Remember that not everyone who experiences suicidal feelings intends to act on it. It is important to make this distinction when deciding how best to help them.
He just treated me as ‘normal’, wasn't afraid to approach the subject or even make jokes about it. It's definitely made us closer, we’ve gone from workmates to real mates - Matt
Learn about suicidal feelings
There are lots of resources online which you can use to find out about suicide. This may help you to understand what your friend or family member is going through and help you to feel more confident in offering support. Try starting with the Samaritans, Mind or Rethink Mental Illness websites.
JJ and CT stood by and supported me through what, for them, must have been difficult, as I did lean on them so much - Eian
Ask them how you can help
Everybody is different and there is no one way to help someone experiencing suicidal feelings. If you want to support a friend or loved one, one of the best things to do is ask them how.
Around my last suicide attempt, I had one mate who was there for me. He is the only mate I truly trust and will open up to. He didn't judge me in any way, but just wanted to be there for me and make sure I was OK. No one has ever done that for me. I can’t even begin to thank him enough - John
Give them information about other types of support
Sometimes the support of friends and family is not enough. Letting them know about the support they can get from the NHS, private healthcare or organisations like the Samaritans, Mind and Rethink Mental Illness can be helpful.
If someone is already in touch with specialist mental health services they may be able to get support from a specific service called the ‘Crisis Resolution and Home Treatment Team’ which should exist in most areas.
If the risk of someone taking action to end their life is immediate, the quickest way to get help is to contact the emergency services, or go to a local Accident and Emergency department. The Samaritans, Mind or Rethink Mental Illness have information on what to do in an emergency.
If there is not an immediate risk, more long-term help to cope may be helpful. This will normally be a combination of psychological therapies and medication. It may also be helpful to make a ‘crisis plan’, for if someone does begin to feel unsafe.
I ended up getting hospitalised, as a result of trying to complete suicide. I felt so empty inside, emotionless yet so emotional. It was like I was fighting a battle...against myself - Jodie