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Preventing Suicide

Every one of us can help with preventing suicide and suicidal distress. The more people involved, the better. 

We want the Government to continue to make reduction of suicide a priority but, in order to achieve more substantial improvements, to provide resources for mental health teams and places of sanctuary where people can be protected from their own destructive feelings and regain the will to live.

At SANE we have been warning for years of the increasing numbers of young people who harm themselves, as well as the worsening extent of the injuries that they inflict.

Suicide is preventable and we can all play a part. We know from our own research that as many as one in three suicides by people with mental illness could be prevented if crisis services were more effective and responsive.

There is an urgent need to increase the support available for these young people, who are at risk of becoming so desperate and exhausted they may take their own lives.

There were 5,224 registered suicides across England in Wales in 2020.

The Office for National Statistics noted that this represented a significant fall in the rate of suicides on the previous year, which it attributed to a fall in male suicides and delays in registering deaths due to the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

SANE Suicide Prevention

In spite of this welcome decline, the one great uncertainty is how the impact of the pandemic will begin to play out over the coming years, now that furlough schemes and other government support have ended, as people begin their return to the stresses and demands of “normal” life.

Moreover, many people under the care of mental health services, or who might have sought help for the first time, find it difficult or impossible to access treatment, especially over the last 18 months.

Already overstretched services have wrestled with the additional demands placed upon them by factors such as staff absence due to Covid and the lack of face-to-face appointments, which has led to drops in referrals and fewer people seen.

SANE is now hearing from clinicians who tell us that not only are the numbers of people they are seeing returning to more normal levels, but that they are much more acutely unwell, as their condition has deteriorated due to delays, often of months, before being able to begin treatment.

“I know that I would not be here today if it wasn’t for SANE. It goes back to the constant support and care that I am receiving from your volunteers.”

SANEline caller

No time for complacency

We have been, in a certain sense, under anaesthetic over the last 18 months, and the long-term consequences for the nation’s mental health are unclear. All of which suggests that this is no time to be complacent.

We believe the majority of suicides are preventable, and in SANE’s own experience, conversation and simple interventions save lives.

This is borne from our latest survey of people who use our support services, which found that over the course of the pandemic 64% said they’d experienced suicidal thoughts and feelings, and of these, 43% said these had become more acute in the last year. But 89% said that their contact with SANE had a positive impact on their mental health.

“Everyone has been lovely, and not shied away from me talking about suicide. Each person at SANE brings something different but there’s always an underlying sense of warmth, strength and encouragement.”

SANEline caller

Suicidal exhaustion

In truth, the majority of people who are suicidal do not want to die. They just find continuing as they are unbearable and are looking for a way out of the anguish they are in.

Most people we have spoken to who have attempted suicide tell us they are happy that they survived and glad to have a second chance.

Our own research into this area identified “suicidal exhaustion” as playing a key role in the decision to attempt suicide. That is to say, a person’s own lack of worth and lack of trust means difficult feelings are hidden or suppressed, possibly for months or years.

The effort required to “put on a brave face” slowly exhausts you, with no avenue to speak candidly or authentically.

This is where friends, family, neighbours – all of us – can help, by opening up an avenue for those we are concerned about, so that they may be encouraged to speak about those difficult, and potentially suicidal feelings. We should take heart in the fact that our positive intention is far more important than whether or not we get the words precisely right.

Our concern is that with mental health teams overstretched, someone who is acutely distressed to the point of suicide may not always be regarded as a medical emergency as critical as any other. We believe that if teams were given modest additional resources, and the cries for help from both patients and families taken more seriously, lives would be saved.

There is a tendency to treat suicidal behaviour as a superficial, attention-seeking problem and not as a deep internal wound. Because people are at risk to themselves, they can be regarded as less of a priority than if they are considered a risk to others.

Read our Suicide Prevention Study (PDF, 7.84MB)

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