Suicide is defined as the act of ending ones own life.
The Stigma of Suicide
According to the Samaritans, 6,507 people committed suicide in the UK in 2018. That’s over 500 people per month who felt that they had no other choice but to take their own life.
But, why is there such a stigma surrounding suicide? Mental health awareness is improving, particularly in the UK. However, many people still cannot understand what it’s like to feel unable to carry on with their life. This is likely to be where the stigma comes from: lack of understanding and lack of education.
What Leads to Suicide?
As with all mental health concerns, suicide is complex. The reason for suicidal thoughts will differ from person to person, but there are common factors that increase a person’s vulnerability:
If a person is impacted by the stigma attached to mental health, substance use or suicidal ideation, they may be less likely to seek help, which increases their vulnerability further. According to mentalhealth.org, other societal factors include:
- Access to means of suicide – This could be that a person has access to large quantities of drugs or significant periods of time alone;
- Difficulties in accessing care, such as long delays in receiving psychiatric support;
- Insensitive or inappropriate reporting by the media, which often impacts celebrities as their lives are scrutinised as a result of inaccurate reports.
Factors described as community related include experiences of trauma or abuse. This increases how vulnerable a person is as they go through life dealing with the emotional repercussions of their traumatic experiences. Other examples include:
- Poverty – being unable to provide the basic necessities for themselves or their families greatly increase how vulnerable a person is;
- Experiences of war or disaster increase vulnerability, which is why the militaries have high rates of suicide;
- Similarly, discrimination can greatly increase vulnerability, which explains the higher likelihood of suicide within minority groups.
In human beings, strong relationships are an important part of emotional well-being. This doesn’t have to be in the form of a romantic partner or family member, though. A reliable group of friends, supportive work colleagues or even a regular care team can be important to mental health, too.
- Isolation and loneliness increases how vulnerable a person is and therefore, their risk of suicide;
- The breakdown of a relationship, like a divorce or a family breakdown, also cause increased vulnerability;
- Bereavement or on-going conflicts cause grief and lead to feelings of suicidal ideation.
Sometimes, the factors which impact how vulnerable a person is are individual, but this is not to say that the individual is in control. Mental health conditions, like depression, anxiety, OCD and PTSD can all increase risk of self-harm and suicide. Other examples might include:
- Alcohol and illicit drug use, as such substances can change the way a person’s brain functions, increasing how vulnerable a person is;
- Chronic pain can become unbearable and the sufferer may struggle to see a way out if they aren’t responding to treatment;
- Family history of suicide also increases likelihood of a person struggling with suicidal thoughts themselves.
Can Suicide be Prevented?
There is no easy way of preventing suicide as each case is individual. In order for prevention to be effective, the risk needs to be addressed. For example, a patient who has a family history of suicide may use illegal drugs to cope. These two factors will increase the risk of suicide and the prevention required will need to be multi-disciplinary. Methods of prevention may include professional support for drug use and a strong relationship with remaining family members.
A key way to prevent suicide is to reduce the stigma attached to it. By reducing the stigma, suicidal thoughts will be spoken about more openly and sufferers will feel more able to ask for support. Talking about difficult subjects, such as suicide, also makes people understand that they’re not alone.
Thoughts of how difficult life can be and how ending your life might end any pain you’re going through are normal and you shouldn’t be ashamed of feeling this way. What is important, though, is to remember that you won’t feel this way forever. Suicide is a very permanent solution to a problem that may not feel temporary but can be improved with the right support.
If you feel as though you’re at risk of acting on your thoughts, please seek help. The Samaritans can be contacted on 116123 any time, day or night. Alternatively, if you’re in crisis and are at immediate risk, call 999 or make your way to your local A&E. Support is out there. The hardest step is the first one – asking for it.