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Broaching the Unthinkable: Appropriate Responses to the Risk of Suicide

According to the latest figures published by the Office for National Statistics every single day 13 people take their own lives.

In 2015 alone, there were 6,339 suicides – of that number:

  • 75% were men
  • 25% were women

The highest suicide rate was found to be among people in the 45-49 age range, with men aged 40-44 years representing the highest risk category: 1 in 4.

Women aged 50-54 were found to be at the greatest risk of suicide.

The Probate Section of the Law Society (whose membership includes specialist legal service providers such as Quality Solicitors Acklam Bond) advises that the signs to look out for include:

  • Verbal Indicators such as references to: “being a burden…” or “it won’t be for much longer …”
  • Physical Indicators such as putting affairs in order, gifting treasured items, uncharacteristic serenity (being more peaceful or eerily calm) or decisiveness in action (which can be misread as taking charge of the situation without resort to suicide)
  • Danger Indicators: previous attempts or evidence of ongoing self-harm

Reasons for suicidal behaviours can include:

  • Loss: of a loved one; of employment; of carer status or caring role; of a sense of purpose or place in the world around them
  • Poor mental health or a history of mental illness
  • Substance or alcohol abuse

Responses to suicidal indicators are hard to prescribe definitively, the current accepted wisdom is to:

  • Show genuine sympathy: “I am so sorry” can go a long way as can “I am really sorry to hear that you feel this way …”
  • Do not judge or editorialise what you are being told, it is better to say: “This must be very difficult for you” rather than “So what you’re saying is this…”
  • Do not try to solve their “problem”: do not say “You’re going about this all wrong you know, what you should be doing is…”
  • Do not assume control of the situation as this can create the very atmosphere to trigger suicide: remember collaboration is better than control. It is better to say: “Would you like me to ring your husband or wife?” rather than say: “I’m calling XYZ”
  • Do not offer false hope “Everything will be OK” but do not be afraid to assist by highlighting where support can be found (among family, friends, among designated carers or agencies that they are familiar with) or reminding them of supportive options they have had success with in the past

Professionals in this area advise to always bear in mind, that every individual is responsible for their own life.

If the circumstances are pressing but not urgent it is advised that you direct the person to express their feelings to:

  • Their GP
  • The Samaritans
  • Sanelink
  • NHS Crisis Line

If there is perceived to be an imminent danger of suicide, then professionals working in this area advise that you contact the emergency services or advise the person to attend the local psychiatric liaison service (based at the local A&E hospital or in the local urgent care centre).

Don’t assume you’re out of the woods…

The most dangerous period for suicides can be the three-month window period after the completion of an intervention such as that provided by agencies, carers and family members.

Concerned parties often dare to believe that the problem is solved, and the danger passed: but this is often the period that suicidal persons either bide their time for or in which they regress back to their initial state often with fatal results.

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