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  • Writer's pictureDr Abrar Hussain

Suicidal thoughts

Updated: May 3, 2021

It is not easy to estimate the prevalence (how common they are) of suicidal thoughts in the population and they are probably more common than we think.

Why do people get suicidal thoughts?

Suicidal thoughts can be experienced during periods of extreme psychological distress. They can be triggered by traumatic events. They can also happen in the context of mental health difficulties such as depression. The intensity and frequency of the thoughts vary from person to person. Sometimes they can be fleeing and transient but at other times can be persistent and consuming.

What are the risk factors for suicide?

There are some ‘static risk factors’ including male gender, family history of suicide, marital status and past history of attempted suicide. Additionally, there are ‘dynamic risk factors’ in the form of active mental illness (depression), substance misuse, psychosocial stress and unemployment. A risk assessment involves a detailed assessment of these factors and the current mental health of the person. The level of risk of suicide can change depending on the dynamic factors, other life events and the support network available for the person.

How can suicidal thoughts be safely managed?

It is important to get professional support and treatment for suicidal thoughts. This can be in the form of seeing a psychiatrist, psychologist, counsellor or any other professional trained in mental health. Developing internal resources and coping strategies are important, these can include using meditation, breathing techniques and other strategies learnt in therapy. External resources are also important and include initiating and maintaining social connections, membership of groups/organisations that foster connectedness and distraction strategies. Treatment of the underlying condition (depression) is important.

How can you support someone who is suicidal?

It can be helpful to allow them time and space to talk about their thoughts. Discussing suicidal thoughts does not increase the risk of suicide. Being listened to can feel supportive and empowering. Identifying protective factors (family, friends, events) can be helpful and encouraging them to seek help is crucial. Sometimes practical strategies like removing access to medication can help. It is important to remember that suicidal thoughts are likely to reduce or completely go away with support over time and this message can give hope to the person experiencing suicidal thoughts.

What support is available for people who experience suicidal thoughts?

People who experience suicidal thoughts can seek help from their GP, local A&E department or contact NHS 111. If there is immediate risk, emergency help can be accessed by calling 999. If patients are already under the care of a mental health service, they may have the contact details for the local mental health team and/or the mental health crisis team. In addition to the above, there are a number of charities that support people with suicidal thoughts. Samaritans (contact number 116 123) and Shout (text number 85258) provide 24/7 support and are trained in helping people with suicidal thoughts.

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