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Understanding Suicide

Understanding suicide

Suicide is not inevitable and, in most cases, preventable.

Addressing the stigma and looking at the complex combination of risk factors is vital to enable us to integrate protective factors in suicide prevention strategies targeting people that research shows are at risk.

A man looks out through the window.


United Kingdom statistics

  • Every week approximately 115 people die by suicide
  • 1 in 5 people in the UK have suicidal thoughts and 1 in 20 will attempt suicide.
  • It is estimated that in England and Wales, at least 140,000 people go to hospital each year having attempted suicide
  • Suicide is the leading cause of death for people under 35 years old
  • For every life lost to suicide, the estimated total cost to the economy is around £1.67 million
  • Scotland is the country with the highest rates with approximately 1 in every 7,000 dying by suicide

Global statistics

  • One person dies from suicide every 40 seconds – more than all the yearly victims of wars and natural disaster and twice as many as homicides
  • Every year approximately 700,000 people take their own lives and approximately a million people affected
  • Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in 15-19 year-olds
  • Up to 135 people are affected to some degree for every person lost to suicide; it can devastate communities and have a lasting impact on loved ones left behind
  • 77% of global suicides occur in low and middle-income countries


Many of us – one in five – suffer from suicidal thoughts. Research shows that these thoughts can be interrupted and suicide can be prevented.

Some people experience interrelated risk factors in their homes, families, workpaces and communities. Coupled with difficult experiences, feelings and situations, it can seem to them that death is preferable to the pain and difficulty of continuing to live. Behind every death lies a tragic and unique story of insurmountable pain.

It is important to not over-simplify what could have driven someone to take their life. We should not speculate about their emotional state and we should not try to look for what went wrong or who is to blame.

Individuals who are educated, employed and have friends and family are not immune from thoughts of suicide. It does not only impact people with ongoing or historical mental health issues. Many deaths occur among those who have lived free from depression or anxiety. 

It is most likely a combination of individual, relationship, community and societal risk factors that can increase the possibility that a person will attempt suicide. You can find some examples below. 

  • Previous suicide attempt 
  • History of depression and other mental illnesses 
  • Serious illness such as chronic pain 
  • Criminal/legal problems 
  • Job/financial problems or loss 
  • Mood disorders 
  • Substance misuse 
  • Adverse childhood experiences 
  • Sense of hopelessness 
  • Violence victimisation  
  • Stigma associated with help-seeking and mental illness
  • Easy access to lethal means of suicide among people at risk
  • Unsafe media reporting of suicide
  • Bullying
  • Family/loved one’s history of suicide
  • Bereavement
  • Loss of relationships e.g. divorce
  • High conflict or violent relationships
  • Social isolation
  • Lack of access to healthcare
  • Suicide cluster in the community
  • Stress of acculturation
  • Community violence
  • Historical trauma
  • Discrimination


Some terminology and assumptions around suicide add to the weight of social stigma and shame that it carries. These stereotypes only confirm to those at risk that they are misunderstood, inadequate or alone and are more likely to struggle in silence.

Here are some of the most harmful suicide myths debunked. Click each myth to see the real facts and explanations.

Warning signs

Most people who are thinking about taking their lives exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do.

A person may be suicidal if you see a change in behaviour or the presence of entirely new behaviours. This is of particular concern if the new or changed behaviour is related to a painful event, loss, or change.

Here are some of the potential warning signs that someone may be considering suicide:

  • Killing themselves
  • Feeling hopeless
  • No one cares
  • Having nobody or nothing to love
  • Having no reason to live
  • Being a burden or bothering others
  • Feeling trapped
  • Hating their life
  • Feeling a failure
  • Unbearable pain
  • Wanting the pain or exhaustion to end
  • Things would be better when they are gone/dead
  • Problems will be over soon
  • Lack of interest in the future
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Preoccupation with death in art, poetry, social media, TV, etc.
  • Self-destructive behaviour
  • Impulsive, reckless behaviour
  • Apathy about appearance or health
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Looking for a way to end their lives, such as searching online for methods
  • Dwindling performance at school or work
  • Withdrawing from activities
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Making a will or final arrangements
  • Saying good-bye to family and friends
  • Writing letters and asking them not to be opened
  • Aggression and/or rage
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest in things
  • Frequent irritability
  • Feelings of humiliation and/or shame
  • Outbursts of agitation and/or anger
  • Unexplained crying
  • Self-loathing or self-hatred
  • Relief or sudden elation, extreme happiness

Did you know 1 in 5 people will have suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives?

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