Facts about suicide

Causes of suicidal feelings

A person who has suicidal thoughts, often feels isolated and alone and may experience that nothing and no one can help or understand their mental pain. When one can see no other way to deal with this despair and pain, suicide may seem like the only way out. When everything feels hopeless it may seem like there is no other choice.

Risk factors and warning signs

Critical life events, such as:

  • Loss of a close relative, a relationship, work, social status or financial loss
  • A major disappointment, failed degree or exam, absent promotion, bullying or violation.
  • Disease, like depression, psychosis, severe somatic diseases, substance use.

Behavioral changes

Always pay attention when someone changes their behavior or makes you feel worried. It can be that the person is moody, sad and withdrawn, talks about feelings of hopelessness, feels helpless and useless, no longer cares as much about their appearance, expresses thoughts about death through drawings, stories, songs and says goodbye to people around them and/or gives away possessions. Some people engage in risky and self-destructive behavior. Sometimes a suicidal person can be perceived as unusually calm by their surrounding. Be aware of this as it may indicate a silent decision to pursue a suicide plan.

What can you do to help?

Most people, who have suicidal thoughts, will manage to get through that crisis. Help and support from family and friends, as well as professionals, is often an important part. Below you will find some advice regarding what you can do if someone close to you is having suicidal thoughts.

1. Act now

You can save someone’s life by reaching out a helping hand. Don't assume that it gets better without help, or that the person will seek help on their own.

2. Be aware of your own reactions

A common reaction is fear or an impulse to ignore the situation and hope that it will pass on its own. If you react, it can also be beneficial to get help from someone you trust, to give you the strength you may need to act as a support person. Otherwise, you may find that you search for a quick solution to help this person feel better, simply in order to make it easier for yourself.

3. Be accessible

Spend time together with the suicidal person and show compassion without being judgemental, angry or upset. Ask the person to talk – and listen carefully. Some issues may feel easier to handle once you’ve put something into words.

4. Ask about suicide

The only way to find out if someone is thinking of suicide is to ask. It may feel difficult, but by asking you’re showing that you have noticed something isn’t right and that you are willing to listen. Talking about suicide won’t poke the bear, so to speak; instead, it encourages people to talk about their feelings which can often be cathartic. By talking to the person about what is going on and how they are feeling, you can then advocate for that person and help them seek the assistance they need. Be mindful that you should not make agreements to keep someone’s suicidal thoughts a secret.

5. Safety and security check

If someone intends to take their life, it is important to know how, to what extent, and for how long these thoughts have existed. For example, you can ask the following questions:

  • Have you figured out how and when to commit suicide?
  • Do you have access to means or are you planning to get means to carry out your plan?
  • What help do you have to feel better and safer?

Also ask how you can help that person to find support, joy in life, and empowerment from their family, friends, pets, religious beliefs, and own inner strength etc.

6. Decide on what you should do and how you, together, will solve the current situation

When you've figured out how the situation stands regarding the persons safety, it is then time to discuss the next step together. You may need assistance from others to encourage the person to obtain professional help - or to take the first step in seeking help from, for example, a partner, parents or close friends.

7. Here you can find help and support

  • Health care centres or other doctor’s offices
  • Psychiatric centres
  • Staff at school; teacher, school nurse, counselor, school psychologist, leisure staff
  • Youth clinics
  • Priest, deacon

You can help the person prepare for the conversation once they have decided to talk to someone, even offer to go with them. After the call or meeting, you must check that the question of suicide was raised and ask what kind of help was offered. Assist the person to follow up on the recommendations given.

8. Convey hope – comfort – ask for a promise

Suicidal thoughts often return and when they do, it is important for the person in question to ask for help and tell someone about their feelings. Ask the person to ensure that they will seek help in the future. It will make them more likely to do so. Most importantly, show your commitment and your willingness to understand - convey hope.

9. Self-care

If you are helping someone who has suicidal thoughts you also need to take care of yourself, as being a support person for someone who is suicidal, particularly if it’s for a long time, can take an emotional toll on you and be very stressful. In this situation, make sure that you also have someone to talk to, such as friends, family or a professional.

10. Stay

Suicidal thoughts do not disappear without the suicidal person experiencing any form of change in their life. The life situation, as well as feelings and thoughts about suicide, can change. The experience of support can help someone manage their suicidal thoughts. It is important that family, friends and other significant people remain actively involved in the situation. As mentioned, but important to reiterate, suicidal thoughts do not disappear by themselves. People need help getting rid of their suicidal thoughts. You can help!

Produced by: HFS – Region Stockholm Healthcare in collaboration with the Uppsala University Hospital, Västerbotten County Council and the County Council in Östergötland.

Updated by Zero suicide in Stockholm County. Fact-reviewed by Daniel Frydman, psychiatrist. March 2011.

Claims about suicide - true or false?

1. Suicide is often based on rational thoughts about the value of life.

False! Most acts of suicide take place under the influence of a mental disorder or drug abuse. Many suicide attempts are also made impulsively, before the person has had time to think things through.

2. It's impossible to stop a person who's made their mind up to commit suicide.

False! Between 85% and 90% of individuals who have made serious suicide attempts do not ultimately complete the act. Many suicide survivors often reflect, asking themselves, ‘What was I thinking?’.

3. People who often talk about suicide will not attempt it.

False! Most people who commit suicide do talk about it, more or less explicitly. But the people around them don't always get the message.

4. Suicide happens suddenly without warning.

False! The suicide process in adults is often long and drawn out. In young people it can more often occur suddenly, and so it's important to be extremely vigilant for signs of mental ill-health among youth.

5. Talking or writing about suicide is risky – you should let sleeping dogs lie.

False! Research indicates that discussing suicide can have a preventative effect – it increases awareness and encourages individuals to seek help.

6. Sweden has one of the world's highest suicide rates.

False! Sweden's suicide statistics are comparable to the rest of Europe. 

Sources: Barn i utsatta livssituationer, chapter by Britta Alin Åkerman (editor Jane Brodin), Gleerups 2008. | Oxford textbook of suicidology and suicide prevention. A global perspective by Danuta Wasserman and Camilla Wasserman, Oxford University Press 2009. | National Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention of Mental lll-Health (NASP).

WHO’s resource series for suicide prevention 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has produced a resource series with guidelines for e.g. emergency services, general physicians, journalists and media, teachers and school staff, primary health care, jails and prisons, and workplaces (available in several languages).  

Preventing suicide: A resource series

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