Early Warning Signs
Signs for people who are at risk of suicide:
- They may show signs of feeling overwhelmed, helpless or hopeless
- They may start to talk of how they have nothing to live for or a desire not to go on living, or to put an end to their suffering
- Preoccupied with death and dying
- Some may start to put their affairs in order, giving away possessions
- Some may start saying “Goodbye” to family and friends and making amends for previous arguments
- Sudden or unexplained changes in their appearance or behaviour
- Changes in sleeping and or a reduced appetite
- Only a vague interest in self, school, friends and appearance
- Make excuses or exclude themselves from making plans for the future, not agreeing to holiday, party or Christmas plans
- Withdraw into themselves from hobbies and activities
However not everyone at risk of suicide will show any of the above warning signs, some people who die by suicide appear to have given no indication of distress.
Suicide is of course a highly emotive and sensitive subject and there is currently little evidence as to why people choose to take their own lives, although there are a number of factors that are linked to increasing the risk such as anxiety, acute stress, depression, isolation, alcohol, drugs.
Regardless of why, if you suspect someone may be at risk of suicide you need to ask them direct questions to assess the risk, such as “ Are you thinking about suicide?” or “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” By asking them a direct question you give them the permission to speak to you about their thoughts and enabling them to share what plans they may have in place.
There are many myths surrounding suicide, such as if you talk about suicide this will plant the idea of suicide into children and young people’s heads, that young people who talk openly about suicidal thoughts aren’t serious, they’re just attention-seeking. And only professionals can help people who are suicidal; thoughts like these are the reason why death by suicide is still an issue as this only reinforces the stigma that surrounds the issue and is a massive barrier to suicide prevention.
How can you help?
- Assess the risk
- Make sure the young person is not left alone; if the risk is high you will need to arrange with others to ensure that they are never left alone while they are getting through the immediate crisis
- Try to remain calm
- Ask the child how they are feeling and directly ask if they are feeling suicidal
- Actively show the young person that you are listening to them
- Take what they are saying to you very seriously
- Never be judgemental. What they are feeling is real
- Let the person know that you want to help
- If they’re consuming alcohol or drug, try to discourage them from consuming anymore and remove these when able
- Try to ensure that the person doesn’t have access to some means of taking their own life
- Seek professional advice as soon as possible
Certain factors may increase the risk of suicide, including:
Existing Plan – Does your child have a plan in place, do they have the means to do it? Are there others involved in this planning? Is this a group suicide pact?
Previous Knowledge – Has your child previously attempted to kill themselves? Are there friends who have died by suicide? It is key that anyone who has previously attempted suicide is at a much greater risk of repeating suicidal behaviours, even more so if someone significant in their life like a Father, Mother, Brother, Sister etc. has ended their lives by suicide.
Gender – Males are more likely to die by suicide while females are more likely to attempt suicide
Alcohol or substance misuse – This is an increasing factor in a significant number of suicides
Age – Additionally, certain age groups would be considered as being at a higher risk of suicide than others, such as young people. However within Northern Ireland the registered number of suicides in 2015 indicated that people of all ages are at risk
Mental Ill Health – Children and adults with depression, anxiety or acute stress or with psychotic symptoms are generally at a greater risk of suicide
Social Isolation – The risk of suicide is increased when children are in an isolated setting with limited social support and networks
Physical Ill Health – Living with a chronic illness or with an injury can impact and add to the risk of suicide
Statistics for Death by Suicide in NI
According to information published by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) six people commit suicide every week in Northern Ireland, according to research reported by The Detail, an investigative news website, was that in 2014 almost as many people had died from suicide in Northern Ireland since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement as were killed during the entire Troubles.
There have been 7,697 people who have died by suicide since 1970
Despite more than £7m being spent on suicide prevention in the province every year, the deaths of 318 people last year were registered as suicides.
That was the highest annual figure since records began in 1970 and also a 19% increase on the number recorded the previous year.
Of the suicide deaths registered in 2015, 243 (77%) were male, and 73 were female.
One hundred and thirty-two of the deaths involved people aged between 15 and 34, while five were aged 75 or older.
The issue was most stark in the capital, with 93 people taking their own lives in the Belfast Health Trust area – almost a third of the 2015 total.
These shocking figures are compiled by using data from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency and also from the Registrar General’s quarterly reports.
There are many factors that contribute to death by suicide such as Mental health problems, alcohol and substance misuse, feeling desperate, helpless or without hope.