Suicide. Anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one to suicide or opened up about suicidal thoughts will know the power the word has to silence a room, stunt a conversation, to encourage a change of topic. Suicide isn’t talked about much. It should be. While it’s one of the leading causes of death around the world, suicide is not inevitable. That’s why CALM exists.
Suicide is the act of ending your own life. In 2019, 5,691 people died by suicide in the UK. But far from just a shocking statistic, there’s a life behind every single one of those deaths – a person with friends, family and a community.
The effects of suicide can be earth-shattering. Research has found that every suicide directly affects 135 people – that’s mates, family, colleagues, the person that serves coffee every day or drives the bus to work. On top of that, when somebody is bereaved by suicide, they are at greater risk of taking their own lives.
125 people die by suicide every week – with 75% of those deaths being male. That’s not ok, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Suicide is preventable – with the right support and an open and equal society, no one should ever feel like there’s no reason to go on.
At CALM, we believe everyone deserves to get the help they need, which is why we run a free, anonymous and confidential helpline and webchat from 5pm to midnight every day.
But it isn’t just immediate crisis support that is needed to prevent suicide – it’s culture change too. We work with people across industries and communities to raise awareness, tackle stigma and ultimately stop people reaching crisis point.
Why do people take their own lives?
It’s a question we often get asked, but there’s no single answer. Suicide can affect anyone, no matter of age, gender, sexual identity or race, which means it’s impossible to pinpoint one reason. People who experience suicidal thoughts often want to end their life to be free of emotional or physical pain, to put an end to a difficult situation, to regain a sense of control, or to relieve someone of a perceived burden. Sometimes, life can feel hopeless and when you feel like this, you may think other people will be better off without you. This is never the case. There is always a way forward, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Suicide has a devastating effect on the people left behind, including family, friends and whole communities.
Who does suicide affect?
No one is predestined to take their own life, and suicide is never inevitable. Some groups of people are statistically more likely to take their own lives as a result of the circumstances they face, like stereotypes, stigma, cultural expectations and discrimination
Suicide is a global issue that affects everyone – young and old, people of every gender and every background. While anyone can feel suicidal, there are things that statistically increase the likelihood of someone taking their own life, these include:
- Being male
- Identifying as LGBTQ+
- Being black, asian or from a minority ethnic background
- Being an ex prisoner
- Previous bereavement by suicide
- Trauma or abuse
- Drug and alcohol addiction
If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal there is support out there. Find out more here.
What are the signs to look out for?
There’s no simple way to tell if someone is planning to take their own life. Something we hear time and time again from bereaved people is that there was no sign or indication that their loved one was having suicidal thoughts. However there are some signs that someone may be struggling like unexplained changes in behaviour, an increase in drug or alcohol intake, or comments like you’d be better off without me. If you’re worried about someone you know, you can find out more here.
At CALM, we believe that one of the most effective ways of preventing suicide is talking freely and openly with each other about what we’re going through. It’s why we have a helpline and webchat manned by professional staff who chat to anyone who needs support from 5pm to midnight everyday. And why we provide tools like ALAN to spark conversations in pubs, workplaces, football stadiums and gigs.
Suicide and mental health don’t exist in a vacuum, they are affected by all the things that go on in our day to day lives – the break-ups, the job-losses, the stresses of bringing up a family, the loneliness of moving to another town, or the strain of living with mental distress. By creating relationships in which we can talk about the football score alongside the highs and lows of life, we make it possible for our mates, our families and the people in our lives to open up when they’re feeling at their lowest, and stop them reaching crisis point.
CALM campaigns to raise awareness of suicidal thoughts and mental wellbeing so that more people are able to access life-saving support when they need it. We believe if people know about support services when they’re doing okay, they’re more likely to use them when they’re not – just like the emergency services. If you didn’t know that you could dial 999 in an emergency, you wouldn’t ring them when you had an accident. By raising awareness of our support services, we can help prevent suicide.
We also campaign to change the culture around mental wellbeing and the stigma around suicide. By normalising conversations around how we feel, especially when things are tough, it makes it easier for people to open up when they really need to. We hope that by encouraging a more open and equal society we can drive suicide statistics down.
Dealing with bereavement by suicide
Bereavement by suicide is unlike any other loss and can feel very isolating and lonely because of the stigma attached to someone taking their own life. Bereavement by suicide can be more difficult to process than other loss because of feelings like regret, relief, anger and blame.
There’s often a lot of guilt that comes with a bereavement by suicide. People are left wondering if they did enough, if they could have stopped or changed the outcome. Suicide is nobody’s fault, and there is no blame to ascribe. While it’s natural to look for a reason or way to explain suicide, there often isn’t one.
It can be difficult to open up to others because of the lack of understanding around death by suicide. Bereavement by suicide is complex and no one should go through it alone. There are a number of different organisations to support people directly impacted by a death by suicide – these include Support After Suicide Partnership and Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide. You can also find out more in the Help is at Hand resource here.
What is suicide prevention?
While CALM is a suicide prevention charity, you’ll notice that our full name, Campaign Against Living Miserably, is all about life. At CALM we believe that to really make a difference to those tragic suicide statistics we need to focus on living – on being there for people when they’re at their best, so that we can be there for them when they’re feeling their worst.
We provide helpline and webchat services to help people at crisis point, but that’s not all we do. We shout loudly about life in all those places you might not expect a suicide prevention charity to be – football stadiums, public toilets, the back of your crisp packet, so that we can smash the silence around suicide, raise awareness, change culture and ultimately keep people alive.
Why is there stigma around suicide?
This is a biggie and there’s no way we could explain it all here. First things first though, CALM is passionate about smashing the silence around suicide. Suicidal thoughts are not like Voldemort, the more we talk about them, the more we can support people struggling.
Centuries of silence around suicide have contributed to the shame and stigma surrounding it. We vehemently believe that the first step in tackling the UK’s devastating suicide rates is to smash that silence so people can speak freely and openly about their struggles and find the support they need.
Suicide used to be illegal
The term committed suicide is something we’ve all heard and probably never really questioned before. But it’s a big indicator of the shame that’s always been placed on those that have taken their own lives, and their families and friends.
The word commit is almost always linked with illegal or perceived morally wrong actions – committing a crime, committing adultery and committing arson are all examples of this. So why the term ‘commit suicide’?
Put simply, because up until 1961 suicide was a crime in the UK. And as such, suicide was something people learned to be ashamed of. This goes some way to explaining how the tradition of silence around suicide and bereavement began.
While suicide was decriminalised (stopped being illegal) in 1961, the turn of phrase is still pretty common. At CALM we try not to use ‘commit suicide’, instead using died by suicide, took their own lives or lost to suicide. With this small shift in language, we’re able to take away some of the shame and judgement that’s been attached to suicide for hundreds of years. We try not to police how other people speak – if you’ve lost someone to suicide, the last thing you want to think of is whether the words you’re using are ‘correct’, but if we get a choice we opt to avoid the term.
Suicide is painful
Another thing that makes suicide so difficult to talk about are the difficult emotions associated with it. Those who are bereaved by suicide have to grapple with things that other people might not – feelings of anger, blame, even relief. At CALM, we believe that talking about suicide allows people to learn a language to talk about it – which is why we’ll never shy away from talking about suicide when it matters.
Suicide in the media
Suicide isn’t a storyline, it’s a real thing that takes the life of 125 people every week. However, suicide is often painted in a dangerous and damaging way in the media. Whether it’s the story arch of a TV series, or a stock image of a sad man in the shadows, suicide is often depicted in a dark and scary way, which can make it harder to talk about and understand.
People who take their own lives are normal people going through tough times, but when we regularly see suicide depicted in extremes, it can make us think otherwise and dehumanise those who are struggling.
That’s not to say that the media doesn’t have a huge role to play in helping people to understand and, ultimately, preventing suicide. It does. CALM regularly works across the media to raise awareness of suicide and the issues that surround it – whether that’s on national television, partnerships with streaming services or working with the press.
Normalising conversations around suicide and the support services available can have a huge impact on how many people seek help when they’re struggling. In fact, it’s proven that engaging with stories that articulate what it feels like to have and move past suicidal thoughts can help people experiencing them and even prevent them taking their own lives.
If you’re a media organisation or are covering suicide in your work, take a look at these media guidelines on suicide or get in touch to talk about collaborating with CALM here.
Uniting against suicide
There’s lots to suicide prevention from policy-making to culture-changing – and we can’t do it alone. True societal change takes a movement that spans communities, classes, industries and politics. We believe that we all have a part to play in standing against suicide – whether that’s raising awareness at your workplace, running a marathon to fund our helpline, signposting someone in need or getting your university to change their policies. Whoever you are, whatever you’re good at, you can do anything against living miserably.
Read more about CALM and our work here
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Find out more about suicidal thoughts and the things that affect your mental wellbeing and mental health using CALMGuides.
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