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Suicide and Self Harm

Suicide is the act of intentionally ending your life.

What is the impact?

Suicide is quite rare but suicide, self harm and thoughts of suicide are a cause of distress for many people - the individual, family, friends, professionals and the community at large. Losing someone through suicide is particularly difficult.

Many people are reluctant to talk about suicide openly when someone expresses their own feelings to them or they have those feelings themselves. They worry that talking to someone about suicide or thoughts of suicide may cause it to happen. There is no evidence that this is the case.

What is the scale of the problem?

Suicide is a leading cause of death, particularly among young people. Almost two in every 100 deaths worldwide (1.5 per cent) are by suicide, making it the 10th leading cause of death.  Each year about 300 people in Wales die from suicide. This is about twice the number killed in road accidents.

There is no single reason why someone may try to take their own life. It is best understood by looking at each person’s life and circumstances.  However certain factors or problems may make suicide more likely.

Previous self harm is a key risk factor. Mental illness, misusing drugs or alcohol or having a close relative who has died from suicide may increase risk. Life events like losing your home, job or the end of a relationship can also increase the risk of suicide or self harm.  

Many people may have thoughts of suicide because of distressing events; about 17 people in every 100 (17 per cent) will have these thoughts at some point in their life. Only a very small number of those who harm themselves or who think about suicide will actually die in this way.

Suicide is about three times more common in men than women. This may be because men tend to use different methods to those used by women. Women are much more likely than men to be admitted to hospital as a result of self harm.

People who are already at risk of suicide or self harm can also be influenced by media reports of suicide. The rates of these often increase following media reporting, particularly when someone well known has died in this way.

In March 2014 the Child Death Review Programme produced a thematic review looking at suicides in children and young people in Wales. The report examined factors that have contributed to suicide deaths in children and young people, identified opportunities for prevention, and made recommendations to reduce the risk of suicide for children and young people in Wales.

Twenty recommendations were made – six considered to be key including:

  • More to be done to ensure NICE guidance is implemented on the management of self harm
  • Developing an all-Wales child protection register which would be accessible by all relevant services
  • Restricting access to alcohol by young people
  • Ensuring any programmes and interventions around suicide prevention are based on the latest evidence
  • Reviewing progress on suicide prevention on a three yearly basis.

What is being done to manage the impact?

In Wales Talk to me is the Welsh Government’s plan to prevent suicide and self harm. This five-year action plan aims to raise awareness of suicide and self harm and help people understand that it is often preventable. The plan is aimed mainly at people who are at highest risk. It has seven key commitments:

  • Helping people to feel good about themselves.
  • Providing help early to those in need.
  • Responding to crises in people’s lives.
  • Dealing with the effects of suicide and self-harm.
  • Increasing research and improving information on suicide.
  • Working with the media to make sure reporting on mental health and suicide is sensitive.
  • Making sure that, where possible, people at risk do not have access to things which could be used for suicide.

Encouraging people to be open about their feelings, to ask for help, to be able to cope with difficult life experiences and to be willing and able to help others in difficulties can help in preventing suicide and self harm.

In Wales, Mind Cymru, through its Positive Choices project, has been providing training to raise awareness of suicide. The project aims to increase the numbers of people in Wales with the knowledge, skills and confidence to help someone in distress while challenging the stigma that can be a barrier to those in need finding help.

Public Health Wales has reviewed the evidence base for prevention of suicide and self harm. This document was produced to support health boards in producing suicide and self harm prevention plans but will be of interest to other agencies and individuals with an interest in suicide and self harm prevention.

Public Health Wales has also produced guidelines on managing suicide clusters and on managing the media. A document on media influences on suicide is also available.

Data on suicide and self harm in Wales was produced by the National Public Health Service for Wales in 2008 [download document from here], and by the Public Health Wales Observatory in 2012 available here.

A mid point review of the implementation of Talk to Me has also been published.