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Monthly Archives: August 2014

Practical steps for preventing suicide


Preventing suicide in a mental health crisis – steps for family members.

According to the Mental Health Foundation 4,400 people in the United Kingdom end their life by suicide each year.  Simply put, that is one person deliberately ends their life every two hours.  Alarmingly, at least ten times more people attempt suicide.

The reasons for suicide are many. The public’s perception of why people take their own life is largely incorrect, anecdotal and adds to a family’s reluctance to seek help during times of crisis.  People usually commit suicide because their emotional pain has become too severe for them to manage. They are unable to think of a positive solution to overcome their difficulties. Overtime despair escalates to the point ‘that not being here’, makes perfect sense to them.  The antecedents to this assumption may be depression, bereavement, battles with addiction and so forth.  Each person’s circumstances may vary but all share the common view but erroneous assumption that life has become unmanageable and will not improve.

It’s easy for bystanders to recognise that the suicidal person’s perceptions are skewed but to the desperate individual, their plan is often viewed as a personal victory.  They have found a way out.  When an individual’s thoughts or psychological schemas have developed in this way, urgent mental health assistance is required.

While it is always the decision of the individual whether or not to kill themselves. Mental health services MUST respond to calls for assistance from vulnerable individuals who find themselves in crisis. Timely intervention often reverses suicidal ideation.

It is important that if you are living with a partner, child or family member who is descending into suicidal thoughts that you are able to obtain help and quickly.

  1. The first step that individuals should take is to visit their GP. Request an urgent appointment. Be assertive, be polite but be firm. Once with your doctor, it is important to request an urgent psychiatric referral. In reality an urgent referral is usually not a fast enough response for an imminently suicidal patient. Even where medication is prescribed, often symptoms get worse before they get better. Family members need to be vigilant and get additional help quickly if needed, (3 and 4).   An appointment for a STEPPS referral is never an appropriate stand-alone intervention for a client actively considering suicide.
  2. If a referral cannot be secured quickly, consider a private consultation with a consultant psychiatrist or chartered psychologist. There are a number of private hospitals and clinics that are able to offer appointments quickly. Do check the credentials of clinicians especially to ascertain they are registered with the appropriate regulating bodies.
  3. If symptoms worsen go to your nearest A and E in the day or night. There will be an on duty mental health crisis team.
  4. If you are concerned about threatening of violent behaviour to self or other call the police. It may result in the individual being sectioned but this will also result in fast treatment that may save a life.

It is important that the family of a suicidal patient recognise that their loved one is unlikely to have the capacity to advocate fully for themselves. In our experience, it is often a very difficult process to be fully heard by mental health services and often even more difficult to obtain treatment when in crisis.  Attention to these steps will improve the chance of recovery.


Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard  Chartered Consultant Adult, Adolescent and Child Psychologist and Chartered Scientist.

Preventing suicide

Preventing suicide

Clinical Director Sheehan Brooke Psychology, Trident Business Park, Selsey, Chichester West Sussex.




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