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Understanding suicide

What is suicide?

Most people contemplating suicide may not want to die; they want to stop the pain and difficulties they are suffering.

  • on average, two people die by suicide every day in Scotland
  • talking about suicide saves lives 
  • if you are worried about someone talk to them, it could save their life
  • if you feel suicidal, don't hide it, talk to someone you trust or phone a helpline
  • suicide affects all ages, genders and cultures.


Suicide is one of the main causes of death among young people in Scotland today.

Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy. One suicide represents lost life, lost talent, lost creativity, a lost mother or father, brother, sister, son or daughter and a wound that does not easily heal in those who are left behind.


Suicide and stigma

Effective suicide prevention is made difficult by the stigma attached. Taboos prevent us from speaking freely about the problem and discussing what we can do. Stigma leads to misunderstanding and intolerance which are barriers to change.

Public attitudes need to change; increased awareness and understanding can reduce a largely preventable major public health problem. Most people cannot identify with or empathise with those affected. Unfortunately awkwardness, denial, secrecy and avoidance remain common.

The best way to identify the possibility of suicide is to ask directly. Open talk and genuine concern about someone's thoughts of suicide are a source of relief and are key elements in preventing the immediate danger of suicide.

The campaign website 'Suicide. Don't hide it. Talk about it.' (external link) reflects the message and signposts to people who can help.

Stigma also makes it difficult for people who have lost a loved one to suicide. It may prevent them from telling others the cause of death, and others don't quite know how to react. Bereavement from suicide should be treated like any other loss, and help is on hand for those bereaved by suicide.


Myths about suicide

Common myths around the subject of suicide (provided by Scottish Association for Mental Health).

MYTH 1: Asking someone if they feel suicidal will encourage suicide attempts.
Serious talk about suicide does not create or increase risk; it can help to reduce it. The best way to identify the possibility of suicide is to ask directly. Openly listening to and discussing someone's thoughts of suicide can be a source of relief for them and can be key to preventing the immediate danger of suicide.

MYTH 2: People who talk about suicide never attempt or complete suicide.
People who talk about their suicidal thoughts do attempt suicide. Many people who complete suicide have told someone about their suicidal feelings in the weeks prior to their death. Listening and supporting a person in these circumstances can save lives.

MYTH 3: If a person has made previous attempts they won't do it for real.
Those who have attempted suicide once are at increased risk of attempting again. They need to be taken seriously and given support to help towards finding a resolution for their suicidal thoughts and actions.

MYTH 4: If somebody wants to end their life they will, there is nothing anybody can do.
Most people contemplating suicide do not want to die, they just want to end the pain they are experiencing. Although there are some occasions when nobody could have predicted a suicide, in most cases if appropriate help and support is offered to a person and they are willing to accept this help, a tragic outcome may be averted.

MYTH 5: Some people are always suicidal.
Some groups, sub-cultures or ages are particularly associated with suicide. Whilst some groups, such as young men, seem to be at increased risk, suicide can affect all ages, genders and cultures. Many people think about suicide in passing at some time or another. There isn't a 'type' for suicide, and whilst there may be warning signs, they aren't always noticed. Whilst those who have made an attempt on their own life in the past can be at increased risk of completing suicide, people can and do move on in their lives.

MYTH 6: When a person begins to feel better, the danger is over.
Often the risk of suicide can be greatest as depression lifts, or when a person appears to be calm after a period of turmoil. This can be because once a decision to attempt suicide is made, people may feel they have a solution, however desperate it may be.

Source: The Art of Conversation (external link): a guide to talking, listening and reducing stigma surrounding suicide.

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