Stephen Palmer: 'If a friend talks of suicide, take action to save their life'

From a lecture given by the Professor of Psychology at City University, London
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The Independent Online

When we consider the statistics regarding suicide, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that between 800,000 and 1 million people are likely to commit suicide each year, worldwide. In other words every 40 seconds a person commits suicide somewhere in the world and every three seconds a person attempts to die. Sadly, suicide is among the top three causes of death among young people aged 15 to 35. Not surprisingly, each suicide has a serious impact on at least six other people.

When we consider the statistics regarding suicide, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that between 800,000 and 1 million people are likely to commit suicide each year, worldwide. In other words every 40 seconds a person commits suicide somewhere in the world and every three seconds a person attempts to die. Sadly, suicide is among the top three causes of death among young people aged 15 to 35. Not surprisingly, each suicide has a serious impact on at least six other people.

Suicide can be seen as a way out, a form of unhelpful problem solving. The recent well publicised suicide of the author Hunter S Thompson highlighted what he was once reputed to have said: "I would feel real trapped in this life if I didn't know that I could commit suicide at any time."

There are numerous myths that abound regarding suicide that need to be challenged. Surf the internet and you will find many. Here are a few of them. Myth 1: Suicide happens without warning. Reality: Suicidal people often give ample indication. Myth 2: People who talk about suicide do not commit suicide. Reality: Most people who kill themselves have given definite warnings of their intentions. Myth 3: Suicidal people are absolutely intent on dying. Reality: A majority are ambivalent. Myth 4: Once a person is suicidal he/she is always suicidal. Reality: Suicidal thoughts may return, but they are not necessarily permanent, and in some people they may never return. Myth 5: If you promise to keep someone's suicidal plan "a secret" you should always keep that promise. Reality: No. Don't keep this secret. You may lose a friendship temporarily or permanently, but you may save your friend's life.

Suicide is a form of (unhelpful) problem-solving. However as an older person, if you knew you faced chronic pain through illness for the rest of your life, you may perceive suicide as a rational decision. Whether you are a health or caring professional or a layperson, if a friend, colleague or family member tells you that they are suicidal, take it seriously and ensure you take action.

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