Suicidal thoughts more common than many realise, new Samaritans survey reveals

Bonnie Evie Gifford
By Bonnie Evie Gifford,
updated on Mar 21, 2024

Suicidal thoughts more common than many realise, new Samaritans survey reveals

Despite one in five of us experiencing suicidal thoughts, nearly three-quarters of us (71%) are unaware just how common these thoughts can be

A new nationwide poll from charity Samaritans has revealed that 71% of UK adults are unaware of how many people experience suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives. The latest research from Samaritans revealed that suicidal thoughts are also the ‘taboo’ topic that people feel least comfortable talking about. 

74% of us are comfortable talking with friends and family about mental health and wellbeing, compared with just 45% feeling comfortable talking about suicidal thoughts. This suggests that stigma and discomfort around talking about this topic could still be contributing to a wider lack of awareness and understanding of the issue. 

These new findings were released ahead of the 2024 TCS London Marathon, where Samaritans will be the charity of the year. 

Why aren’t we comfortable opening up about suicidal thoughts?

According to the latest research, the main barriers that are preventing us from opening up about suicidal thoughts include our fear of worrying others (31%), worry that we will make others uncomfortable (27%), and fear that we won’t be understood (24%). 

Julie Bentley, CEO of Samaritans, commented: “One in five of us will struggle with suicidal thoughts in our lifetime but many people face this struggle in silence. By highlighting how suicidal thoughts are more common than most of the public expects, we hope to break the stigma surrounding the subject that often prevents people from opening up.  

“At Samaritans we know that talking about suicidal thoughts saves lives because people can get the vital support they need. We want to start a conversation and encourage everyone to join us on Marathon Day to support those around them to believe in tomorrow.” 

How can we become more comfortable talking about suicidal thoughts?

66% of respondents to Samaritan’s survey say that they would be more comfortable starting a conversation with someone they were worried about if they had tips on how to start a conversion (37%), knew other sources of support (35%), or had tips on learning how to listen (31%). Samaritan’s new campaign, Believe in tomorrow, provides resources to help support conversations around suicide including tips on listening, how to get conversations started, and stories of hope. 

What are suicidal thoughts?

Suicidal thoughts refer to any thoughts you may have about intentionally ending your own life, or feeling like you may want to. Passive suicidal ideation is another form of suicidal thoughts, where you may not have active plans, but you may wish that you were dead.

Psychotherapist Sophie Harris explains more about suicidal thoughts and how counselling can help

Suicidal thoughts can be caused by any number of different factors. They can happen suddenly or over time. Sometimes, a growing sense of unhappiness or hopelessness can slowly turn into suicidal thoughts. 

Anyone, of any age, gender, or background can be affected by suicidal thoughts. Statistics show that men and members of the LGBTQIA+ community are more at risk of dying by suicide. 

What can I do if I’m worried about someone?

If you are worried that a friend or loved one may be suicidal, there are a number of different ways you can help someone who is suicidal. If you are worried about their immediate safety, the NHS advises contacting your nearest A&E department to be put in touch with a crisis resolution team (CRT) or mental health professionals, or to call 999 for immediate help.

Starting the conversation with a friend or loved one that you are worried about can be tough, but it’s an important first step. If they are ready to talk, be there to listen. If they aren’t ready, let them know that you are there to talk when they want or need to. Try not to pressure them to talk if they aren’t ready.

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to know the right thing to do or say. You don’t have to have the answers, or to try and ‘fix’ things. Just being there to listen in a non-judgmental, empathic way can be a huge help in and of itself.  

Find out more about suicidal thoughts, why they happen, and how you can access help.

Counselling for suicidal thoughts

Working with a therapist can be a huge help. Talking therapy can help you to uncover why you are felling like you are feeling and help you to learn how you can challenge these thoughts and help yourself. 

Remember: suicidal thoughts are not a sign of weakness or failure. They mean that you need a helping hand. Speaking up is the first step towards getting the help that you need.

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