Skip to content

Isn’t it time we stopped suicide in young people?

Suicide is the second biggest killer of young people worldwide. It’s time to take this crisis seriously – and research must be at the heart of the solution. 

What happens after a young person attempts suicide and is raced to hospital? First of all, they should be given the best possible emergency care, designed to help them survive with as little long-term damage as possible.

But then what?

The truth is, what happens next can vary dramatically. If a support plan is put in place at all, it can be totally different from one hospital to the next. Sometimes the future is hardly mentioned before a young person finds themselves heading home again. 

And yet we know that when someone tries to take their own life, the risk remains high that they will try it again. Without the right support, that risk can get higher still, as people try to put their lives back together at the same time as dealing with friends and family who, like them, may be frightened, confused or angry – often all three. So what can we do? 

Through major new research, we’re looking at how to transform support after a suicide attempt – and at how to prevent suicide attempts happening at all.

Join the movement

Add your voice to demand progress for young people facing mental illness

Thanks for signing up to support us

Thanks for adding your voice to demand progress for young people facing mental illness. We'll be in touch with more ways you can get involved.

Before you go, can we ask one more thing? Help us spread the word

Existing subscription

You've already sworn to take on mental illness using this email address. If that doesn’t sound right or you have any questions please get in touch supportercare@mqmentalhealth.org

Professor Rory O’Connor, an MQ-funded researcher at the University of Glasgow and a Vice President of the International Association for Suicide Prevention, has very personal reasons for wanting to stop suicide.

“Sadly, in the course of my career,” he says, “the person who brought me into the field of suicide and self-harm has taken his own life, and a colleague and really close friend has taken her own life. So it’s just redoubled my efforts, redoubled my enthusiasm, but also it’s highlighted the scale of the challenge we face.”

That challenge is very real. In the UK, about 6,000 people take their own lives each year, and suicide is the leading cause of death in young men. Worldwide, a barely-believable 804,000 people die from suicide annually, and it’s the second biggest killer of young people. Only accidents take more young lives.

This desperate situation has to change – and Rory O’Connor is just one of the MQ-funded researchers determined to make that change happen. He’s investigating whether a new, US-developed way to support people after a suicide attempt– called SAFE TEL – can save lives in the UK.

Using SAFE TEL, trained staff can offer psychological support and help young people create a personalised safety plan before they return home, so they know how to care for themselves if they start thinking about suicide again. They can get follow-up support over the phone, too, and in the US this combination was shown to make a real difference. 

For Rory, who is currently trialling SAFE TEL with a carefully selected group of people who have attempted suicide, it has the potential to ensure no one feels ignored or alone in that critical period after a suicide attempt. 

“The reason this intervention is really important,” he says, “is that we can try and get people to identify the warning signs and triggers to their suicidal crisis, so that the next time they become suicidal, instead of attempting suicide, they hopefully are kept safe.”

As well as working to stop people attempting suicide more than once, we’re taking aim at the factors that make people consider suicide in the first place.

Join the movement

Add your voice to demand progress for young people facing mental illness

We know it’s not enough to only focus on supporting young people once they have tried to take their own lives. We also need to tackle the root of the problem, and that means understanding how mental illness gets to a stage where suicide feels like the only option.

So we’re investing in research to propel our understanding forward. We’ve built a team of world-leading scientists spanning the UK, the US and Australia.

Together, they’re studying brain scans taken from young people with a range of mental illnesses, looking to identify patterns in the circuitry of the brain that could lead people to think about suicide. They’re also studying how the brain changes after mental health treatments, and whether that could have links to suicidal thoughts.

Suicide is often impulsive, so what our researchers discover could lead to new ways to spot warning signs and offer help to people at risk of suicide –before they act on their feelings.

By joining our growing movement for mental health research, you can be part of discoveries that will transform how we think about and treat mental illness.

We’re realistic. We know these projects alone won’t solve the suicide crisis. But we also know there is a desperate need to understand suicide – and we’re doing everything we can to do just that.

By stopping repeated suicide attempts and understanding more about what causes suicide, we can move closer to a world where suicide can be prevented.

This is one of our generation’s defining challenges, and we’re ready to join with others worldwide who share our determination to take it on.

Last updated: 17 October 2017

Join the movement

Add your voice to demand progress for young people facing mental illness

Thanks for signing up to support us

Thanks for adding your voice to demand progress for young people facing mental illness. We'll be in touch with more ways you can get involved.

Before you go, can we ask one more thing? Help us spread the word

Subscribe to our newsletter. Get the latest news on mental health.

© MQ: Transforming mental health 2016 | Registered charity in England / Wales: 1139916 & Scotland: SC046075 | Company number: 7406055