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What can we do to prevent suicide? Three ground-breaking projects offering hope

[Trigger warning: this blog post talks about suicide. If you are thinking about suicide or you're worried about someone who might be, call The Samaritans on 116 123]

Around 6,000 people take their own lives in the UK and Ireland every year. 

Thousands of lives lost. Thousands of lives that could have been saved.

Suicide is a tragedy for the each person that takes their own life and it’s a tragedy for the families, friends and communities left behind.

We believe these tragedies can be prevented.

We know that suicide is complex, that the reasons for someone taking their own life differ hugely from person to person. But that doesn’t mean we should give up hope for creating effective interventions – in fact, it’s exactly why we need research so we can discover ways to save lives.

One way we can create interventions that work is through data. This might sound cold, but it could revolutionise how we respond to people thinking about suicide. We’re funding an international project, led by the University of Cambridge, to build a model which is bringing together medical, psychological and social data with brain scans of people who have suicidal thoughts. This work will illuminate factors that could be putting someone at risk. It aims to provide the information needed to create a healthcare tool that can identify people who are in danger so we can intervene early and save lives. 

We’re also funding research looking at tackling suicide in children using data. The scientists at Kings College London are linking up anonymous information collected in schools with health records to see what we can learn. The current lack of data means that children who are at risk of suicide or self-harm are often left unnoticed. This project will enable us to shine a light on those children, so we can get them help sooner, giving them the best chance of living happy lives. 

These projects provide hope for intervening early before a suicide attempt is made, but what about people who have already tried to end their life? What can we do to support those people?

project we’re funding at the University of Glasgow is trialling a new programme that provides support to people who have attempted suicide and are admitted to hospital. We know that, tragically, one of the biggest indicators that someone will die by suicide is a previous attempt. The initiative was first developed in the US to help veterans but is being tailored and tested in a UK population. It gets people to write a safety plan in hospital, identifying warning signs to look for and ways to respond to suicidal thoughts. Help is then provided on the phone to help people stay safe and find effective support.

If this programme is effective at preventing repeated suicide attempts, then it can be rolled out across the UK. This could protect some of the most vulnerable people from taking their own lives, giving them support at a critical time.

Suicide is a global healthcare crisis. And it needs an urgent response. Our scientists are working tirelessly to find the best ways to protect people so we can reach a world where suicide is no longer devastating people around the globe.

Last updated: 23 February 2018


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