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How to spot the signs of suicide

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Today we have expert advice from the Samaritans on how to spot if someone you know may need additional emotional support. We have Orla McCaffrey from The Samaritans in studio. Orla is based in Dublin and has been involved with Samaritans for the last 15 years.

About Samaritans
Samaritans in Ireland receives over 500,000 contacts a year by phone, email, letter and face-to-face.

It is the aim of Samaritans to make emotional health a mainstream issue. Samaritans' vision is for a society where fewer people die by suicide because people are able to share feelings of emotional distress openly without fear of being judged. Samaritans believes that offering people the opportunity to be listened to in confidence, and accepted without prejudice, can alleviate despair and suicidal feelings.

Samaritans is a registered charity, founded in 1953, which offers 24-hour confidential emotional support to anyone in emotional distress. The service, in Ireland, is offered by almost 2,000 trained volunteers and is entirely dependent on voluntary support.


What kind of issues are people contacting you about at this time?
People have been contacting us about job loss and redundancy worries, debt problems and housing insecurities. It is not new for us to offer emotional support in this area as we have received calls about debt and financial worries throughout the 55 years that we have been in operation.

With the country currently in recession, what will the impact be on people's mental and emotional health?
Research shows that economic cycles give a clear indication of suicide trends, and recessions have been shown to be accompanied by an increase in suicide rates.
This is not only because more people become unemployed and are therefore more psychologically vulnerable, but also because those in employment feel threatened too. The fear of losing one's job or pressures caused by a downturn in business, demotion and cutbacks can be bad for mental health and therefore increase suicide risk.

How many people contact Samaritans about financial issues?
Samaritans in Ireland half a million contacts a year by phone, email, letter and face-to-face. Research undertaken by the charity shows one in ten (about 50,000) contacts concerns financial issues, with 41% of contacts who raise financial issues worried about employment, 32% concerned about housing and 25% anxious about debt.


With these kinds of worries affecting so many people, do the Samaritans think that there may be an increase in suicides as a result of the current financial climate?
Yes, there is an increased risk of suicides. Falling stock prices, increased bankruptcies and housing insecurities (including evictions, anticipated loss of a home and higher interest rates are all associated with increased suicide risk. Studies also show that being in debt is associated with mental health problems and suicidal thoughts and may contribute to someone actually taking their own lives.

Research shows too that people who are unemployed are two-three times more likely to die by suicide than people in employment, with unemployed men more at risk than unemployed women. Unemployment can result in poorer mental health, such as anxiety and depression, lowered self-esteem and feelings of hopelessness - all of which increase the likelihood that someone will think that life is not worth living.

Which groups of people are at increased risk of suicide in these times of economic uncertainty?
The people most at risk of suicide at this time are those who are experiencing financial problems - either people who were already suffering from poverty prior to the credit crunch and are now struggling further with rising costs of living, those who have recently lost their jobs or who have been unemployed for some time, those who are affected by a downturn in business, or those at risk of job loss.

People who depend on clients for their livelihood are also at risk as well as people in single-person households, those experiencing relationship breakdowns, or those who are isolated and without strong social networks.

A negative life change such as redundancy comes with a whole raft of implications. There are the obvious knock-on effects financially but there can also be feelings of low self-esteem and guilt at what someone perceives as their failure to provide for their family.

Such a lot of time is spent at work that it can become part of our identities. When that is taken away it can shake people more than they thought it would. There may also be feelings of guilt for those who do not get made redundant. People may lose colleagues who are friends or simply feel very sad at what is happening around them so it's important not to forget those who are left in the workplace.


Are there things that people can look out for that might indicate family, friends and colleagues are not coping and in need of extra support?
Signs to look out for include someone:

. Being withdrawn or unsociable
. Being low-spirited or depressed
. Drinking alcohol excessively or becoming dependent on drugs
. Finding it difficult to relate to others
. Taking less care of themselves
. Acting out of character
. Being tearful or constantly fighting back tears
. Being excessively irritable
. Finding it hard to concentrate
. Feeling less energetic or particularly tired
. Eating much less or much more than usual
. Putting themselves down (self-mockingly as well as seriously), e.g. "Nobody loves me" or "I'm a waste of space".

What kind of work issues are exacerbating pressures for people?
A number of work related factors can contribute to individuals' emotional pressure and enhance suicidal feelings. Unemployment, demotion, anticipated loss of a job, sales declines in a small business and people being forced to take pay cuts have all been found to be contributory factors to people being at increased risk of suicide.

How can people safeguard their mental and emotional health in these times of economic uncertainty?
Samaritans is encouraging people to actively seek help if they feel debt and financial worries are becoming a problem and starting to feel insurmountable. We urge anyone feeling distressed or struggling to cope to share their problems rather than letting them get out of control. Talk to family, friends and colleagues or, if people feel they can't do this, contact us. We are open around the clock, even when many other public services are closed.


How can Samaritans help?
Whilst the current climate means that there is an increased risk of suicides, this need not be inevitable. Samaritans is urging anyone with financial or work worries, or debt concerns, to seek support rather than letting problems get out of control. Samaritans is a confidential emotional support service available 24:7 for anyone in any type of distress or despair.

A recent survey of 462 people who contacted Samaritans shows that 74 per cent of suicidal people felt that getting in touch with the service helped them take a decision not to end their own lives and 70 per cent of people felt that speaking to a Samaritans volunteer helped them cope with the problems they were facing

Can people ask Samaritans to contact those they are worried about?
Samaritans operates a third party referral system whereby people can contact the charity if they are worried about someone else. When a caller expresses concern that a third party is in distress or despair, but is unlikely to contact Samaritans, the volunteer will ask to be given contact details so they can arrange to call and offer emotional support.

How can people contact Samaritans?
For 24-hour support, you contact Samaritans in a number of ways:
Telephone: 1850 60 90 90 - Republic of Ireland
08457 90 90 90 - Northern Ireland/UK
Drop in to: your local branch - details are in the phonebook
Write to: your local branch
Log on to:

Other organizations that can help