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Suicide and self-harm in Britain: researching risk and resilience

Holdinghands Small
Published: February 2019

This study informs self-harm and suicide prevention work through survey analysis and consultation with people with lived experience.

Aim 

The main aim of this study was to raise awareness of surveys that could be used to inform self-harm and suicide prevention work. We asked:

  • What UK survey datasets are available for research?
  • What aspects of people’s lives are associated with self-harm and attempted suicide?
  • How do statistical findings resonate with people’s lived experience? What implications do they see?

Findings

Survey analyses revealed that risk factors for self-harm are wide ranging and include:

  • Mental health
  • Physical health and health behaviours
  • Social relationships
  • Stressful events
  • Employment and financial circumstances
  • Identity and demographics

Many different factors are independently associated with self-harm. There is a dose relationship, with more exposure to a factor linked with increased risk. Risks are cumulative that is, exposure to multiple factors is associated with greater risk.

Through facilitated consultation, men with lived experience, bereaved family members, and practitioners identified recommendations for responding to suicidal distress in men. These related to the following three main areas:

1. Recognising need: who is ‘ill enough’?

  • Permission - men said that they often did not know they were entitled to help
  • Ask - people who outwardly appear to be functioning may not be
  • Persistence - ask and offer help more than once.

2. Facilitating access: right words, time and place

  • What is available - support is needed with ongoing stress as well as for crises
  • Find the words - men wanted examples of how to ask for help
  • Allow time - employers expect recovery to be swift, some men felt rushed to come off medications or were discharged from services they still needed.

3. Adjusting delivery: equal engagement

  • Power - some were uncomfortable with service dynamics, preferring peer support
  • Every service contact counts - negative contacts had particular impact
  • Safe spaces - may be different for men and women.

Methods 

There were three strands of work:

  • Secondary analysis of nine survey series, spanning more than twenty years
  • Linkage of 144,000 survey participants to information on whether they were alive in 2013 and whether they had taken their own life
  • Facilitated consultation, through depth interviews with people with lived experience.

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org. 

This report is independent research funded by the National Institute for Health Research Policy Research Programme (‘Risk and resilience: Self-harm and suicide ideation, attempts and completion among high risk groups and the population as a whole’, 023/0167). The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

Main Report

Summary Report

Technical Appendices