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Monday, 1 January, 2001, 02:25 GMT
Potential suicides 'go undetected'
Suicidal behavior can stem from hopelessness
Suicidal behaviour can stem from hopelessness
Potential suicides are going undetected because methods for identifying them are not up to scratch, say psychologists.

Research published on Monday suggests too much emphasis is being placed on mental health problems.

The authors warn that many potential suicide victims are not mentally ill.

They say the common denominator in the majority of suicides is a feeling of hopelessness - but not necessarily mental illness.

The authors say better methods of assessing people at potential risk are needed.

For instance, tests should focus on how they deal with problems.

Each year, between eight and 14 people in every 100,000 kill themselves.

You do not need to be mentally ill to kill yourself

Dr Rory O'Connor
Research author

Psychologists Dr Rory O'Connor from the University of Strathclyde and Professor Noel Sheehy of Queen's University Belfast, make their recommendations in a paper published in The Psychologist journal.

They say evidence of hopelessness and unbearable psychological pain can be found in more than 90% of all suicide notes.

'Identify those at risk'

They suggest future research into suicide should look at how those people at risk can be identified, and what therapies can be provided for them, and steer away from seeing it as caused by a psychiatric disorder.

Dr O'Connor said: "Suicide is difficult to predict and difficult to prevent. The way we do our risk assessment is not currently sensitive enough.

"You do not need to be mentally ill to kill yourself."

He said it was important to look at the ability to solve social problems, and see how those who could be at risk viewed the world.

"Perhaps, at a young age, you could train people in problem solving skills."

He said more needed to be done in "crisis intervention", when people attend hospital having attempted suicide.

Guidelines needed

"Currently there are no standard guidelines in how to deal with attempted suicides in hospitals across the UK. Those guidelines need to be drawn up, and risk factors need to be defined," he said.

Dr O'Connor said hospitals often sent away people who had attempted suicide if they were found not to have a psychiatric problem, suggesting they sought the advice of their GP.

This policy had to change, he said.

Dr O'Connor said in many cases it was understandable why people felt suicidal.

He stressed: "We need to make people feel they are not abnormal."

It can be extremely difficult to predict who will take their own life.

Suicides in the UK and Ireland
Almost 6,700 committed suicide
There was one suicide every 79 minutes
77% of suicides are by males
868 suicides by young people - more than two per day.

1998 figures, Samaritans

The Samaritans agree more needs to be done to identify those at risk.

She said the risk of suicide was often not considered even among those patients who had been identified as having a mental illness, and even once somebody had attempted suicide care was often lacking.

She said people who went to their GP or casualty after attempting suicide often received crisis support but no follow up care in the longer term.

"These are people who show signs they are in crisis."

'Nowhere to turn'

The other problem she said, was people who were in a severe emotional crisis, and did not know where to turn for help.

"The Samaritans do a lot of work just raising awareness of our service. Apart from our service, there is very little out there for people who have that sense of hopelessness."

People ring the Samaritan helpline to talk through a wide range of emotional problems.

But the spokeswoman added it was those who currently did not feel able to pick up the phone, to a stranger or a friend, that the organisation wanted to reach.

"One of the challenges for our organisation is to try and raise awareness in a way that will help people access us before they are suicidal."

One successful innovation has been an e-mail service to the charity which the charity said, can allow people to open up more freely than they sometimes can on the phone.

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See also:

20 Dec 00 | Medical notes
20 Dec 00 | Health
09 Oct 00 | Scotland
Alarming rise in suicide rate
31 Jul 99 | Health
Suicide risk assessed
13 Oct 99 | Health
Drive to reduce suicides
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