A study focusing on the family and friends of people who were suicidal has highlighted the main challenges they face when trying to judge whether a person is in danger and decide what they should do about it.
The research was carried out by Dr. Christabel Owens from the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, supported by Devon NHS Partnership Trust and funded by the UK Medical Research Council. The findings are published in the British Medical Journal on 22nd October 2011 (online 19th October 2011).
Researchers investigated 14 suicides aged 18-34 in London, the South West and South Wales, none of whom were receiving specialist mental health care. They asked relatives and friends of the deceased what they had witnessed in the period leading up to the suicide and how they had interpreted what they saw. In all, 31 lay informants (parents, partners, siblings, friends and colleagues) took part.
The findings of the research show that relatives and friends did not always receive clear and unambiguous warning signals from the suicidal individual, and that, even when it was obvious that something was seriously wrong, they could not always summon the courage to take action.
Family members and friends of those who may be contemplating suicide are confronted by powerful emotional blocks, particularly fear. They may be afraid of intruding into another person's emotional life or afraid of damaging a cherished relationship by 'saying the wrong thing'. The whole situation is emotionally charged, and that affects the way in which people respond.
Unlike conditions such as stroke, where national awareness campaigns have been built around the very obvious signals to look for, this study emphasises that for suicide there is no clear "if you see this, then do that" message despite research literature suggesting that warning signs for suicide do exist.
Said Dr. Owens: "Even doctors with many years' training and
|Contact: Andrew Gould|
The Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry