Suicide awareness | What treatments and support options are available?

There is a wide range of support available for people struggling with suicidal thoughts. This can range from talking therapy, medication or psychiatric support if required. With the help of Mental Health Prevention Lead Lisa Gunn, find out more about medications for mental health problems, the link between suicide and substance abuse, and the treatment options for at-risk individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts.

When to seek help

Information covered in this article may be triggering for some.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or ideations, seek help immediately using one of the helplines listed below:

  • Samaritans: call 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)
  • You can also text 'SHOUT' to 85258 if struggling to cope. 
  • SANEline: call 0300 304 7000 (16:30 – 22:00 every day of the year)
  • National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK: 0800 689 5652 (6 pm to midnight every day)

A full list of NHS emergency helplines Crisis support can be obtained 24/7 by phoning 111. In the event of an emergency, please phone 999 or attend A&E for 24-hour emergency help with suicidal ideas if required. 

Suicide treatment at a glance

It’s estimated that 90% of people who die by suicide were suffering with a mental health disorder or condition at their time of death.

This highlights the importance of correctly treating individuals who have a mental health diagnosis. As we will discuss later, hopelessness is one of the core feelings that can cause an individual to take their life. If someone feels there’s no relief from the pain they’re feeling, their risk level for suicide is elevated.

If you or a loved one has suicidal thoughts outside of a crisis situation, there are a number of treatment options available. Continue reading to find out more about the lifestyle factors, medications, and talk therapies that are available.

The link between substance abuse and suicide

Feelings of hopelessness can enhance thoughts of suicide. The toxic effect produced when we ingest alcohol and certain drugs can amplify this feeling. The blood/alcohol concentration level of 63.5% of individuals who die by suicide indicated intoxication at the time of death.

The relationship between suicide and substance abuse problems like drug addiction and alcoholism cannot be overlooked. An estimated 25% of alcoholics and drug addicts die by suicide.

When compared with the general population, individuals suffering with alcohol dependence, or a drug use problem are 10 to 14 times more likely to die by suicide. Inside of these figures, it’s also thought that the severity (whether the individual is misusing more than one substance) may further increase an individuals likelihood of attempting suicide.

Medication and thoughts of suicide

Medications to help people cope with feelings and thoughts of suicide are a common option. There are a range of medications available which can help address a specific mental health problem or help to minimise the prevalence of certain triggers and issues. The administering and alteration of any medication should be discussed and prescribed by a healthcare professional. Common mental health medication types include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotic medications
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Mood stabilisers
  • Sleeping tablets

How long and how frequently an individual will need to take medication will be considered by a healthcare professional.

Does medication lower the risk of suicide?

Medications like antidepressants can be used to treat mental health problems such as depression, helping to lower the overall incidence of suicide in the general population.

Unfortunately, sometimes an individual will have to try several different antidepressants or a combination of medications before they find one that works correctly for them. There is no antidepressant or medication currently available that provides a “quick fix” for suicidal thoughts or ideations.

Sometimes, it can take weeks or months for the positive effects of a course of medication to manifest. This highlights how difficult it can be to treat serious mental health conditions with medication. An individual should be closely monitored during the period when medication is being adopted or changed.

Talk therapy for individuals who are feeling suicidal

Thankfully not every person who experiences suicidal thoughts and feelings attempts to end their own life. There are several different treatment options for suicidal individuals, including talk-based therapies and medication.

Talk therapy is a successful treatment option available for individuals suffering with a range of mental health problems. One of the most popular varieties of talk therapy for individuals who are experiencing suicidal thoughts is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

CBT is a collaborative way of helping the individual solve their problems and improve the way they think and feel about life. This solution-focused and goal-oriented programme involves working towards resolving issues in a safe environment.

Lifestyle considerations and why they matter

As with all mental health conditions, lifestyle choices and factors can influence the severity of symptoms.

  • Alcohol and drug consumption: as we’ve mentioned, the relationship between suicide and substance abuse can be a dangerous one. If an individual is feeling suicidal, consuming any mood-altering substance can have a detrimental effect on their mental health
  • Getting enough sleep: an inadequate amount of sleep or poor-quality sleep can have a detrimental effect on our mental health. So close is the relationship between sleep and suicide that certain sleep disorders are even classified as modifiable risk factors
  • Regular exercise: there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that there is a relationship between regular exercise and a lower risk factor in individuals with suicidal ideations.

When and how to seek help

If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis episode, act immediately.

Confidential advice and support for your mental health is available for free, 24 hours a day, from either the Samaritans (call 116 123 or text 'SHOUT' to 85258) or by phoning 111.

Please phone 999 or attend your nearest A&E for 24-hour emergency help with suicidal ideas if required.

Last updated Thursday 28 September 2023

First published on Thursday 28 September 2023