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Suicide and self-harm in Britain: researching risk and resilience using UK surveys

McManus, S. ORCID: 0000-0003-2711-0819, Lubian, K., Bennett, C. , Turley, C., Porter, L., Gill, V., Gunnell, D. & Weich, S. (2019). Suicide and self-harm in Britain: researching risk and resilience using UK surveys. London, UK: NatCen.


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.

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.

Publication Type: Report
Publisher Keywords: Self-harm; Suicide; Gender; Surveys
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences
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