Suicide prevention organisations need to pay more attention to the socio-economic situation of people aged 45-60 at risk of committing suicide, according to a new study.
The study is published by the Flemish expertise centre for suicide prevention (VLESP), and was run by the Suicide Research Unit at the university of Ghent.
The Flemish government made a commitment to reduce the number of suicides by 20% by 2020, based on the figures from the year 2000. The latest set of available figures, from 2016, showed that the trend was positive for all age groups but one – those aged 45 to 60.
The new study is the attempt to explain that exception.
The researchers carried out interviews of 58 relatives of 48 suicide victims in the age group, between December 2017 and February 2020. At the same time, interviews were carried out among a control group of 24 relatives of 23 people suffering psychological problems, to help discover what may have triggered the decision to take the final fatal step.
The first conclusion the interviews produced was that there was a marked lack of communication by the victim in the lead-up to the suicide itself. If the subject was mentioned at all, it was in an indirect, impersonal way. However they did express dark, depressive thoughts without speaking of taking their own lives.
Almost half of those who went on to commit suicide had a previous history of suicidal ideas and even attempts. Suicide attempts are seen by professionals not as ‘cries for help’ as conventional wisdom has it, but as serious indicators of the likelihood of another attempt, which may prove successful next time.
Around half of those who died had been confronted with suicidal behaviour within the family, two in ten among friends and three in ten among the wider circle of acquaintances, colleagues and so on.
A majority of those who ended their lives had been suffering from physical ailments at the time of death – more than the members of the control group. And no fewer than eight in ten had experience of serious psychological problems among members of the family.
Other aggravating factors include housing, financial problems, judicial worries and employment problems.
The report arrives at a number of recommendations.
The joint responsibility for suicide prevention needs to be further expanded. Suicide prevention should not be limited to health care and should rather be seen as a task for everyone.
Family members should be even more involved in the prevention of suicide, as they can play a key role in recognising and discussing suicidal thoughts.
Suicide prevention should be embedded in the training of care providers so that they learn about suicidal behaviour and how to detect and treat it.
“Since it is important to focus on lowering the thresholds when seeking help for psychological problems and to make the availability of (online) help for suicide prevention better known, the researchers recommend setting up an awareness campaign on improving mental well-being,” the report says.
“Finally, it is advised to pay more attention to mental well-being and suicide prevention at work and the possible influence of an adverse socio-economic situation.”