December 1, 2014

Suicide is the most preventable cause of death if people will talk and we can listen.

First published:, 27-Nov-2014

SUICIDE AFFECTS EVERY home, workplace, community, family and individual in the country to some extent or another.

Many people will find themselves wondering if they are able to continue with life and start to view suicide as a way out, having run out of energy, willingness, heart, hope or support. Every week in Ireland, 10 people die by suicide – eight of them men.

Much of what confounds us about the problem of suicide is trying to figure out why it happens. It seems to go against our most basic instinct for survival. What is going on in the suicidal mind?

Human beings have an immense capacity for privacy. The reasons therefore, for any one individual’s suicide can easily elude understanding, as it often lands ‘out of the blue’ for those left behind. The pain of the loss makes it all the more difficult to comprehend.

Giving people time to think

However we know, for example, that reducing access to lethal means is very effective in deterring suicide. Why is this? Why would someone not simply move to another method? The prevailing ideas suggest that it gives people time to think, and suicidal crises invariably pass.

A 1978 study looked at 515 people who were prevented from attempting suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge between 1937 and 1971. After 26 years, 94% were still alive or had died from natural causes.

In other words, if we interrupt the process of suicidal behaviour, most people (sadly not all) will not continue down this path. This is one understanding that research and modern psychological theory has given us in answering the question ‘why?’. Obviously interrupting someone while a vital step is not, in and of itself, enough; talking about the problems that led to the suicidal state is a key element in helping someone stay off that path.

Psychological pain

As such safety planning is an essential activity in helping someone who is suicidal. I will often say to someone who is considering ending their life “whatever problems are in your life, I cannot help you try and solve them if you are dead. You must stick around in order for there to be a chance to explore and deal with whatever is wrong”.

The suicidal mind is characterised by feelings of unendurable emotional and psychological pain – hopelessness, a sense that they do not belong or are not loved, and that their loved ones might be better off without them.

Suicidal people often have developed a state of fearlessness towards bodily harm or the suicidal act by repeatedly thinking about it or engaging in self harm or suicide attempts. Suicidal people have also often endured very difficult lives, and live with problems that are very painful and hard to solve.

Talking and listening – the two most important things

What is encouraging in working in this area is that when a person starts talking about the fact they are thinking about suicide, many of these difficulties can be addressed through one means or another. Sometimes simply the act of sharing the pain of living is sufficient to reduce some of that pain, enough to decide to bear with it a bit longer. Talking with someone like a friend, therapist, counsellor, psychologist, mental health professional or family member can afford the possibility of exploring how to live with the pain (or solve the problems leading to the pain); there is little to lose in trying, and so much to gain.

Human beings have an immense capacity for developing resilience, coping and endurance. We can thrive under enormous pressure, demand and hostility. Human beings can survive, accept and find meaning in the most painful of losses. Suicidal people have often lost sight of this within themselves; we all lose sight of this from time to time. So we turn to those around us for help. And, if we are lucky, someone will listen, understand, share the pain with us, and maybe offer some help to resolve the problems we are suffering. Suicide is the most preventable cause of death if people will talk and we can listen.

Dr Eoin Galavan is a clinical psychologist working in the area of suicide prevention. He is the guest speaker at a free public talk hosted by the Irish Association of Counselling & Psychotherapy (IACP), taking place at the Davenport Hotel, Dublin. For more information, log onto


  • Samaritans 116 123 or email

  • Console 1800 247 247 – (suicide prevention, self-harm, bereavement)

  • Aware 1890 303 302 (depression anxiety)

  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email – (suicide, self-harm, bereavement)

  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)

  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)