Suicide amongst people with PTSD

Suicide amongst people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

This is an extremely tough topic, and this article contains triggers and some very hard truths. However, it’s crucial to explore and discuss the link between PTSD & C-PTSD symptoms and suicidal thoughts and actions to save more lives.

For urgent psychological support, please call the Samaritans on 116 123 or text CONTACT to 85258 to reach trained volunteers at Shout. 

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can feel like being stuck in a nightmare, and it’s not unusual for some people to experience thoughts of suicide.

During 2020, there were 6,169* reported deaths by suicide across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Across all regions, the male suicide rate was higher than in females.

Studies have shown that people who have experienced a traumatic event and/or have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD or C-PTSD) may be more likely to attempt suicide. Infact, it’s been reported that approximately 27% of people who have had a diagnosis of PTSD at some point in their lifetime, have attempted suicide.

It’s also been shown that the average time between PTSD diagnosis and suicide was less than two and a half years.

Shocking statistics from one study showed that in a general population 3.5% of suicides reported in women may be due to PTSD, and 0.6% of suicides in men, suggesting that as many as 1.6% of all suicides may be a result of PTSD or C-PTSD. What is clear is that more resources and attention needs to be directed to preventing suicides, including those people with PTSD and C-PTSD.

The connection between PTSD & C-PTSD and suicide

In one study, looking at people with PTSD, over ‘half of the sample (56.4%) reported some aspect of suicidality with 38.3% reporting ideation, 8.5% reporting suicide plans and 9.6% having made suicide attempts since the trauma. Of the nine participants who reported suicide attempts, six had made more than one attempt. The proportions of participants who reported suicidality in this sample were significantly greater than reported within the general population.’

However, knowing exactly how many people with PTSD or C-PTSD have suicidal thoughts, make attempts on their life, or succeed in suicide, is a number impossible to collate accurately, through research has documented consistent evidence of a strong association between the conditions and suicide.

One study ‘examined all suicide deaths from 1994–2006 using the Danish national healthcare and social registries, and found that persons with PTSD had 5.3 times the rate of death from suicide than persons without PTSD, after adjustment for gender, age, marital status, income, and pre-existing depression diagnoses. A subsequent study examined death from suicide among all persons diagnosed with PTSD in Denmark from 1995–2011 and found that after adjustment for demographics and pre-existing comorbid psychiatric diagnoses, persons with PTSD had 13 times the rate of suicide than persons without PTSD.

We also know – from research carried out by London University UCL – that in general populations women with PTSD are almost seven times more likely to die by suicide, compared with women without this condition.

Figures for the incident of suicide among males with PTSD are also sobering, as the condition makes them four times more likely to end their life.

The researchers in this study also evaluated the time lapse between the ‘start’ of PTSD, and people dying by suicide. On average, it was less than two and a half years.

The association between PTSD & C-PTSD and suicide has been researched more thoroughly in military members and Veterans, (given the availability of registry-based data), so most of the more recent research in this area has been conducted within these populations. Studies have shown that by 2020, suicides amongst veterans and serving personnel in the British Armed Services were the highest for 15 years; and still rising.

What this tells us about PTSD and Suicide

This study reinforces the urgency of addressing suicidal thoughts in people with PTSD and C-PTSD. It also shows how vital early intervention is in tackling symptoms and offering robust therapies that achieve sustainable recovery.

Left undiagnosed, untreated or insufficiently supported, PTSD or C-PTSD linked depression, despair, isolation and guilt can escalate all too quickly, leaving individuals with the conviction that death is their only escape.

Also, new focus needs to be placed on the support provided to those who survive suicide attempts. Research into PTSD & C-PTSD and suicide has shown that 15% of people who survive, eventually complete the act. That number needs to be drastically reduced.

What is PTSD UK doing to address this issue?

Our mission is to find ways to increase awareness the causes, symptoms and treatment paths for PTSD and C-PTSD. Our aim is always to show ways to recover from this condition and achieve a better quality of life, but also to prevent more deaths amongst those with PTSD or C-PTSD.

We are also currently awaiting notification on our acceptance to the National Suicide Prevention Alliance (NSPA) to further strengthen the work we do to surrounding this issue for people with PTSD and C-PTSD.

What to do if you’re feeling suicidal

If you’re feeling like you want to die, it’s important to tell someone.

If you are feeling suicidal now you may be feeling very alone, lost, frightened, confused. You may be feeling there is no other way out of your problem, difficulties, worries, feelings, or whatever reason you are contemplating taking your life.

It may be that at the moment you are so overcome with feelings, sadness, despair, that you are not able to think clearly about other possibilities, other solutions, other alternatives, other ways of coping.

If you cannot see for yourself a reason to carry on living, try and give others the chance to explore with you whether they can help you – give someone a chance to do that for you.

Help and support is available right now if you need it. You do not have to struggle with difficult feelings alone. There a number of support phone lines listed at the bottom of this page for you to contact by phone, email or even text.

If you need help, or someone to talk to, please don’t wait. You can also try these tips for coping right now:

  • try not to think about the future – just focus on getting through today
  • stay away from drugs and alcohol
  • get yourself to a safe place, like a friend’s house
  • be around other people
  • do something you usually enjoy, such as spending time with a pet

Let family or friends know what’s going on for you. They may be able to offer support and help keep you safe.

There’s no right or wrong way to talk about suicidal feelings – starting the conversation is what’s important.

If you have seriously harmed yourself – for example, by taking a drug overdose – or you feel that you may be about to harm yourself, call 999 for an ambulance or go straight to A&E.

Or ask someone else to call 999 or take you to A&E.

What to do if someone you know needs support

If you’re worried someone might be experiencing suicidal thoughts – we encourage you to ask them directly.

The Samaritans note, ‘Asking someone if they’re suicidal won’t make things worse. Evidence shows it could protect them.

If someone is feeling suicidal, it might be hard to get through to them. They might be distant or distracted or feel disconnected from the world and their own emotions. They might not respond right away. But asking someone directly if they’re having suicidal thoughts can give them permission to tell you how they feel.

If someone does let you know that they are having suicidal thoughts, always take them seriously. You don’t have to be an expert, just being there to listen and showing you care can help them work through what’s going on. Let them know they’re not a burden and there’s always someone they can turn to – whether it’s a family member or friend, or a 24/7 helpline like Samaritans.

It’s OK to ask about suicidal thoughts. It could save a life.’

IF YOU, OR ANYONE YOU KNOW IS IN IMMEDIATE DANGER, PLEASE CALL 999.

For urgent psychological support, please call the Samaritans on 116 123 or text CONTACT to 85258 to reach trained volunteers at Shout. 

Alternatively, contact one of the organisations listed below:

  • Papyrus HOPELINEUK: 0800 068 41 41 papyrus-uk.org Confidential support for under-35s at risk of suicide and others who are concerned about them. Open daily from 9am–midnight
  • Sane  sane.org.uk Offers emotional support and information for anyone affected by mental health problems.
  • Samaritans 116 123 (freephone) samaritans.org Samaritans are open 24/7 for anyone who needs to talk. You can visit some Samaritans branches in person. Samaritans also have a Welsh Language Line on 0808 164 0123 (7pm–11pm every day).
  • Shout 85258 (text SHOUT) giveusashout.org Confidential 24/7 text service offering support if you are in crisis and need immediate help.
  • Mind Helpline: 0300 123 3393 The team at Mind (mind.org.uk) provide information on a range of topics including: types of mental health problems, where to get help and medication and alternative treatments. They will look for details of help and support in your own area. The lines are open 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays): 0300 123 3393

**It is important to note, that these deaths didn’t all happen in 2020, and we will not know how many did until all deaths are officially registered- this can sometimes take a year or more. Find out more about how suicide deaths are reported here.

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

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