Can Suicide Ever Be 100% Preventable?

Will suicide ever be 100% preventable? Images of suicide prevention ribbon and semicolon

Have you seen some of the claims out there that suicide is 100% preventable? There are a variety of organizations that promote a zero suicide goal. One example is the Zero Suicide Alliance, which is based in the UK and offers free suicide prevention training. There’s a Suicide Is Preventable website, which belongs to Know The Signs, an organization based in California. Preventable, preventable, preventable. But is it reality or just a pipe dream?

While it would certainly be nice if suicide could be fully preventable, I have strong doubts as to whether it’s actually realistic. I’m also concerned that saying suicide is 100% preventable suggests that when there is a completed suicide, or even a suicide attempt, somebody has dropped the ball and failed to prevent it. And I just don’t think it’s that simple.

For suicide to ever be 100% preventable, the stars in a number of different areas would need to align 100% of the time. Here are some of the pieces that I can come up with.

Individual factors

One factor is the stigma regarding help-seeking. This is one area where suicide prevention campaigns can potentially have a significant positive effect in encouraging people to reach out for help. The more help-seeking for mental health is normalized, the better. Still, even normalization isn’t necessarily going to help if, for example, someone is feeling utterly worthless and undeserving of help of any kind.

Hopelessness is often a part of suicidal thinking, and this may be accompanied by feelings of helplessness. If someone is feeling that there’s no possible way that anyone would be able to help them, they may not see any point in reaching out. Addressing this is partly about making people aware of the treatment options that are available, but it’s also about making sure there are highly effective treatment options to offer people.

System factors

Calling a crisis line is seldom going to be enough on its own to deal with thoughts of suicide. The majority of people who experience acute suicidality are experiencing some form of mental illness, and that requires effective mental health treatment.

In a world where scarcity of resources is the norm in healthcare, there are always going to be limitations on what treatment is available and how soon it will be available. As long as people are being discharged from emergency departments because they’re not suicidal enough, suicide will never be fully preventable.

There are often financial costs associated with mental health treatment, and these can stand in the way of people accessing the treatment that would be most appropriate for them. If people can’t afford effective treatment, all that’s left is stopgap bandaid solutions.

There’s also the matter of how palatable treatment options are. I doubt I’m alone in wanting to avoid hospitalization at almost any cost. For people who are extremely ill, crisis lines are likely not going to do all that much; really sick people need inpatient treatment. If inpatient treatment is a hellish experience, people are unlikely to seek it out voluntarily. And unfortunately, there are all too many horror stories of inpatient experiences from hell.

96% of people think suicide is preventable
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Treatment factors

I think the biggest barrier to achieving zero suicide any time soon is the lack of effective treatments. Not everyone responds well to currently available treatment; there are a lot of people out there with treatment-resistant depression. Calling a crisis line may get someone through a difficult moment, but it’s not going to change the big picture. We need more treatments available so that everyone, or at least the vast majority, has access to something that will work for them.

Also, treatments also take time. Antidepressants take weeks to start to work. For people with borderline personality disorder, dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is the treatment of choice. Even once someone has made it through the often lengthy waiting period and gotten into treatment, there’s no quick fix; DBT programs can take six months to a year to work through.

Now what?

I’ve personally had multiple suicide attempts. The first two came before I got my depression diagnosis, and I thought I should be able to handle things myself. Since then, though, I think the only thing that would have really made a difference was if better treatment was available. Not as in access, but the treatment itself. My illness has always been difficult to treat, and all the suicide prevention campaigns in the world aren’t going to change that.

So, do I think suicide will ever be entirely preventable? Sadly, no.  What I think is important, though, is that suicide prevention campaigns target the multiple factors that play a role in suicide rather than focusing solely on awareness. We also need to ensure that better options are available so that no one feels that suicide is the only choice.

Do you think suicide is preventable?

You may also be interested in the post How Effective Are Mental Health Awareness Campaigns?

Straight talk on suicide - graphics of phoenix and semicolon

The Straight Talk on Suicide page has crisis and safety planning resources, along with info on suicide-related topics from the perspective of someone who’s been there.

39 thoughts on “Can Suicide Ever Be 100% Preventable?”

  1. I think some suicides are preventable, but not all. Also, many suicides are caused by cultural issues. Poverty, lack of health care/pain relief, horrible living conditions, etc.

  2. Great post Ashley!
    I think if someone feels suicidal, they need good resources to help when they are in crisis. Thanks for providing those. I also think if someone feels depressed, they need to talk to their doctors about an appropriate treatment plan. I used to take anti-depressants for my depression, until I found out about essential oils and their incredible healing powers. Now that is one less medication I have to take.

    I hope everyone reading this post is inspired to learn more about what can be done to prevent suicide, most importantly, talk to someone! A hotline, your therapist, doctor, best friend, fellow blogger, clergyman…someone can help. I pray you find that person.

  3. I think some suicides are preventable, with the right medication (if relevant), therapy, services and other supports. But I don’t believe it’s 100 percent preventable. Sometimes people do not respond well to existing treatments and decide they don’t want to live with such on-going suffering. Sometimes it’s an impulsive decision, not foreseen by others around the person, so harder to prevent (it would help, here in the U.S., if guns were less accessible, since they are so lethal). I heartily support suicide prevention efforts and on-going research into better outreach and treatment, so over time I think we can prevent more suicides.

      1. Yes, it’s actually a failure to protect people who are suffering from depression and might survive if it’s harder to access something lethal in the moment.

  4. No, I don’t think it is totally preventable, especially if we persist with the idea that it is basically an “individual” problem or that loss of hope is in itself a mental illness. Sure, there is a large contribution from mental illness, and ultimately it is the individual that decides to live or die, but that ignores so many systemic factors that contribute to loss of hope. I also think that for many of those who struggle with acute worsening of recurrent or chronic suicidal thoughts, the treatment they can actually access is not what they need.

  5. Unfortunately not. The one major change I have seen in Australia regarding suicide is the education and awareness around it (especially in men.) I feel like we are slowly starting to break the stereotype that men aren’t allowed to talk about their feelings. Something I feel is getting worse is bullying and so many young people feeling like suicide is their only way out. Its truly devastating

  6. First, Ashley… this was an excellent post! I know for a fact that if I hadn’t listened to my mother’s pleading to get help, I would have succeeded at suicide. It was because of my mother taking me to the hospital did I finally get help for my mental illness/disorders. Alcohol certainly played a part of this suicide ideation, but I had no idea I was mentally ill.
    I wish I could say that suicide was 100& preventable, and it breaks my heart knowing how many people commit suicide each day.
    Thank goodness for people such as yourself to provide organizations and hotlines to people in need of help. I only hope and pray that people utilize all these resources.
    God Bless, You!

  7. What an excellent thought provoking post Ashley.
    Now to the question itself is suicide preventable?

    No, sadly not – l have 26 suicide attempts, the last one more of an ideation, that got very close for comfort as a mere idea on the March 2017 when l was 6″ away from just allowing myself to fall 200 feet to the rocks below my feet. it was an overwhelming temptation to just do it and end the pain l was experiencing in my head at the time.

    i had been in a very dark depression for a good period of time, and was very determined to simply walk off the cliff. obviously l didn’t, l managed to pull myself around, sought out help from my doctor, started a blog in September and through gritted teeth and determination swung my mentality around and kicked the depression in the ass. of late, as you know l have once more been staving off depression, but thank fully l have had no desire to end it nor resort to my old buddy self-harm.

    Previous attempts 25 in total were all for the same thing – pain. Is the question the right question? should the question be can we prevent the pain that leads people to take their own lives? Once again no, because each person is individual, and each person’s tress load is reflective upon that person’s strength of character. What we need to do is train more people to recognise the signs and that doesn’t just mean the professional bodies, but everybody, lovers, partners, siblings, families, work colleagues.

    But then, we come back to the pain at the time in that person. no amount of training in prevention ultimately stops the person hell bent on destroying their life – prevention at that point is fucking useless, because your mind set is set on one goal – completion to stop the pain.

    Awareness is only the answer if someone is standing right next to someone who is looking to end their life right there and then.

    Good post Ashley.

    1. Pain is such an important thing to address, and those that support people dealing with pain, be it mental or physical, need to be aware of the potential consequences of not dealing with it.

  8. You wrote it so well. I really agree with you. I think it can’t be 100% preventable. I just hope that there’s better treatment out there 💗 I think that would change a lot and help people better.

  9. I believe it is preventable but I’ve always hated the term suicide prevention because it sounded too last minute and that people are measuring success/effectiveness by the number of suicides. I don’t think suicide prevention should be the end goal, but better mental health.

  10. Thank you for your thoughtful exploration of this topic. I don’t think suicide is 100% preventable. Someone close to me was suicidal and paranoid. She thought that anyone trying to help her was actually trying to harm her. So she of course resided help. She ended up committing suicide.

    Sometimes suicide isn’t something in itself but instead the end stage of a mental illness. So when someone dies of depression, or paranoia, or off bipolar disease, it’s the disease that causes the death by suicide.

  11. I don’t think it will ever be anywhere close to 100% preventable. There are people who “attempt” so as to get attention, but then it goes farther than they expected/ wanted/ intended it to. I agree that there are forms of treatment. There are ways to seek help, and if more people believed they were available; knew they were out there, it would help a great deal. I called the suicide hotline once. They told me I wasn’t actually suicidal and to stop taking up time that other people needed. Help is good up to a point. If a person is seeking help there is still time and you can still reach them; help get them treatment. If you discover they need help and they aren’t too far gone there is still something that can be done. However, once a person gets to a certain point, there is nothing anyone can do, nothing any drug can help, that will stop them. They have given up all hope, have made plans and have completely decided that this is the end. Once a person is there, it is too late. I have attempted many times, several where help would have been good (hence the hotline call) and I have sought counseling, am on drugs, etc.. every time I attempted nothing worked/ even bad happened to me; OD, deep cutting, etc… I have more recently gotten to that end point a few times; I had method, planned my funeral, what songs would be played, what would be done with my body, etc… Nothing would have gotten me out of it. The only thing that stopped me? I survived a crash that should have killed me, and every time I’ve tried before it failed. What was the point if I can never die?

    1. I agree things can get to a point of no return, and there needs to be effective help that’s truly available well before that point. Crisis resources that tell people they’re not suicidal are just not going to cut it.

  12. Thank you. My son died by suicide 7 months ago. Our hearts are broken. He told us he was suicidal and when later that he had a plan. Reading your words has helped me.

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