According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics more than eight Australians die every day by suicide and 75% of those who take their own life are male. That’s more than double the road toll.
When someone says they are thinking about suicide, it’s a key opportunity to intervene – encourage them to access the help they need and potentially save their life. But understanding how often people who are experiencing suicidal ideation or behaviours (which includes thoughts, plans or attempts to suicide) disclose these thoughts and feelings to others is incomplete.
How often do people experiencing ideation tell someone else, and what factors shape whether they disclose this information? These are key questions, especially given suicide is one of the leading causes of years of life lost globally and limited progress has been made on predicting and intervening.
Researchers at Melbourne’s Deakin University and in the UK conducted a review of evidence considering more than 90 studies and over one million participants. They looked at people experiencing suicidal ideation, disclosures and death by suicide. These studies defined suicidal ideation in a variety of ways, but generally recorded a binary response to whether someone had or had not been thinking about suicide. The studies also usually recorded categories of people to whom a disclosure had been made (including healthcare professionals, family and friends).
The researchers found about half of all people who experienced suicidal ideation or behaviour didn’t disclose that to anyone. There was some indication that women were more likely to tell someone about their suicidal ideation, though the authors say that any effect of gender is probably small. Family members were most likely to be confidants, followed by friends and health professionals.
The authors believe these findings might help health professionals in being alert to people who are experiencing suicidal ideation yet may be reluctant to disclose this due to factors like stigma and shame. They say opportunities to defer disclosure (for example, giving an option of preferring not to say alongside binary yes/no questions) and considering context factors (like gender and social supports) might be useful when treating patients presenting with mental health concerns.