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Choice of suicide method can strongly influence the outcome of suicidal behaviour, and is an important aspect of the process and planning involved in a suicide attempt. Yet, the reasons why individuals consider, choose or discard particular methods are not well understood.
This is the first study to explore method choices among people with a history of suicidal behaviour and individuals who have experienced, but not enacted, suicidal thoughts.
Via an online survey, we gathered open-ended data about choice of methods in relation to suicidal thoughts and behaviours, including reasons for and against specific means of harm.
A total of 712 respondents had attempted suicide, and a further 686 experienced suicidal thoughts (but not acted on them). Self-poisoning was the most commonly contemplated and used method of suicide, but most respondents had considered multiple methods. Method choices when contemplating suicide included a broader range of means than those used in actual attempts, and more unusual methods, particularly if perceived to be lethal, ‘easy’, quick, accessible and/or painless. Methods used in suicide attempts were, above all, described as having been accessible at the time, and were more commonly said to have been chosen impulsively. Key deterrents against the use of specific methods were the presence of and impact on other people, especially loved ones, and fears of injury and survival.
Exploration of method choices can offer novel insights into the transition from suicidal ideation to behaviour. Results underscore the need for preventative measures to restrict access to means and delay impulsive behaviour.
The processes and planning involved in choosing and attempting to die by a particular method of suicide are not well understood. Accounts from those who have thought about or attempted suicide using a specific method might allow us to better understand the ways in which people come to think about, plan and enact a suicide attempt.
To understand from first-person accounts the processes and planning involved in a suicide attempt on the railway.
Thematic analysis was conducted of qualitative interviews (N = 34) undertaken with individuals who had contemplated or attempted suicide by train.
Participants explained how they decided upon a particular method, time and place for a suicide attempt. Plans were described as being contingent on a number of elements (including the likelihood of being seen or interrupted), rather than being fixed in advance. Participants mentally rehearsed and evaluated a particular method, which would sometimes involve imagining in detail what would happen before, during and after an attempt. The extent to which this involved others (train drivers, partners, friends) was striking.
By giving people free reign to describe in their own words the processes they went through in planning and undertaking a suicide attempt, and by not interpreting such accounts through a lens of deficit and pathology, we can arrive at important insights into how people come to think and feel about, plan and enact a suicide attempt. The findings have implications in terms of understanding suicide risk and prevention more broadly.
There is a suicide on the British railways every 36 hours. However, the reasons why people choose to die by train are not well understood.
To explore factors influencing and discouraging the decision to attempt suicide on the railway networks.
We conducted an online survey and qualitative interviews with individuals who had contemplated or attempted suicide by train.
A total of 353 survey responders had considered and 23 had attempted suicide at rail locations (including railways and metro/underground); a third of these cases were impulsive. The most frequently reported motivations for contemplating or attempting suicide were perceptions of quick and certain lethality (54 and 37%, respectively) and easy access to rail settings (33 and 38%, respectively). The main factor discouraging people from rail suicide was its wider impact, especially on train drivers (19%). In qualitative interviews (N = 34) the desire to avoid intervention from others was also a common motivating factor for attempting suicide on the railway networks.
People attempt suicide by train because railway settings are easy to access and because of an inaccurate perception of certain and quick lethality. Tackling exaggerated perceptions of lethality may help reduce suicides by train.
Declaration of interest
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