People feeling suicidal have a higher pain threshold

Ahead of the publication of the Scottish Government's new Suicide Prevention Action Plan, IHW's Rory O'Connor spoke to BBC Scotland about ongoing work aimed at identifying triggers and developing life-saving coping mechanisms to help prevent people from acting on suicidal impulses.

His research has found that people who try to take their own lives have a greater tolerance of physical pain, and may therefore be able to withstand a more physically painful suicide attempt. "There are a lot of factors associated with suicidal risk, but one might be people who attempt suicide or die by suicide have a higher capacity to withstand physical pain" he explained.

Knowing this may help identify those at greatest risk, and enable mental health professionals to put in place the kind of safety plan that could potentially prevent people from attempting suicide again, including:

  • identifying a trusted person who could be contacted before or during a suicidal crisis;
  • follow-up telephone calls during the critical period between when a person is discharged from hospital and when they start receiving care;
  • keeping the environment "safe" to try to prevent the transition from thinking about to attempting suicide.

"If we can prevent just one tragedy it will be worthwhile" Professor O'Connor said of the crucial work of his team at University of Glasgow's Suicidal Behaviour Research Lab.

First published: 14 March 2018

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