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Breaking the stigma

24 HopelineUK

HOPELINEUK is a suicide prevention helpline operated by PAPYRUS, a UK charity dedicated to the prevention of suicide.  We believe that many young suicides are preventable.  HOPLELINEUK is a free and confidential call, text and email service that supports young people age 35 and under across the UK that are experiencing thoughts of suicide, and anyone concerned about a young person.  Our service is available from 9am to midnight every day, including weekends and Bank Holidays.

The stigma and perceived stigma associated with suicide can prevent people from reaching out for support.  We aim to combat the stigma associated with suicide by offering a non-judgemental safe space to talk openly about suicide.  We encourage the use of the word ‘suicide’ in conversations and challenge unhelpful language around suicide to promote help-seeking.

The reasons why young people experience suicidal thoughts are complex and vary from person to person.  Some of the reasons that we hear from young people include: mental health diagnosis; relationship issues; exam stress; school pressures; unemployment; feeling isolated; lack of support.  We listen non-judgementally and with empathy to understand what is going on for the young person from their perspective so that they feel ‘heard’.

We often hear from young people that they feel powerless to change their situation.  At HOPELINEUK we use a collaborative approach, working with young people to identify what triggers their suicidal thoughts, disable their plan for suicide if they have one, and to identify coping strategies and distraction techniques that are tailored to the individual.  Working collaboratively can both foster a sense of empowerment in the young person and support them to stay safe from suicide.

Across the world over 700,000 people die by suicide each year. The majority of these deaths are males and suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for 15-19 year olds behind road injury, TB and interpersonal violence.

It is a global problem and we do not talk about it enough.


Why do people think about suicide?

Suicide has many contributing factors which vary across the world, including:

  • Mental illness
  • Financial problems
  • Relationship breakdown
  • Conflict/disaster
  • Violence/abuse


Which groups are more likely to die by suicide?

The suicide rates in some groups are high. These groups include:

  • Refugees and migrants
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI)
  • Prisoners
  • Certain job roles, i.e. doctor, farmer, etc.


How big is the issue?

There are many reasons why suicides occur, and almost as many reasons why we don’t talk about it. But suicide deaths are just a fraction of the issue.

Behind every suicide death are multiple suicide attempts, with previous attempts being the strongest risk factor for suicide.


Why don’t people talk about it?

There is still stigma related to talking about suicide. It’s something we know exists, yet we skirt around the subject, we use outdated language, or we pretend it’s not happening.

This only makes the situation worse because when someone is having thoughts of ending their life, they don’t feel able to speak to those around them, or get the help they need.


What needs to change?

We need to:

  • talk about suicide
  • familiarise ourselves with common signs of suicidal thoughts
  • ask directly “are you having thoughts of suicide?”
  • recognise the unique challenges individuals face
  • support those who need help to seek it
  • speak to those who may be able to help

At HOPELINEUK, we hear from many young people who speak to us about mood problems and how they may be impacting on their thoughts of suicide.

The phrase “mood problems” can mean different things to different people.

Some young people tell us about feelings of sadness and anger that come and go every now and again. These mood problems are sometimes linked to situations and life events, such as exam pressures, family issues and friendship problems.


Mood Disorders

For people with a mood disorder, mood problems are experienced for longer and they can feel more intense.

For example, HOPELINEUK hear from many young people experiencing mood problems as a result of depression – a mood disorder which can cause persistent periods of feeling low, angry or hopeless. We also hear many stories from people who experience a lack of interest in normal activities as a result.

Bipolar disorder is another mood disorder and it can cause extreme mood swings. This means that people will experience periods of low mood and episodes of mania – meaning that they feel very happy or overactive. These episodes can last for a number of weeks or even longer for some.

No matter what is causing the mood problems, it can sometimes lead to feelings of emotional distress – where someone may feel things are too much and they feel less able to cope.


Getting Help

If you are experiencing mood problems, whether it’s because of a particular life situation, a mental health condition or even if you don’t really know why, you don’t have to experience it alone. There’s support out there to help you to manage.

Helplines are a great way to have someone to talk to and to find out more about some long-term support too if needed.

Fear and anxiety are two of the most common themes that young people talk to us about on HOPELINEUK. The emotion fear, and feeling of anxiety can present very similarly as a variety of physical and psychological sensations such as:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Having a sense of doom
  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense


Fear is a built-in core emotion which enables us to avoid dangerous situations, and is a reaction to a known threat to our safety. Whereas we feel anxiety when we’re worried about an unknown or poorly defined threat.  


The world is a very challenging place for young people, and there are many life factors which contribute to them being fearful and anxious in everyday life. Some examples of what we hear on HOPELINEUK are:

  • World issues (pandemics, wars and terrorism)
  • Social media (bullying, isolation, exposure to indecent content)
  • Family issues (abuse, poverty, family breakdown)
  • Educational issues (exam stress, unmanageable workloads, difficulties learning)


Young people’s relationship with fear is complex, and very easily damaging. Educational issues such as academic pressure and exam stress, can instil a huge fear of failure, and therefore manifest anxious feelings towards their futures. For some young people, they have struggled with returning back to school after a long absence due to COVID, as they have shared that being away from their comforts and safe spaces now makes them feel uneasy. However, school has been described as a safe haven for some children, as their family homes may have been incredibly disruptive due to things like relationship breakdowns, bereavements and loss of routine and support.


As adults, we have a very important role in helping our children to tackle and overcome adverse situations that cause fear and anxiety, and helping them to build coping strategies and resiliency skills, will help shape brighter and more confident futures for them.

Having a difficult relationship with food Is often really hard to talk about which proves to be a barrier in getting the right support, there remains a lot of stigma about this and many of us can be insensitive to another person’s struggles with food. Disordered eating is an illness caused by biological, psychological and sociocultural factors. It is important to understand that eating difficulties can present in a number of ways in different people – such as following strict diets, skipping meals and binge eating to name just a few.

Eating difficulties are very difficult to manage and can become overwhelming, this means often there are often relationship and other mental health difficulties for a person to manage. On HOPELINEUK we hear from many young people who feel that suicide has become an option for them in order to escape this emotional pain. Young people managing an eating disorder are more likely to experience thoughts of suicide. We are here to support anyone feeling this way – to help to keep them safe, suicidal thoughts do not need to result in suicide attempts.

Disordered eating can also be stressful for friends and family, parents can often feel that they should or could have done more to avoid these issues from presenting. Loved ones need their own support to stay well and create supportive environments that avoid accommodating disordered eating patterns.

You are not on your own – there is help and hope at HOPELINEUK.

Call: 0800 068 4141

Text: 07860039967


Help and advice resources, including conversation starters, coping strategies and distraction techniques can be downloaded from our website

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