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“Sometimes all it takes is a smile”

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Today we join those observing World Suicide Prevention Day; a day dedicated to reminding ourselves and others of our resolve to work towards preventing suicide. For many this day may be triggering, for any number of reasons, and at the bottom of this post we’ve provided some signposting to services that can help. If you, or someone you love, is struggling, the key thing we want to convey is that support is available and, when the right support is provided, suicidal thinking, and subsequent action, can be prevented.

With more than 200 million suicide attempts annually, many of us will be affected by suicide. In the UK men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women, and the rate in Northern Ireland is higher still. There, more people have died from suicide since the ‘troubles’ ended than were killed in the conflict itself.

We spoke to award-winning Psychologist, Dr David Morrison, co-author of ‘Trauma and suicide’, a section that appears in our module D241 – Exploring Mental Health and Counselling. David is author of ‘Teaching Sensitive Topics’, an online training course available to all OU lecturers, designed to make the teaching and studying of sensitive topics safer and more effective. In his practice work David sees first-hand the impact of trauma, working with people in crisis to provide support at pivotal times:

Suicidal thinking and behaviour rarely has one cause. Instead it’s the end product of a complex mix of biological, psychological, social and cultural factors. Historically there have been few theoretical frameworks that bring together all these factors. However, in D241, we encourage students to explore the Integrated Motivational–Volitional (IMV) model recently developed by suicidologist, Rory O’Connor.

The IMV model explains that there are two key drivers of suicidal thinking. First, someone experiences defeat and humiliation where there is social rejection and loss. Second, the person can’t see any escape from the defeat or humiliation and feels trapped. This leads to a tunnel vision where the person sees suicide as the only escape route.

It’s critical to note that suicidal thinking is not an inevitable outcome of defeat and humiliation. The IMV model highlights a number of factors which can help, such as social problem-solving and social support. This means that with the right support, suicidal thinking can be prevented.

Another important distinction is that not everyone who thinks about suicide acts on the thought. The IMV model explains what governs this transition from suicidal thinking to behaviour. This includes past suicide attempts or exposure to the suicidal behaviour of others. As practitioners this helps us to identify people who are most at risk of attempting suicide and get them the support they need to prevent an avoidable tragedy.

In their campaign this year, the International Association for Suicide Prevention advocates connecting with others; even something as simple as a smile can be the first step towards life. Below we’ve collated a list of services that might help you or someone you love. Feel free to share, and to reach out and make a connection.

Interested in studying or researching Psychology at the OU? Find out more here.

Resources that may help:

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)

A membership body for accredited counsellors and therapists. Find information on different types of therapy and search for a therapist by specialism and location.

01455 88 33 00 (Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm)

Samaritans – 24-hour emotional support for anyone struggling to cope.

24-hour Freephone helpline: 116 123


Refuge – National Domestic Violence helpline. Run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge.

Helpline: 0808 2000 247 (Freephone 24 hours)


Men’s Advice Line – Confidential helpline for all men (whether in heterosexual or same-sex relationships) experiencing domestic violence by a current or ex-partner.

Helpline: 0808 801 0327 (Monday – Friday 10am – 1pm and 2pm – 5pm)




Breathing Space

0800 83 85 87

Northern Ireland


0808 808 8000



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