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"Those unbearable thoughts do pass" - Rory O'Connor on BBC Scotland

posted Feb 24, 2020, 1:29 PM by rory o'c   [ updated Feb 24, 2020, 1:38 PM ]

Rory O'Connor was interviewed on BBC Scotland's The Nine news and current affairs programme in the aftermath of Caroline Flack's death.  Here's part of the interview here where he discusses the complexity of suicide and the importance of safety planning in suicide prevention.

If you are affected by suicide or concerned about yourself or someone else the following organisations offer advice and support:

Samaritans  116 123 (UK and ROI)

Childline 0800 1111 (UK)

Breathing Space 0800 83 85 87

Lifeline (N Ireland) 0808 808 8000

Young Minds 

NHS 24  111

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA) 1 800 273 82

Distress Brief Intervention programme wins prestigious Scottish Health Award

posted Nov 23, 2019, 10:40 AM by Karen Wetherall   [ updated Nov 23, 2019, 10:44 AM ]

Distress Brief Intervention programme wins prestigious Scottish Health Award

A unique mental health programme set up to help those in distress, which was developed through work led by Rory O’Connor and Jack Melson, has won a prestigious Scottish Health Award.

The national Distress Brief Intervention programme which is a partnership between a range of statutory and 3rd sector organisations including the University of Glasgow received the Care for Mental Health award at the Scottish Health Awards event held in Edinburgh on the 14th of November.


Jack (2nd from right) attended the event on behalf of the UofG Intervention Development and Training team. Jack, Rory and Karen Wetherall developed the intervention and the training programme which enables frontline and 3rd sector services staff to provide the intervention. 

The Distress Brief Intervention programme has so far helped almost 5000 people in distress by bringing together frontline emergency department staff, police officers, primary care and Scottish Ambulance Service paramedics and 3rd sector services together to improve the frontline response to distress.

Rory O'Connor wins Mind Media Award for Best Podcast

posted Nov 17, 2019, 1:25 PM by Karen Wetherall   [ updated Nov 17, 2019, 2:32 PM ]

Mind Media Award Best Podcast 2019

Rory O'Connor was delighted to win a Mind Media Award for Best Podcast together with Paul McGregor and Hannah Myerson at an awards ceremony in London on the 13th November - watch Rory, Paul and Hannah say a few words on accepting the award, above.

Their award-winning podcast: 'MQ Open Mind: How can we work together to prevent suicide?' was hosted by MQ: Transforming Mental Health.  It aimed to inspire hope and move beyond awareness raising.  It was first broadcast on World Suicide Prevention Day last year.

MQ Open Mind brings together scientists and people with experience of mental health problems to explore current mental health research and its potential to transform lives. 

In this episode Paul McGregor, a mental health campaigner, shares his experience of losing his dad to suicide while Professor Rory O'Connor discusses the circumstances that might cause someone to take their own life. 

The discussion is wide-ranging, highlighting myths, stigma, the integrated motivational-volitional model of suicide as well as how we can best work together to prevent suicide.

The podcast is available to listen to here:

If you are affected by suicide or concerned about yourself or someone else the following organisations offer advice and support:

Samaritans  116 123 (UK and ROI)

Childline 0800 1111 (UK)

Breathing Space 0800 83 85 87

Lifeline (N Ireland) 0808 808 8000

Young Minds 

NHS 24  111

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA) 1 800 273 82

BBC 1 Scotland documentary on suicide in young people

posted Oct 19, 2019, 7:17 AM by Karen Wetherall   [ updated Oct 25, 2019, 2:49 PM ]

Rory O'Connor has contributed to a new BBC Disclosure documentary, Lost Boys, about suicide in young people in Scotland. Against the backdrop of declining suicide rates in the past decade, the suicide rates in Scotland (as in England) increased in 2018.

He discussed the wider issues around suicide prevention on BBC Scotland's The Nine programme just before the initial broadcast of the documentary.

The documentary, which focuses on the families of a group of young people who have died by suicide, is a really powerful watch with heartbreaking interviews with those who've lost loved ones to suicide.

BBC 1 Scotland Wed 23 Oct 22.35
BBC News Channel Fri 25 Oct 21.30
BBC News Channel Sun 27 Oct 20:30
BBC iPlayer here after broadcast

If you are affected by suicide or concerned about yourself or someone else the following organisations offer advice and support:

Samaritans  116 123 (UK and ROI)

Childline 0800 1111 (UK)

Breathing Space 0800 83 85 87

Lifeline (N Ireland) 0808 808 8000

Young Minds 

NHS 24  111

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA) 1 800 273 82

SBRL Talk: Matt Spittal

posted Sep 23, 2019, 2:30 AM by Karen Wetherall   [ updated Sep 23, 2019, 2:39 AM ]

The Suicidal Behaviour Research Lab have the pleasure of hosting Associate Professor Matthew Spittal from the University of Melbourne, who will be talking on 3.30pm on Wednesday 25th September, in Lecture room 2 at Lilybank Gardens (University of Glasgow). 

Identifying patients at high-risk of suicide: the problems and pitfalls of using predictive instruments to make treatment decisions

Tools for assessing suicide risk are widely used in the emergency department and other settings to identify people at high risk of suicide. This classification then often informs treatment decisions, such as whether to admit a person as a psychiatric inpatient. In this talk I (1) describe a program of research that has examined the clinical utility of these risk prediction instruments; (2) explain why these tools don’t work, and why in the era of big data and machine learning, better tools are unlikely to be developed; and (3) offer suggestions for how we can do better.


Matthew Spittal is an Associate Professor and Australian Research Council Future Fellow at the University of Melbourne. He is a biostatistician by training. His research program crosses several areas of public health. His main area of research is on the role of individual practitioner performance on patient safety and quality of care. He also studies the epidemiology of suicide and self-harm and is developing a new area of research on traffic safety.




(Re-) Live Stream Panel Discussion on Suicide

posted Jun 8, 2019, 4:36 PM by Karen Wetherall   [ updated Jun 8, 2019, 4:47 PM ]

As part of the 4th Suicide and Self-harm Early and Mid-Career Researchers' Forum in Glasgow (6-7 June 2019), Rory O'Connor (Glasgow), Siobhan O'Neill (Ulster) and Keith Hawton (Oxford) took part in a live stream discussion on suicide research and prevention


It is freely available by double-clicking below:

Blog by Tiago Zortea of his experience of the 18th Conference of the Portuguese Society of Suicidology

posted May 1, 2019, 8:16 AM by Karen Wetherall   [ updated May 2, 2019, 3:10 AM ]

Expanding suicide prevention: Inside the 18th Conference of the Portuguese Society of Suicidology 

Tiago Zortea 

Portugal is a beautiful country. Full of history, culture, architecture, music and it has some of the warmest people in Europe. Sadly though, a large number of people in Portugal are affected by suicide. Committed to promoting suicide prevention nationally, the Portuguese Society of Suicidology (PSS) has been working intensely for more than twenty years, to bring together people from different fields with a range of diverse perspectives on suicide and its prevention. Among its many activities, the PSS holds an annual conference, which this year (2019) took place in the beautiful city of Beja (region of Alentejo), on the 12th and 13th of April. I was kindly invited by the PSS to give a talk on attachment as a vulnerability factor for suicide risk, the main topic of my PhD*. Attending the event was also an excellent opportunity to learn about the work Portuguese scientists, clinicians, and activists have been undertaking in the country. 

Figure 1 – Photos of the city of Beja, the conference opening session, and a picture featuring Dr Ana Matos Pires, host of the event. 

The conference was comprised of several parallel sessions. However, the opening symposium entitled “Places and Sites: Geography, Architecture, and Multidisciplinary Work in Suicide Prevention” demonstrated the PSS’s commitment to understanding suicide risk and prevention from a broader perspective, moving beyond the well established psychopathological approach. In this symposium, geographers from the University of Coimbra presented a study showing that suicide rates are overrepresented in rural, less populated and more deprived areas of the country, mainly among men [1] (Fig. 2). Their findings have important implications for public health policies and the promotion of suicide prevention. Other topics such as the identification of areas of concern and means restriction, and the architects’ views on safety in public areas/buildings were also presented in this symposium. 

Figure 2 – Santana et al. (2015) [1]

Another impressive symposium included the work of the Observatory of Suicidal Behaviour (OSB) led by Dr Ana Matos Pires, Director of the Psychiatry Department of the Health Unit Service of Baixo Alentejo (who was also responsible for hosting the conference in Beja). Dr Pires chaired the symposium in which her psychiatry trainees and colleagues presented some of their recent work. The region of Alentejo has the highest suicide rates in Portugal (Figure 3), and the OSB team are trying to meet the challenge of tackling the high rates of suicide there. If it were a country, Alentejo would have one of the highest suicide rates in the world (43,6 deaths per 100,000 people). Alongside Dr Pires and without any public resources and investment, the mental health professionals Paulo Barbosa, Rodrigo Mota Freitas, Daniela Lascasas, and Joana Neto have been promoting and implementing suicide prevention campaigns, in a concerted effort to reduce suicide rates in the region.

Figure 3 – Mortality rates by intentional self-harm according to gender and region of residency, 2015 (Portugal, 2017) [2]. Numbers are equivalent of deaths per 100,000 people. Source: Portuguese National Institute of Statistics.

In the opening session of the conference, Dr Pires also presented a series of observations on the Portuguese National Suicide Prevention Plan proposed in 2017. She acknowledged that the suicide prevention plan itself is a good one, but the challenge lies in its implementation. Several barriers for the strategy implementation were discussed. Dr Pires’ considerations resonate with a recently published editorial on the implementation of national suicide prevention strategies by Platt and colleagues [3]. In the editorial, the authors mention that unsupportive political, social, or legal environment, and limited capacity to monitor implementation progress constitute challenging barriers for the successful implementation of any national suicide prevention strategy.

Another important highlight of the conference was a session of talks sharing experiences of public suicide prevention campaigns in Spain and Brazil presented by the president of the Spanish Society of Suicidology (Andoni Anseán), and the president of the Latin American Association of Psychiatry (Antônio Geraldo da Silva), respectively. Both speakers shared the current activities in their countries; their successes and challenges, as well as plans for suicide prevention at the national level.

I was saddened to learn about the extent of suicide in Portugal, the huge challenges to be overcome in the region of Alentejo, but I was inspired by the tireless efforts of Portuguese colleagues to save lives despite the lack of financial and political support. The broad view that suicide is a multifaceted phenomenon which needs to be considered from a multidisciplinary perspective was one of the key messages of the event. The Portuguese Society of Suicidology has been doing a brilliant job in Portugal, bringing people together to understand, intervene, and prevent the deaths of thousands of Portuguese people.


* I would like to thank Dr Inês Rothes (University of Porto; Portuguese Society of Suicidology) of the kind invitation to speak at their annual conference.


[1] Santana, P., Costa, C., Cardoso, G., Loureiro, A., & Ferrão, J. (2015). Suicide in Portugal: Spatial determinants in a context of economic crisis. Health & place, 35, 85-94.

[2] Portugal. (2017). National Programme for Mental Health 2017. Lisbon: Ministry of Health. Retrieved from

[3] Platt, S., Arensman, E., & Rezaeian, M. (2019). National Suicide Prevention Strategies – Progress and Challenges. Crisis, 40(2), 75–82.

The Son: a portrait of emotional pain and its devastating consequences

posted Mar 18, 2019, 2:52 PM by Karen Wetherall   [ updated Sep 4, 2019, 7:16 AM ]

UPDATE:  The Son is now showing in the West End's Duke of York's Theatre (London). For more info click here.

I spent the weekend in London catching up with a close friend from my university days.  The highlight, without doubt, was seeing The Son, the final part of a trilogy from French playwright Florian Zeller, on Friday night.

Perhaps highlight is the wrong word, I left the Kiln Theatre emotionally drained; The Son is immersive, uncompromising, raw and visceral.   I am still reflecting on it. 

The audience is taken on an emotional tsunami of teenage depression, self-harm and suicidality.  It focuses on one family’s attempt to deal with the unravelling of their son, Nicolas (Laurie Kynaston), against the backdrop of divorce and new family relationships.

We first see Nicolas before the play ‘begins’, pacing the stage furiously and scribbling on the walls as the audience are taking their seats.  Pain etched on his face. We then meet Anne (the mother, Amanda Abbington), Pierre (her work-focused ex-husband, John Light) and Sofia (his new partner, Amaka Okafor) and their baby.  Nicolas hasn’t been to school for three months,  Anne is struggling; she’s at a loss and thinks he would be better off living with his father, Sofia and his little half-brother. Sadly, this solution doesn’t have the desired effect and over the next 1 hour and 45 minutes, we track Nicolas’ angst, his hoped for recovery, his relationship with Sofia and his mother’s forlorn efforts to keep hold of her cherished son. 

Alongside exploring the relationships among the family, old and new, there are brief moments of light; when egged on by Sofia, Nicolas mocks Pierre’s dad-dancing with his father responding by throwing amusingly impressive shapes. This juxtaposition serves only to illuminate their struggle more profoundly; providing a glimpse of happier times. 

You really feel each family member’s angst and pain; right down to the pit of the stomach. It took my breath away in parts: in a not-able-to-breathe-sort-of-way. Incredible performances all round: Amanda Abbington and John Light are brilliant,  you get a sense of what bound them together in marriage, their helplessness to keep their son safe and Abbington’s thwarted desire to have her family back together. Both are utterly captivating.   Laurie Kynaston’s take on Nicolas is equally powerful.  It is vulnerable and nuanced, conveying the nothingness as well as overwhelmingness of depression and suicidal pain. Amaka Okafor’s Sofia is excellent also, as the new partner who is struggling to connect with Nicolas and understand his emotional pain.

The staging is exquisite; the clean, sharp lines and white walls of the Parisian apartment help to illuminate the emotional turmoil of this teenage life which is metaphorically strewn across the stage.

After the play, fortuitiously we banged into the cast and I asked Amanda Abbington how the cast deal with the emotional intensity every night, and as she also repeated in a tweet later, they are aware of the sensitivity of its content and make a real point of looking after each other.

If you are in London soon, try to catch The Son which is showing in The Kiln until 6th April 2019. 

If you are affected by suicide or you are worried about someone, Samaritans is available 24/7 on 116 123 or via email 

More crisis information is available here

Rory O'Connor

Director, Suicidal Behaviour Research Lab

18th March 2019

New Blog: “We love data” - Using data to inform suicide and self-harm prevention, Royal Statistical Society, London

posted Feb 28, 2019, 5:40 AM by Karen Wetherall   [ updated Feb 28, 2019, 6:08 AM ]

By Cara Richardson (PhD Student in SBRL) 

As part of NatCen’s 50th anniversary celebrations, the Royal Statistical Society hosted “Using data to inform suicide and self-harm prevention” in London on Monday 25th February. The question of the day was “How do we ensure the right data are available, analysed and communicated to address the major questions in suicide and self-harm reduction policy and practice?”

The presentations covered a variety of research areas, datasets and methods of analysis. The day started with a welcome from the chair Prof Louise Arseneault (Kings) and an overview from Prof Louis Appleby (Manchester) on the use of data in Suicide Prevention Strategies and a welcome reminder that “Behind the data there is tragedy to individuals and loved ones”. Then Liz Scowcroft (Samaritans, @Liz_Samaritans) made the case for accessible data as “Suicide is everyone’s business”. Following this general population and cohort surveys were covered; with Sally McManus from NatCen, who did an excellent job of organising this meeting, detailing the various datasets that are available and how to access these. Patience is key, though, as accessing the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) 2014 can take up to one year! The process involved in accessing the APMS 2014 is summarised below: 
Prof Tamsin Ford (Exeter) explained the use of surveys to investigate self-harm in children with emotional, behavioural, and neurodevelopmental disorders and Dr Becky Mars (Bristol) praised the use of longitudinal data from the ALSPAC cohort in adolescents. Dr Ben Windsor-Shellard from ONS explained the process involved in registering suicide deaths and the possibilities for data linkage of ONS and census data to provide UK suicide mortality data for different ethnic groups or students. Prof David Gunnell (Bristol) detailed the advantages and challenges of using national suicide mortality statistics, then Prof Louis Appleby (Manchester) presented data from the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide including the 10 ways to improve patient safety (see below).

Next we heard from Dr Sarah Cassidy (Nottingham) who advocated for increasingly accessible routine clinical data for those with autism and autistic traits. After lunch, Prof Nav Kapur (Manchester) emphasised the importance of using hospital self-harm data as it can help researchers and clinicians determine what works, what doesn’t work and when to intervene in this population. Next up was Dr Karyn Ayre (Kings) who covered her research in the area of self-harm in the perinatal period. Dr Ayre’s work has been submitted for publication and we hope to hear more about this soon. Then Dr Chris Fitch (Bristol) explained their work collaborating with financial services to investigate experiences of debt collections agencies with clients who express suicidal thoughts or behaviours and how best to intervene with these individuals. His message was to “step outside of health and think about engaging with other sectors”.

Caroline Turley, Head of Qualitative Research at NatCen, presented her research on self-harm interventions for mid-life men. This research led to recommendations for what men would like from services: Ask Don’t Assume, Recovery Takes Time and Be Mindful of Language and Imagery in the Media. Prof Ann John (Swansea) explained the various “big data” projects she is involved in and the importance of and utility of such data linkage. She also provided an overview of some exciting developments including artificial intelligence, specifically artificial neural networks, with routine health data to aid identification of those at risk of suicide and self-harm.

Following this Dan Collinson from NHS Digital provided an overview of the datasets available in relation to mental health, suicide and self-harm, how to access these as well as the possibilities for data linkage. Finally Helen Garnham and Cam Lugton from Public Health England described the Fingertips tool which collates and presents a range of publicly available data including facets of suicide prevalence, associated risk factors and service contact among groups at increased risk. This provides planners, providers and stakeholders with a means to profile their area and benchmark against similar populations.

Overall, the conference was a great experience and left everyone feeling excited and motivated about the future of research in suicide and self-harm. The take home messages from Prof Louise Arseneault, summarised by The Mental Elf (@Mental_Elf) were:

Take home messages:

- "A refreshing meeting" 

- Let's make self-harm & suicide data ACCESSIBLE 

- Keywords: GDPR, need, voice, trends, big, profile, harmonisation, story, gap, challenges & love "we love data!" 

Now let’s start analysing! (After we receive the data that is)


Youth suicide prevention needs more than social media regulation

posted Feb 12, 2019, 2:43 PM by Karen Wetherall   [ updated Feb 14, 2019, 8:29 AM ]

Youth suicide prevention needs more than social media regulation

I cannot remember another time in the recent past when the prevention of youth suicide and self-harm has led the news cycle to such a degree – as it has done in the past few weeks in the UK. This is fantastic and long overdue. As someone who has been working in the suicide prevention field for 20+ years and who has lost important people in my life to suicide, I never thought I’d see the day when suicide prevention would be talked about so openly (and appropriately, for the most part) in the mainstream media.  


I have also been incredibly moved by the personal stories of loss that so many heartbroken loved ones have shared. Indeed, if it wasn’t for these vital contributions and the advocacy of those bereaved by suicide, I doubt that suicide prevention would be the leading political priority that it has become.  The governments across the UK (and the many advocates who campaign tirelessly) should be commended for prioritising suicide prevention which culminated in a global first – the appointment of a first-ever Minister for Suicide Prevention announced in England last year on World Suicide Prevention Day. 

However, as I illustrated in a recent tweet, my concern is that we may miss this golden opportunity to really move our suicide prevention efforts forward by blaming social media companies. By focusing too much attention on social media, we run the risk of ignoring the social, clinical, cultural and psychological causes of youth suicide. It is too easy, and inaccurate, to level the blame for youth self-harm/suicide at the apps of social media organisations.  My fear is that ‘the social media and suicide’ headlines are hiding the fact that most people who die by suicide are trapped by disadvantage and/or emotional pain, have often experienced early life trauma and/or did not receive the timely and tailored mental health treatment that they so badly needed. That should be our focus – how do we keep our young people safe – offline as well as online – especially the most vulnerable? 

Tackling social inequality and adequately funding mental health services will save countless more lives than regulating social media companies.  It shouldn’t be an either-or, though; it should be both.  In all of the recent media coverage, rarely has the complexity of suicide risk been conveyed (see Panel 1 below from Hawton, Saunders & O'Connor, 2012). Tackling social media use is only one part of the puzzle. The fact that mental health services have been cut, that the most disadvantaged are not protected and that there are unacceptably long waiting lists is at the heart of suicide prevention.

Of course, we should ensure that graphic images of self-harm and suicide are removed from social media platforms like Instagram. And I welcome the UK government’s efforts to ensure that Instagram (and other platforms) removes all such content – and NSPCC’s call to help keep young people safe online. These efforts are important because we know there is an association between suicide/self-harm and social media. Indeed, a few years ago, we asked adolescents about the factors that influenced their self-harm and about 1 in 5 mentioned social media/internet as a factor. This number has likely grown since.  So I am not questioning the relationship itself. But the relationship between social media use and suicide/self-harm is weak and complicated; it is not the key driver for suicide; and for many young people, social media acts as a safety net in times of crisis when mental health services are not available. We need to be careful not to demonise all aspects of social media and inadvertently remove this vital source of support for our young people. Another challenge is that the evidence for what works – in terms of treatments for suicidal young people – is severely lacking.  As a matter of urgency, we need to fund more suicide prevention research. 

I sincerely hope that politicians who were so vocal in their calls to regulate social media platforms will be similarly vocal in calling for more research into treatments to prevent suicide.  We need a step-change in funding for youth suicide prevention.  Let’s harness this moment to highlight the complexity of suicide risk; to promote hope and recovery and crucially to maintain the pressure on government to ensure that their strong words around suicide prevention are translated into funding for suicide prevention research and much needed services.

Figure 2 is taken from Hawton, Saunders & O'Connor (2012)

If you are affected by suicide or you are worried about someone, Samaritans is available 24/7 on 116 123 or via email  More crisis information is available here.  

Professor Rory O'Connor

Director, Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory


14/02/2019 update: In response to requests, I've added Figure 2 from tweet to the end of blog and corrected a typo on paragraph 5.

Re-publication policy: I am happy for this blog to be re-published in part or in full as long as it is fully attributed.

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