Please see below for information about SBRL news:

Understanding Suicide Risk in Men

posted Apr 8, 2021, 2:22 AM by Karen Wetherall   [ updated Apr 8, 2021, 2:24 AM ]

New blog by SBRL's Cara Richardson summarising findings from her recent systematic review examining suicide risk factors in men:

Male suicide: Our Silent Emergency

posted Mar 16, 2021, 5:25 AM by Karen Wetherall   [ updated Mar 17, 2021, 3:13 PM by rory o'c ]

Radio DJ Roman Kemp meets Rory O'Connor on his journey to understand young male suicide

I had the pleasure of taking part in Roman Kemp's documentary Our Silent Emergency on mental health and suicide which he made following the death of his best friend and radio producer Joe Lyons.  It will be broadcast tonight on BBC1 at 9pm as well as streaming on BBC iPlayer now.

As is always the case, 3 hours of filming was condensed into 3 minutes in the documentary. In those 3 minutes, I talk about the complexity of suicide, that people who die by suicide are usually trapped by mental pain, that they feel a burden on others. For around 6,000 people in the UK each year, this pain becomes too much and suicide is their desperate and permanent means of ending their pain.  

Three quarters of these tragic deaths are by men, and in recent years, suicide rates have increased in the UK, including among young people.  Many factors contribute to this sense of entrapment which can include early life trauma, issues around masculinity, loneliness, social disconnection, mental health problems, negative life events, alcohol and drug use as well as social disadvantage. Feelings of entrapment are triggered by feelings of defeat/humiliation, which are often associated with chronic or acute stressors and it is this sense of entrapment that drives the emergence of suicidal thinking.  

From thoughts of suicide to suicidal acts
Thankfully, most people who think about suicide don't act on their
thoughts, therefore, one of our challenges is to better understand who is at increased risk of attempting suicide or dying by suicide - so that we can help to keep as many people as safe as possible. To address this question, I developed the Integrated Motivational-Volitional Model (IMV) of suicidal behaviour which maps out the factors associated with the emergence of suicidal thinking and critically, those associated with an increased likelihood of acting on those thoughts by 
attempting/dying by suicide.  The IMV model describes a group of factors called volitional factors such as having access to the means to suicide, having someone close to you who has died by suicide, impulsivity, past history of self-harm and fearlessness about dying which are associated with increased risk of people acting on their thoughts of suicide. 

In the documentary, I also talk about safety planning which is a structured intervention co-created usually between someone who is suicidal and a mental health professional. Its aim is to identify warning signs as well as techniques to help keep someone safe.  Only a brief bit of my description of safety planning was included, so here is a list of the six steps of safety planning.

Safety Planning
Step 1: Recognising warning signswarning signs that preceded a suicidal crisis should be explored collaboratively and compassionately.

Step 2: Identifying internal coping strategiesThese are strategies an individual can use alone in order to cope better with suicidal thoughts/urges.

Step 3Identifying people and social settings that can provide distractionthe aim is to identify people and social settings that can serve to distract individuals from their suicidal thoughts or urges.

Step 4Contact chosen family/friends for support with suicidal thoughts/urges: identify safe and trusted people who the individual will feel comfortable disclosing their suicidal thoughts to.

Step 5: Contacting professionals for helpThis is a list of professionals and agencies that the individual can contact when a crisis is developing.

 Step 6Making the environment safewe really need to work collaboratively with the individual to remove or restrict lethal means of suicide.

Here's a clip of me talking to the British Psychological Society about safety planning.

You can find more details about one of our studies (the MQ-Research-funded SAFETEL study) on safety planning here and in my new book When It is Darkest.

There are also very helpful resources on the Staying Safe website developed by 4 Mental Health.

Roman Kemp has also written an article on feeling trapped by depression

Professor Rory O'Connor

16th March 2021

(video added 17th March)

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

When It is Darkest: New book by Rory O'Connor

posted Feb 14, 2021, 12:59 PM by Karen Wetherall   [ updated Mar 14, 2021, 2:39 PM ]

When It is Darkest:
Why People Die by Suicide and What We Can Do to Prevent It

New Book by Rory O'Connor

Publication date: 6th May 2021
Publisher: Vermilion
ISBN-10: 1785043439
ISBN-13: 978-1785043437

When you are faced with the unthinkable, this is the book you can turn to.

Suicide is baffling and devastating in equal measures, and it can affect any one of us: one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds. Yet despite the scale of the devastation, for family members and friends, suicide is still poorly understood.

Drawing on decades of work in the field of suicide prevention and research, and having been bereaved by suicide twice, Professor O’Connor is here to help. This book will untangle the complex reasons behind suicide and dispel any unhelpful myths. For those trying to help someone vulnerable, it will provide indispensable advice on communication, stressing the importance of listening to fears and anxieties without judgment. And for those who are struggling to get through the tragedy of suicide, it will help you find strength in the darkest of places.

From the Introduction:

"In this book, my aim is to get to the heart of this most tragic of human outcomes, challenging myths and misunderstandings. I also aim to illustrate the vulnerabilities in all of us, but crucially to show how these vulnerabilities can be catalysts to make us stronger. I will take you through the research evidence and the different ways in which we try to understand suicide, but importantly I will also provide a voice for those who are suicidal or who have been bereaved by suicide. I have deliberately steered away from adopting a textbook approach to writing this book. As suicide can affect anyone, I want it to be accessible to as wide a readership as possible."

"If you have ever been suicidal, have lost someone to suicide or are supporting someone who is suicidal or self-harming, my biggest hope is that this book helps, in some small way, in making sense of your own pain or the pain of those who struggle or have lost the battle to live."

Some early praise for When It is Darkest

"How do we really understand suicide? How do we truly support those struggling with and affected by suicide? This book.

Prof O’Connor gives us a rare and truly affecting gift of a book about the darkest edges of the mind -  skilfully combining the professional, the educational and the personal. If you want to truly get to the heart of ‘the big S question’, read this incredible book. I wept and I learnt."   
                ----- ProfessorTanya Byron, Clinical Psychologist, Author & Broadcaster

When it is Darkest is an essential read. Honest and unflinching, but always thoughtful and compassionate, Rory O’Connor brings light to a subject that has for too long been in the shadows. His message is clear: suicide is a problem which must be addressed not just by mental health specialists, but by everyone. This book shows us how.”
             ------ Dr Niall Boyce, Editor of Lancet Psychiatry

"I read ‘When it is Darkest’ in a single sitting.  What makes it so compelling is its unique combination of research, clinical, and deeply personal perspectives on one of the great societal challenges of our time.  Rory’s enthusiasm to make things better and his utter dedication to suicide prevention shines through.  He debunks myths, challenges perceptions (including my own), and shares his profound understanding of the tragedy of suicide.  Cutting edge research is described in an accessible and engaging way and is complemented wonderfully by the clinical stories throughout the book.  There is also a wealth of practical advice on everything from asking about suicide, to supporting those who are suicidal, to drawing up safety plans to keep people safe.  This is a really important book for those who are suffering with suicidal thoughts, those who have been bereaved by suicide, and the family, friends, and professional who want to help them” 

         ------ Prof Nav Kapur Professor of Psychiatry and Population Health, University of Manchester, UK

New Blog. Covid-19: Mental health research and the pandemic response

posted May 21, 2020, 5:14 PM by Karen Wetherall   [ updated May 22, 2020, 4:35 AM ]

Covid-19: Mental health research and the pandemic response

by Rory O’Connor

On Friday 13th March I was meant to fly to Australia.  But on advice from the University (not that I am superstitious) a couple of days beforehand, I had made the difficult decision to cancel my trip.  This was fortuitous for a couple of reasons; first, obviously, if I had flown I probably would have been quarantined on arrival. Second though, was that the following week, as concern about Covid-19 was growing, I got an email from Helen Munn, the CEO of MQ: Transforming Mental Health, the mental health research charity.  She had been consulting with MRC, Wellcome, ESRC and other organisations and she invited me to co-chair a group to rapidly pull together a Position Paper on the Covid-19 mental health science research priorities (in partnership with the Academy of Medical Sciences). She was responding to concern from within the research community that, without a coordinated effort, the mental health science response to Covid-19 may become fragmented.

As I was unexpectedly still in the UK, I agreed but didn’t quite know what I had let myself in for!  However, less than a month later, after daily author meetings, an intense period of writing, editing, consulting, and rapidly surveying 3,000 people with lived experience, the Position Paper was published on 15th April in Lancet Psychiatry.  The long days and late nights and the tight turnaround were worth it, though. The Paper garnered global media coverage, it highlighted the importance of mitigating mental health risks and it has already started to inform the Covid-19 mental health and neuroscience research agenda in the UK.  Around the same time, I also became part of the Covid-19 International Suicide Research Collaboration. This initiative, led by David Gunnell (University of Bristol), is important because we know from other public health and economic crises that risk of suicide can increase in their aftermath. So we worked quickly to issue another Call for Action, also published in Lancet Psychiatry, to ensure that suicide prevention is given the urgent attention that it warrants.

In terms of understanding the mental health impact of Covid-19 (including lockdown, social distancing and economic measures), UofG is playing a leading role in tracking the mental health and wellbeing of the nation during Covid.  Within days of lockdown, I was fortunate to secure funding from Samaritans and Scottish Association for Mental Health and supported by the Mindstep Foundation to set-up a UK-wide nationally representative multi-wave study to track the population’s mental health over six months initially (UK COVID-MH study; n=3077).  This study is a collaboration between colleagues in IHW (Katie Robb, Karen Wetherall, Seonaid Cleare, Jack Melson, Claire Niedzwiedz, Tiago Zortea, Heather McClelland) and the Universities of Edinburgh, Stirling, Leeds and Nottingham. I am particularly grateful to Jesse Dawson and Terry Quinn for expediting our ethics application so that the study could get up-and-running in super-fast time. We are also recruiting an additional Scottish only sample (n=2,500), funded by the Scottish Government, to track mental health outcomes over the next 12 months.  We plan to publish the initial findings from the UK survey in the coming weeks and we hope that our findings will inform policy and practice as we continue to recover from the pandemic.  Katie Robb (PI) and I, as part of the UofG’s CSO Covid Research portfolio, have also received funding to interview a sample of our survey respondents over the coming months.

Jack Melson and I, alongside Karen Wetherall, Seonaid Cleare and Cara Richardson have also been busy tailoring the Distress Brief Intervention (DBI), the Scottish Government’s flagship multi-agency response for people in distress, to be Covid-ready. In anticipation of the likely impact of Covid-19 on our mental health, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made new funding available to extend this crisis-response service and roll it out nationally. We were charged with developing new training and intervention materials in light of Covid-19 which we had to turn around in record-quick-time. We are delighted to be able to play our part in the government’s mental health response; indeed the first referrals by this new DBI-Covid 19 service were made on the 13th May – with plans for the service to go nationwide in June.

Finally, as part of the Scottish Government’s Academic Advisory Group on suicide prevention, Tiago Zortea is leading on a systematic review to explore the impact of public health emergencies on suicidal behaviour, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.  This is another collaborative effort; Tiago, Heather McClelland and I are working with Steve Platt (University of Edinburgh) and colleagues in Ireland and Canada to see what we can learn from previous emergencies. It is our hope that if we act now, we can mitigate suicide risk in the longer term.

A final reflection.  It is incredibly humbling and rewarding to work with such a dedicated group of people, both here at the University and well beyond. Everyone has a shared goal of trying to do whatever we can to help and protect the most vulnerable during this global COVID-19 pandemic, as we all navigate an uncertain future ahead together. 


"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:

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