Patterns and motivations for method choices in suicidal thoughts and behaviour: qualitative content analysis of a large online survey

Marzano, Lisa ORCID logoORCID:, Katsampa, Dafni, Mackenzie, Jay-Marie, Kruger, A. Ian ORCID logoORCID:, El-Gharbawi, Nazli, Ffolkes-St-Helene, Denika, Mohiddin, Hafswa and Fields, Bob ORCID logoORCID: (2021) Patterns and motivations for method choices in suicidal thoughts and behaviour: qualitative content analysis of a large online survey. BJPsych Open, 7 (2) , e60. pp. 1-6. ISSN 2056-4724 [Article] (doi:10.1192/bjo.2021.15)

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Choice of suicide method can strongly influence the outcome of suicidal behaviour, and is an important aspect of the process and planning involved in a suicide attempt. Yet, the reasons why individuals consider, choose or discard particular methods are not well-understood.

This is the first study to explore method choices amongst people with a history of suicidal behavior and individuals who have experienced, but not enacted, suicidal thoughts.

Via an online survey, we gathered open-ended data about choice of methods in relation to suicidal thoughts and behaviours, including reasons for and against specific means of harm.

712 respondents had attempted suicide, and a further 686 experienced suicidal thoughts (but not acted on them). Self-poisoning was the most commonly contemplated and used method of suicide, but most respondents had considered multiple methods. Method choices when contemplating suicide included a broader range of means than used in actual attempts, and more unusual methods, particularly if perceived to be lethal, ‘easy’, quick, accessible and/or painless. Methods used in suicide attempts were, above all, described as having been accessible at the time, and were more commonly said to have been chosen impulsively. Key deterrents against the use of specific methods were the presence and impact on other people, especially loved ones, and fears of injury and survival.

Exploration of method choices can offer novel insights into the transition from suicidal ideation to behaviour. Results underscore the need for preventative measures to restrict access to means and delay impulsive behaviour.

Item Type: Article
Keywords (uncontrolled): Attempted suicide, self-harm, suicidal ideation, suicide, suicide method
Research Areas: A. > School of Science and Technology > Psychology
Item ID: 31896
Notes on copyright: Copyright and usage
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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Depositing User: Lisa Marzano
Date Deposited: 11 Feb 2021 09:29
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2022 17:56

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