When it is Darkest: Understanding and Preventing Suicide

Prof. Rory O'Connor

Tuesday, 26 April 2022


One person dies by suicide every 40 seconds somewhere in the world. Every death by suicide is an unbearable personal tragedy and the ripples of suicide are vast, stretching well beyond our immediate families. It is a public health crisis that affects millions of people each year across the world. Every one of us will know someone who has died by suicide or we will know someone who has been affected by suicide, or both. Sadly, suicide and talking about suicide are plagued by stigma, myth and misunderstanding. However, we all can play a role in suicide prevention and that can start with understanding the complexity of the factors that lead to suicide and self-harm as well as challenging myths and misunderstandings. As a field, we have made considerable progress not only in understanding but also in developing interventions to tackle the challenge of suicide.

The event will be equivalent to 5.1/2hrs of CPD.


In this workshop, I will draw from my book When It Is Darkest: Why People Die by Suicide and What We Can Do To Prevent It (Vermilion, 2021). I will dispel some of the myths and misunderstandings associated with suicide as well as describing the Integrated Motivational–Volitional (IMV) Model of Suicidal Behaviour (O’Connor & Kirtley, 2018). The IMV model outlines the pathways to the emergence of suicidal ideation and the transition from suicidal thoughts to acts of suicide. This tripartite model maps the relationship between background factors and trigger events, and the development of suicidal ideation/intent through to suicidal behaviour. Crucially, the IMV model identifies clinical targets for treatment. As I have done in When It Is Darkest, I will present an overview of some of our clinical, experimental and intervention studies to illustrate how psychological, physiological and social factors increase suicide risk and what we all can do to tackle suicide. I will also highlight the psychological evidence of what works to prevent suicidal behaviour, including psychosocial interventions such as cognitive behaviour therapy and safety planning. Since the onset of the COVID pandemic there has been concern about the short, medium and long-term impacts on population mental health. I will discuss what we know about the impact of COVID-19 on mental health and wellbeing over the course of the pandemic. In addition, I will outline some other ongoing work on suicide prevention research as well as illustrating the opportunities to mitigate the risk of the longer term impacts of COVID-19 on suicide risk. The wider clinical and policy implications for the prevention of suicide will also be discussed.

Learning Objectives

You will learn:
• The common myths and misunderstandings surrounding suicide and self-harm

• What the Integrated Motivational-Volitional Model of Suicidal Behaviour consists of and its utility in suicide prevention

• What factors that can lead to suicidal thoughts and how these are different from those associated with suicidal acts

• What the evidence is for what psychological interventions in reducing suicidal behaviour

• Tips about asking difficult questions around suicide and how to support those who have been bereaved

Training Modalities

Didactic content, experiential components, polls, Q&A.

Key References

1. O’Connor, R. C. (2021). When It Is Darkest: Why People Die by Suicide and What We Can Do to Prevent It. Publisher: Vermilion
2. O’Connor, R. C., & Kirtley, O. J. (2018). The integrated motivational–volitional model of suicidal behaviour. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 373(1754)
3. Turecki, G., Brent, D. A., Gunnell, D., O’Connor, R. C., Oquendo, M. A., Pirkis, J., & Stanley, B. H. (2019). Suicide and suicide risk. Nature reviews Disease primers, 5(1), 1-22.

About the presenter

Rory O’Connor PhD FAcSS is Professor of Health Psychology at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, President of the International Association for Suicide Prevention and a Past President of the International Academy of Suicide Research. Rory leads the Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory (Web: www.suicideresearch.info; Twitter: @suicideresearch) at Glasgow, one of the leading suicide/self-harm research groups internationally. He has published extensively in the field of suicide and self-harm, specifically concerning the psychological processes which precipitate suicidal behaviour and self-harm. He is also co-author/editor of several books and is author of When It is Darkest. Why People Die by Suicide and What We Can Do To Prevent It (2021). He is Co-Editor-in-Chief of Archives of Suicide Research and Associate Editor of Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior. Rory acts as an advisor to a range of national and international organisations including national governments on the areas of suicide and self-harm.

Who should attend

This webinar is suitable to anyone with an interest in understanding and preventing suicide but it is probably most suited to those working in mental health and suicide prevention.