Excuse me if it looks like I’m repeating myself, or being gloomy, but I need to talk about suicide.
As usual, there’s a timely reason for this, with Monday 10th September being designated World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD), an initiative organised by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP). So many acronyms; I’m going to add my own: TUIMS – Totally Unacceptable In Modern Society! Grammatically, that’s technically an ‘initialism’ but in the context of this blog, let’s not dwell on negatives.
Back to the business in hand, starting with a harrowing fact that I’ve mentioned before (in blogs from April 2017 and the September before). In the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50. It causes more deaths than road accidents and far more than cancer.
There’s no single answer to that, and I’m sure you have your own ideas. For some men, the perceived consequences or embarrassment of seeking help are just too great. You know the sort of thing, whether real or imagined… What will the lads down the pub say? “He’s soft or weak, or just pulling a fast one because he’s lazy.” Or he’s “a nutter or psycho.” What would your dad think, or your grandad?
Truth is that dads and granddads probably experienced those feelings too. Unfortunately, ‘manning up’ is what their society expected. And that’s not supportive.
However, support is available. Widely. Too many men shun that opportunity, or don’t stop to think that it exists. Equally, there’s a macho propensity for simply ‘dealing with it myself’; ‘mustn't grumble’; ‘cracking on reward less’; ‘same s**t, different day’. What’s the worst that can happen?
Suicide. That’s what.
We need to start conversations.That’s the motive behind World Suicide Prevention Day. But I believe those conversations are beginning to happen. At the end of this dark tunnel, there may just be a glimmer of light…
In my April 2017 blog 'Depression: Don't Man up', the latest-available suicide data from the Office of National Statistics for 2015 showed a total of 6,188 suicides in the UK (against 1,732 for fatal road traffic collisions), split 75%-25% male to female.
Now we have access to 2016 data. And there’s a smidgen of good news. UK total suicides numbered 5,821. The ONS says this equates to an ‘age-standardised suicide rate of 10.1 deaths per 100,000 population’, articulating it more clearly this way: “this is one of the lowest rates observed since our time series began in 1981, when the rate was 14.7 deaths per 100,000.”
Simple maths tells me that this is a near-40% reduction in a little less than 40 years. And a significant drop of 5.93% in the space of one year. Is it that significant? My goodness yes, if you express that reality another way: in 2016, 367 fewer families and groups of friends had to deal with the trauma and tragedy of an unacceptable killer in their midst.
Sadly, though unsurprisingly for all the reasons I mentioned above, and many more besides I imagine, that male-female split remains unchanged at broadly 75%-25%. “A proportion which has been mostly consistent since the mid-1990s,” according to the ONS.
The most recent episode of Horizon, the BBC’s acclaimed investigative science TV programme, addressed this issue. It’s entitled “Stopping Male Suicide”. It is a fascinating and worrying study. Even before I watched the programme, what stood out for me was how the programme description points out that the thing most likely to kill the investigative presenter (Dr Xand Van Tulleken) is himself.
Ouch! I encourage you to take 59 minutes of you time to catch up with Horizon on iPlayer.
Depression is the most common underlying mental ill health issue linked to suicide. Though being depressed doesn’t necessarily mean a person will have suicidal thoughts. I think it’s fair to say that, left unchecked, depression can develop into a very serious problem that might impact a person’s rational thinking.
There’s always a build-up; one thought on top of another until it becomes unbearable. It’s tragic that the vast majority of men who have taken their own lives never spoke to anyone or tried to get help. So if you think somethings wrong, don’t assume someone else has it under control…they probably don’t.
The mission of the IASP through World Suicide Prevention Day is to get people, men in particular, to seek help or at least start a conversation. And we all have a role to play in that. When people can open up without fear of ridicule we will truly start to impact those stats, but here’s a thought...
Yes, government could be doing more but ‘government’ doesn’t know my friend like I do. Forget the stats and society’s greater issues for a minute. Why not focus on the impact that YOU could have in your own networks of colleagues, friends and family. Pick up the phone and let them know you care. Just imagine if we all did that, the stats would take care of themselves.
Terry is Director and Head of Training at Oakwood. He helps clients promote a proactive, rather than reactive approach to both personal safety and the positive mental health of their staff. He has over 12 years teaching experience in these areas, and advises organisations in the development of appropriate risk assessment and policy.