A point worth addressing: suicide

(Apologies. This was to be published in October but life became hectic and this article was forgotten about. In a poignant way, this just shows how such a big topic can be pushed to the side and not brought up. I pray that if you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or know someone who is, please don’t forget the importance of seeking advice and speaking out.)

I recall being told that those who are young aren’t aware of their own mortality. This hasn’t been my experience. When I was in 1st grade, I remember telling my mum I didn’t want to live anymore because I wasn’t loved (which was a lie). When I was a little bit older, I would make myself believe I wouldn’t wake up in the morning just before I went to bed. During my adolescence, numerous suicidal thoughts trickled into my mind. There was a time, after a difficult period in London and a confrontation with my parents, when I went for a walk with the idea of ending it. I returned and told my parents where I’d been heading. My mum, shocked and saddened, punched me on the arm and told me never to do such a thing again.

During my first year at university a very kind, gentle and loving man who was the father of four caring, talented and intelligent kids and the husband of a beautiful and strong woman died by suicide. That shook me. Rattled my bones and is a moment that continues to bounce around inside me. He’d taught me how to scuba-dive. I’d managed to annoy him when I’d left his eldest daughter stuck half way up a tree. I remember his smiles and the conversations we’d had. He was a good man. It didn’t make sense. It still doesn’t.

Later that same year, I managed to find myself in a spot of bother due to taking some acid. The trip had lasted a week and I wanted out. At first, thoughts of instant death entered my mind. Eventually, I decided to jump in front of a car in the hope of rendering myself unconscious. I left numerous notes. I rang my mum. I headed towards the road. That unintentional suicide attempt was stopped by two timely police cars. I was saved. A lot of people aren’t. This, I believe, is a topic worth being raised.

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During my research into suicide rates, I encountered a poignant BBC news article published in September 2014. According to WHO (the ‘World Health Organisation’), every 40 seconds someone completes a suicide with ¾ of them occurring in low or middle income countries. Further statistics WHO found were that:

• Annually, 800,000 people complete suicide.

• For people aged 15 to 29, suicide is the second highest way to die.

• In first world countries, triple the amount of men complete suicide than women.

Another article on the BBC website stated that in 2011, 6,045 people died by suicide with 4,552 of them being men. In 2012 there were 64 fewer suicides (still 373 more than in 2010) and, looking at the WHO analysis, the ratio regarding men to women hasn’t changed. Furthermore, an article published by the Guardian in February 2014, clearly stated that the suicide rate of men was 3 ½ more than women. Men are most at risk.With regards to this, Clare Wyllie (the head of policy and research at Samaritans) said:

“[Men] will grow up expecting by the time they reach mid-life they’ll have a wife who will look after them and a job for life in a male industry…In reality they may find that they reach middle age in a very different position. Society has this masculine ideal that people are expecting to live up to. Lots of that has to do with being a breadwinner. When men don’t live up to that it can be quite devastating for them.”

The scenario Clare Wyllie painted there can be the case for many, but not all, who die by suicide. There are as many combinations of factors as there are those who take their own lives, as research on the Samaritans website will make clear. This is far from being a simple issue and there are many people from different walks of life, who are at risk of suicide, including:

• The addicted.

• The bullied.

• Those with HIV or AIDS.

• Inmates.

• Lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender individuals

• Old People.

• Those suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

• Teens and Young Adults.

• Other visible minorities.

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I’m sorry I’ve reduced this discussion to statistics and lists. It is true that we are affected more by real-life stories than numbers on a page. We are bombarded, via twitter, the news or Facebook, by numbers and become anesthetised to them. I’m not a mathematician so, personally, I prefer figures to remain out of it. However, the problem isn’t going to vanish if we simply ignore the stats. This is a large scale problem with many microcosm waves. Each person to die by suicide leaves behind them psychological scars, grieving family and friends. At university, an acquaintance of mine confided in me he’d witnessed a close friend of his complete suicide. He was still broken by it though he hid it well. The same night he told me this truth he punched me in a drunken stupor. He spent the next half hour embracing me and saying sorry, over and over. He’s a good man, a gentle man. He shouldn’t have had to witness his friend’s death. His friend shouldn’t have felt he’d needed to take his own life. I’m sure the unprovoked punch was a release of the turmoil raging within him.

A reason many people die this way is that stigma and taboo forces people to remain silent even though they need to seek help. Though it is hard to talk about these issues, especially in a society where perfection is desired and anything less is frowned upon, conversations need to be had. In a BBC article Jonny Benjamin, a UK suicide campaigner, was quoted as saying:

‘I think there needs to be much more public awareness around suicide and how to approach people that may be experiencing suicidal thoughts and feelings, too few of us know how to react when they see someone who may be at risk of taking their life or experiencing those thoughts and feelings. ‘I think there needs to be much more public awareness, much more education in schools as well because, as statistics today have shown young people are especially at risk of taking their own lives.’

Suicide is a problem that doesn’t need to exist and a step towards stopping it is openness. If we are struggling with suicidal thoughts we need to become honest with our loved ones. If we have friends and loved ones who are struggling, we need to not judge and give them the breathing space to speak. I’m no expert in the prevention of suicide though I know being loved, and accepting that love, is a step towards recovery. I’m just an ordinary bloke who has had first and second hand experience regarding suicidal thoughts and the effects of suicide. I don’t feel adequately equipped with the knowledge of how to prevent suicide or to give advice on how to talk with others about this topic. Thankfully, the following people are in that position to help:

• Samaritans (08457 909090). They operate a 24 hour service 365 days a year (366 on a leap year) service. If you prefer to contact them in written form, their email is: jo@samaritans.org.

• Childline (0800 1111). If you’re a child or young person in the UK, these guys are here to help you. Calls are free and the number won’t show on your parents’ phone bill.

• PAPYRUS (0800 0684141). If you’re a teenager or young adult who has suicidal thoughts, call PAPYRUS. The following organisations don’t have a helplines but can be found on the web:

• Depression Alliance has a wide range of resources and links to relevant information.

• Students Against Depression has a website for students who are struggling with depression, low moods and/or suicidal thoughts.

• Bullying UK has a website aimed at helping those who are bullied, whatever age you are If you’re a bloke with suicidal thoughts: Don’t think people don’t want to hear your struggles or that you’re weaker for sharing your difficulties. One group who’ll be particularly great at helping you out is Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). Their helpline is: 0800 585858.

Equally, there’s always the old fashioned way of talking with someone you trust and is close to you. And, finally, there’s always a GP, mental healthcare professional, a minister, priest, rabbi (etc.) who you can talk with about the difficulties you are facing. You are loved, you are important, you are cared for.

The sources used within this article are:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-29060238

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21141815

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/feb/18/male-suicides-three-times-women-samaritans-bristol

http://www.iasp.info/resources/Groups_at_Risk/ http://www.nhs.uk/news/2014/02February/Pages/UKs-suicide-rate-highest-among-middle-aged-men.aspx

http://www.samaritans.org/about-us/our-research/facts-and-figures-about-suicide http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Suicide/Pages/Getting-help.aspx

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