What would you define as brave? Donating an organ to save another human being? Jumping out of a plane at 10,000 feet? Giving yourself to do the best possible thing for everyone around you that, wanting to protect them and do right by them? What if in doing the latter, you took your own life because you believed it was the right thing to do?
In 2014 there were 6,122 suicides in the UK. That's a rate of 10.8 people per 100,000; however the incidence is over 3 times more for males than females. This problem is not exclusive to the UK either: In the European Union, 55,000 people die of suicide every year. In America, more people die by suicide (34,598) than by homicide (18,361) and 864,950 people attempt suicide each year.
Suicide is a subject that people don't like to talk about. It seems to be against our very nature; The fight for survival is an inherent characteristic embedded deep in the fibres of every human being and to even think about deliberately ending your life goes against all of those innate attributes we are built on. It's no wonder people find it hard to talk about this subject.
This is not an issue that affects just one particular demographic, nor is it a new phenomenon. In the UK, the peak rate of suicide in the last 150 years has been in 1905 & 1934 with a prevalence of 30.3 per 100,000, the second of those coinciding with the great depression(4). Currently the group is 45-49 year old males with a prevalence 3 times that of women. Suicides are not just exclusive to adults. A rather painful statistic is that between 2005-2014, 98 10-14 year olds have killed themselves as a result of intentional self harm.
This is quite shocking.
Between 2014/15 I volunteered as a listener for the Samaritans. It was one of the most challenging times of my life. The Samaritans is such a fantastic charity that offers a great service free of charge to the members of the public who are in need of emotional support. I have spoken to people who are at the lowest they can possibly be, and only see one way out, one solution to their problems.
Take a second to think about how you must be feeling to seriously consider taking your own life. How does it get to a point where you feel that committing suicide is beneficial for the people around you; that it is better for your friends and family if you weren't around to burden them. And then actually following through with it. It's something that luckily the majority of people will never have to experience. But for those that do, there must always be hope. There will be someone on the end of a phone to be there for that person. On many occasions, I was that person.
As challenging as it was for me personally, it was one of the most rewarding things that I have ever done. The feeling that I got from being able to be there for an individual is something that I cannot put a price on, and will probably never be able to replicate. But for me, raising awareness of mental health and suicide; to help increase equality and decrease stigma & discrimination is something that I will stop at nothing to make a difference.
Suicide is so hard to talk about openly without being judged. It's important that we can have open and honest conversations about our mortality due to the amount of people that actually have suicidal thoughts. Last year in America, 8.3 million people had thoughts of suicide (3) and in the UK, the charity Young Minds states that up to 26% of young people have thoughts of suicide. The majority of people who experience a mental illness do not die by suicide. However, out of those who do take their own life, more than 90% have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Which pains me to say, is there more that we could do?! Is there more that we could have done to prevent people from feeling so helpless; so vulnerable; paralysed with inadequacy and failure leading them to take their own life.
We must be brave for them, so that they can be brave themselves.
For too long, people with mental health problems have had to put up with second rate, second class services. This has affected lives and it had cost lives.
Unfortunately I don't think there is one single resolution to help stop these numbers from rising further. It needs to be a combination of factors; of early lessons to children and young people about mental health, something that I have campaigned for. Investment & development in our mental health services and greater access of treatments to people of all ages. A recent assessment of 209 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG's) in England found that 106 - that is over 50% need improvement . CCG's were set up in 2013 and are clinically-led organisations at the heart of the NHS system with one of their key duties being responsible for healthcare commissioning such as mental health services, urgent and emergency care & elective hospital services.
We as a nation are so lucky, in being relatively mature with regards to mental health awareness and are a nation filled with of generous warm non-judgemental people. We should be wary that just because someone wears a smile on their face and their physical health looks ok, inside their mental health could be a completely different story.
I'm not saying that everyone should go out of their way to voluntarily provide support to people in crisis, but as a collective, let's start having conversations early on before people get to that stage. A conversation at the water cooler, over a cup of coffee it doesn't take a lot of effort or time - just knowing that you are there for that person will have a positive impact on them.
As a society; and this might come about by generational change, we are becoming less adherent to the status quo. We are less shocked by non-conformist behaviour and we are more open than ever about subjects that once upon a time, were never talked about. Attitudes towards gender identity and sexual orientation have changed drastically. Homosexuality was illegal still in parts of the UK in 1980 and in 1992 the World Health Organisation still classified being gay as a Mental Illness! Now I am proud to say I live in a country where a man and a man or a woman and a woman can wed in equal matrimony.
Likewise with Suicide, suicide used to be illegal! As if you weren't traumatised enough with the fact that you were in such a place that you felt taking your life was the only way out, you make a plan and carry it out and.. Your suicide attempt fails and you are found by police, prosecuted and sent to prison. In 1956, 613 people were prosecuted for failed attempts of suicide. Most were discharged, fined or put on probation, but 33 were sent to prison.
We have come such a long way in such a short space of time and there's no reason why we should stand still and stop here. If I could achieve one thing right now, it would be to get people talking about subjects that need thought, attention and publicity to dispel myths and reduce any stigma around them.
People who die by suicide do not want to end their lives, but want to end their pain and suffering. It is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and whilst for the individual they may not be able to see a light at the end of the tunnel there is a light that never goes out. You may not always be able to see it, but it is there and that light is fueled by you.
So be brave yourself. Ask someone how they are really feeling, and show them that you care and are willing to listen to them. Because every conversation, every smile can make a difference to someone's' life that you may never know. Yet they may never forget you.