This time of year is always a surreal time for me. It's been eight years now since the death of a very special friend. Wiser than his twenty-four years, it always felt like he had been around much longer. One of two, I suspect that a part of him must have felt like something was missing his whole life. The memories from the day we discovered he was gone, while now somewhat blurred, have never really left me. The times that haunt me the most though are the ones spent with his family in the days and weeks afterwards. To this day I still don't know which was worse. The loss of a beloved friend and thinking about the agony he must have been in to take his own life or witnessing the hell that his family experienced in the aftermath. This one event, sad enough in itself, is not the only time I have had a brush with suicide. There have been three other occasions. Tragically, we also lost another friend in those three. The last time it happened was the worst of all and I thank my lucky stars every single day that this person is still here. Thank god, two are still with us and have fought hard to get better and are now in a much happier and stronger place. All four of these people were men.
In February of this year the Office of National Statistics released a report that stated that in the year 2013, 6,233 people in the UK over the age of fifteen died as a result of suicide, with the male suicide rate being more than three times higher than that of the female rate. Suicide in this country is a serious problem. Male suicide is very serious. Despite this fact, it seems to remain a taboo subject in society. Many people seem to be afraid to talk about it. It's not an easy subject to discuss but if things are to change the stigma needs to be broken down. Whilst doing research into this subject I watched an interview with a woman from London who had lost her son to suicide. During the interview she explained that she had approached her local council to ask about the possibility of holding a vigil for people who had taken their own lives which was to be held in a local park. The response she received was that it was deemed too dark a subject matter and that this would upset other visitors while they were trying to relax. I found this deeply worrying. I hold a strong belief that the less we talk about uncomfortable topics the more power we give them. The barriers need to be challenged.
The same can be said for mental health issues in the UK in general. Most men are not actively encouraged enough from a young age to speak about their feelings. The British "stiff upper lip" long ingrained in our psyche is doing little to help. This kind of mentality can make discussing our difficulties feel shameful to a lot of people and more so with men. So instead it is less problematic to sweep the issues under the rug. Lift the rug slightly though and most find the problems remain. Slowly over time they can begin to build up. The drip, drip, drip effect of life's everyday stresses can start to snowball into a much bigger issue if left unaddressed. Family problems, money worries, relationship breakdowns, the constant pressure to work hard and go above and beyond in your job, more so at companies where there is a considerably older work-force in play. All these can begin to chip away at the ability to cope. A lot of men worry about placing a burden on their loved ones and feel as though it is their responsibility to shoulder the problems. It can get to a point where they might feel that there is no way out of what's happening to them. The problems need to be tackled before this point is reached.
Mental illness and depression can happen to anyone, regardless of age, background, culture, status and so forth. It does not discriminate. Nobody is immune under the right conditions. Suicide is a symptom of mental illness such as depression. To help with this we need the NHS to be focusing more on mental health. It makes sense to invest in looking after mental health before it turns into mental illness. This realisation seems to be happening but slowly. Think of the human body similar to a car in some ways. The wheels, the body, the framework, the steering wheel, will not function as required if the engine is broken. Look after the engine. In theory this could also mean fewer problems with physical conditions as stress on the body is a well known contributing factor to a lot of physical illnesses.
I came across a short video about youth suicide while doing my research for this post. In it during an interview with a coroner, he describes how he discovered that when the issue of suicide was being discussed frequently in the media that the number of cases of suicide that he was dealing with dropped dramatically to literally none and then when the coverage became quiet again, the number of cases began to rise once more. Thus proving the point that bringing this problem into the spotlight has a potentially powerful effect on the people who could be considering taking their own lives. We all have a part to play in helping to reduce this tragedy though and starting to talk about suicide and mental health openly will be a big step forward. Suicide is preventable.
There is help out there and tomorrow is always another day. Another day to begin the process of tackling these problems with support. There is always hope no matter how bad things appear to be. For help with these issues, please get in touch with any of the following charities:
Dedicated to all the families who have lost someone they love.
First published on www.littlemissgeeke.wordpress.com