Written by Corinne Yeadon of Being Better, Skipton
According to statistics men are 3 times more likely than women to commit suicide.
The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) created a campaign, #Project84, to represent the lives lost to suicide, raise awareness and promote change. This powerful campaign has proven successful in capturing attention and getting people talking.
In April the disturbing images of 84 life size male sculptures on top of the ITV building dominated the media. The intent was to raise awareness about the even more disturbing statistics relating to suicide amongst males. It was revealed that a staggering 84 males commit suicide each week in the UK. While I was aware that suicide in males under 30 was fairly common, I found it incredibly shocking that suicide is the biggest cause of death in men under 45.
I initially felt distinctly uncomfortable for the families of ‘the 84’ seeing this horrific representation. It is now my understanding that those who had lost people to suicide contributed to this campaign, both, in an effort to honour their loved ones and prevent further families experiencing this unthinkable loss.
Suicide is one of those topics that is spoken about quietly and not openly discussed. There seems to be a very real attachment of shame to suicide. There lies the problem I guess.
It would be very easy to trot out clichés and platitudes. When a topic is hidden it becomes saturated in half truths and myths, which I think is the case with suicide. As with anything I am loathed to generalise as I believe in the uniqueness of people but there are clearly common threads when one cohort in society is more affected than others.
Many years ago I worked in the field of domestic violence and welcomed the emotive Zero Tolerance Campaign which highlighted the harsh reality of the impact of domestic violence. Many people felt that this campaign was in bad taste and inappropriate but I recognise that as with suicide the subject matter is not palatable or something that can be depicted in a tasteful manner. To shroud suicide with a veneer of respectability is a disservice to the many who have lost their lives under desperate circumstances.
Raising awareness serves as a platform for learning, changing policy & practice, facilitating support networks and raising funds to support affected families. Ultimately, awareness is the first step to positive change.
There are strong opinions about people who take their own lives. I am not even going to attempt to factor in religious or cultural dynamics. I have had experience of suicide both professionally and personally and it is my belief that in a significant amount of cases people want the pain they are feeling to end and cannot see an alternative.
I am aware that people suffering with depression and experiencing suicidal thoughts often hold mistaken beliefs that their loved ones would be happier and better without them in their lives.
Suicide brings a whole other amplified level of grief and all the emotions that accompany it to loved ones. It is a situation which makes it difficult for others to support the people left behind. It is much easier to ‘say the wrong thing’ when someone has committed suicide. Therefore, avoidance of the people affected often feels like the safest option. We can attach too much importance on “how” somebody has died which can mean the loss that people are feeling becomes secondary. I once read somewhere that the pain that someone feels when suicidal does not die with them but is shared amongst the people left behind.
There are expectations and pressures on men to succeed and they are often defined by what they do rather than who they are. This can lead to unrealistic expectations and unachievable perfectionism. In addition to this, men are supposed to be strong and shoulder life’s challenges while protecting their loved ones who are reliant upon them. These feelings could be amplified if someone is experiencing feelings of inadequacy and is in a mindset of unhelpful thinking. I am pleased to say that the significant majority of people in therapy at Being Better are male which suggests a sea of change.
If someone’s mood is deteriorating they may be using alcohol or drugs to self medicate and lift their mood. There are obvious risks with this, substances can be a disinhibitor and can lead to reactive behaviour and enable people to embark on a course of action that would not happen if sober.
I could write at length about theories on why people view suicide as an option or a solution but I am more concerned with capturing people before they are lost.
As a therapeutic practitioner my biggest mantra is for people to express themselves whether that be verbally, singing, dancing, writing, art, sport or whichever medium is helpful to them. I’m a big believer of not ruminating and allowing things to fester and grow.
Sometimes the person suffering does not possess the where with all to ask for help. It is worth asking open questions about how somebody is feeling.
When considering disclosing suicidal feelings, there may be fears of sending someone into a complete tailspin and panic, which is not helpful and compounds feelings of being a burden to others.
Everyone is unique and individual but there may be some indicators of a deterioration of someone’s mood:
- Restlessness (inability to settle)
- Appearing preoccupied
- Not sleeping or over sleeping
- Increased alcohol or other substance use
- Irritability & agitation
- Lack of concentration
- Disengagement from friends / family, isolating self
- Manic behaviour, forced jollity
This list is not exhaustive and conversely there may be none of the above indicators.
Unfortunately we are not mind readers and cannot control the actions of another person.
If you are concerned about someone or have noticed some behaviour changes, contact your GP, other health services or the following helplines:
CALM – 0800 585858 or visit: www.thecalmzone.net for support and campaign information.
Samaritans – 116123 (24 hour helpline) or visit: www.samaritans.org to find your local branch and for other guidance.