Let me ask you a question. Trigger warning, it’s about suicide. How many people in the UK kill themselves in a week? Would you be surprised to learn that suicide numbers in the UK are, on average 117. 117 people end their own lives every single week. It’s a hard fact to swallow.
How many of those 117 suicides are men? 91. That’s over three-quarters. One every 2 hours.
It’s not a problem that is going away either. 2013 saw the highest number of suicides since 2001. Attempted suicides are more difficult to track, conservative estimates say that for every 1 person who is successful, there are 10 attempts.
If you are a chap and aged between 20 and 34, then the thing most likely to kill you is your mental health. You slightly older guys shouldn’t feel so complacent though, as you are most at risk of suicide. 25 in 100,000 people aged 45 to 59 choose suicide.
Are the medical profession failing? The thing is, they don’t know what they don’t know. In the 10 years between 2002 and 2012, 72% of suicides had not sought advice from a health professional in the previous 12 months. The problem is huge, and the answer is unknown.
– – –
Here is a story sent to me by Jimmy from the UK.
A few years ago I got in to gambling after responding to a mailing. I ended up getting in to gambling in a very big way, and in a lot of debt. It was all I thought about from getting up in the morning, until going to bed at night. The more I got in to debt, the only way out that I could see was to win it all back, which only made the problem worse.
I was too ashamed of my stupidity, and I couldn’t bring myself to talk about the problem that eventually I tried to commit suicide.
Unsuccessfully, obviously but it forced me to seek help.
After many years I am ‘back to normal’, not gambling, but still suffering from the debt I accrued, but a lot happier.
– – –
Jimmy’s story is not untypical for many men – a tendency to keep quiet, shame, fear, building up and bubbling over.
Suicide is a drain on society, and it is society’s problem to fix. There’s no one magic fix all cure – this requires a grass roots solution. We need to start making it OK for people to talk about these issues at a young age. Schools need to encourage their pupils to talk about their feelings, and to accept that everyone’s feelings are valid. Yes, another burden on our education system, personal health & pastoral care has a much bigger profile than when I was in school, so maybe we are making steps towards reducing these numbers. I sincerely hope so. It doesn’t end with schools though, we, the adults of today need to share our knowledge and caring – educate those who were not educated. We have a long way to travel, but we can make a difference.
In the meantime, how do you prevent something where the majority of people keep it to themselves before acting upon it. You can look for signs.
Depression, withdrawn, anxiety
Loss of interest in things they previously were interested in
Loss of hope or purpose
Impulsive or reckless behaviour
Giving away possessions, making end-of-life arrangements
Talk of suicide, and “ending it”
I know, right, they’re terribly vague indicators that people might be doing anyway, I guess the point is, if it’s someone you’re close to, you’ll know the background story and context to what they’re saying – act on it. If it’s a credible risk, you can go to A&E who’ll signpost you to local mental health services. Don’t stand by and watch someone you love or care for slip away – be the person they can go to, be their safe space. Help is available in the UK from the Samaritans (free on 116 123) or the NHS on 111, and even 999.
Suicide and me
It’s early spring, and I’m asleep in my bed with my wife.
Suddenly a noise wakes me up. It’s my phone ringing. My heart is pounding, slightly confused I look at the alarm clock. 3.56am. I pick up my phone and look at the display it says “Peter”, my brother. My pulse is beating in my ears almost as loudly as the ringtone. I answer “hello, Pete, what you…”
Peter cuts me short, “it’s Mum, she’s dead, she’s killed herself”.
“You’re joking”. The only words I could think of.
“Look bro, it’s 4am on a Tuesday morning, I’m not joking, just get here as soon as you can”
I hung up and broke down. I have never sobbed so hard in my life.
The “here” that Peter was referring to is several hours drive from where I live. I had to get there. My wife and myself jumped into the car and I started to drive. I had got less than 30 miles when I just started crying again.
Driving on a motorway is not the best place to start crying, so we pulled over and my wife drove.
I don’t quite know where the time went, but we arrived at my brother’s shortly after 9am. My dad, all my siblings and 2 police cars were there. At around 1am someone had jumped from a bridge into the path of a lorry travelling reasonably fast. Mum’s car was nearby, they were trying to identify the body, but they thought it was Mum.
The last time I’d seen mum was about 2 months previously, she had looked well. She struggled with Bipolar, had several failed suicide attempts before, and had been sectioned but these were years ago, and she had got her life back on track. She was part way through a psychology degree course, had a new partner and seemed happy. Although she was still on medicine, she hadn’t accessed any formalised mental health service for some considerable time.
That was the last time I saw her. Since a lorry travelling at around 50mph does unthinkable things to a bag of flesh and bones, we were advised by the police not to see the body.
In the aftermath of her suicide, it fell to me as next of kin to sort stuff out, fortunately Pete helped me out. First we had to empty her house. The housing association gave us until the end of the week. As I type these words, I am sat on a chair which was hers.
We had to sort out her finances, retrieving her car, her pets, her belongings, memberships, driving license, registry office, so many things that I can’t even remember. Oh, and the funeral of course.
Me and Pete were both adults when this happened, and I guess we did what we had to do, because I can remember vividly sitting in her bedroom and packing away her clothes, smelling them, remembering her. I remember looking through her uni work, and writing to the uni asking if they was any posthumous qualification she could get with what she’d done. It’s strange really how such inconsequential things become important.
One of my most clear memories is at the chapel of rest, being in a room, just me and whatever was left of Mum in a box. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I hugged the box and sobbed as hard as I had done 2 weeks previously when Pete had phoned.
I remember walking behind the hearse, and the hundreds of people at her funeral, and I remember standing outside the church afterwards.
Then nothing. For over a year. My next memory is moving house over 14 months later. Things happened, I know they did, I went to work, I even got a promotion damnit, but I must have been on some kind of autopilot.
Now, 10 years or so later, I don’t really know how I feel about Mum, I remember her with both fondness and sadness. Most of the sadness is because my own children will never know her. The eldest is asking questions and we’re being as honest as we can with them for the age they are.
I’m by no means reconciled to the fact that Mum decided to jump in front of that lorry, and because of the distance, I don’t have to face it on a daily basis, but some days there’s regret.
The whole family realise that on that night there is nothing anyone could have done. But what in the run up to that night? You get talking, and you hear that one of her lecturers had noticed a change in her writing, and attendance at class. You hear that a friend had been stood up for a night out. You see that the contents of her cupboards and fridge aren’t what you might expect. You find her notebook with some actually quite beautiful depression poetry in. On their own, they mean nothing, but together they show the deteriorating mental health of a woman who ultimately chose suicide.
But what’s the solution? How on earth could anyone have put all that together and prevented Mum from doing what she did? I don’t think anyone could.
And that is why it’s a cultural change that is needed. It may well be that we are living in a lost generation, and that suicide will continue to plague us, but I hope that the society my children grow up to live in will talk openly about mental health. And that’s why I share this story with you.
I can’t tell you about wanting to commit suicide myself, since I don’t think I’ve ever been that bad, but I can tell you what it’s like to be a survivor of bereavement by suicide, and it is most definitely not good. Now go, and save a life.
I’ve left the comments on this post open, not for sympathy but for you to share your experiences, keep the conversation going. Thank you for reading.
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