Let's talk about suicide
Last week was heavy in terms of suicide. I watched the Caroline Flack and Roman Kemp documentaries, and of course it is part of my job to cover inquests which means I deal with the subject on a weekly basis.
Until I worked as a journalist I really don’t think I understood just how common suicide is - it was just statistics on a website until I'd dealt with it first hand. I’ve actually found myself having to become numb to it at this point because there would be no way to get through the week without breaking down otherwise.
The youngest case I’ve covered was an 18-year-old, and I’ve had much more cases of men committing suicide than women.
In 2019 there were 5,691 suicides in England and Wales, an increase of 321 from the year before – that’s nearly 16 deaths every day. This figure is on the rise too, and Covid is only going to have made this worse.
Men aged between 45-49 still have the highest rate of suicides.
Roman Kemp’s documentary called ‘Our Silent Emergency’ looked into the reason why men are so much more likely to take their own life. He spoke to young men about the problem after he lost his bestfriend, Joe Lyons, to suicide last year.
He explores the mental health roots to suicide, and what we can do to try and help loved ones who might be feeling suicidal.
The big focus of the documentary was that Joe always came across as the ‘happy-go-lucky’ member of the group, and despite spending most days with Roman, there were no signs of how he was struggling with his mental health.
Roman said, “More than three quarters of men feel unable to confide in those closest to them about their problems. It’s no coincidence that on the same day we lost Joe, the police force found seven other men his age in the same situation.”
Men don’t speak up about how they’re feeling as much as women, that’s something that spells from boys growing up being told to ‘man up’ and ‘boys don’t cry’. This isn’t ground-breaking news to us, and although I think this stigma is improving, there is still a long way to go.
The documentary stresses that conversation is vital when it comes to preventing someone acting on suicidal thoughts. Roman himself said he found talking to others about mental health ‘cathartic’. He also spoke to a man who tried to commit suicide and his road to recovery started with talking to his dog. Even just saying something out loud can put it out in the world and therefore free it from inside you where it can build up.
Roman also spoke to Professor Rory O’Connor, director of the Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory. He said men often feel a ‘sense of entrapment’ which means their stresses build up until they fail to see a way out.
Put simply, he said people that turn to suicide are usually trapped by mental health and feel like they’re a burden to others, leading them to see suicide as the only way out.
He also lists some of the factors that could contribute to this sense of entrapment:
Issues with masculinity
Alcohol and drug use
Professor O’Connor has created a structured intervention safety plan with the aim of keeping someone safe:
Step 1 - Recognising warning signs
Warning signs that preceded a suicidal crisis should be explored collaboratively and compassionately.
Step 2 - Identifying internal coping strategies
These are strategies an individual can use alone in order to cope better with suicidal thoughts/urges.
Step 3 - Identifying people and social settings that can provide distraction
The aim is to identify people and social settings that can serve to distract individuals from their suicidal thoughts or urges.
Step 4 - Contact chosen family/friends for support with suicidal thoughts/urges
Identify safe and trusted people who the individual will feel comfortable disclosing their suicidal thoughts to.
Step 5 - Contacting professionals for help
This is a list of professionals and agencies that the individual can contact when a crisis is developing.
Step 6 - Making the environment safe
We really need to work collaboratively with the individual to remove or restrict lethal means of suicide.
Whether it’s men or women, the biggest step you can take to preventing suicide is talking. Once that first step has been made to seek help to release the overwhelming feeling of entrapment, slowly someone can recover and move away from those kinds of thoughts.
If you haven’t watched the documentary, please do. It’s available on BBC iPlayer.
Samaritans is the leading UK suicide prevention charity. Their helpline is 116 123.
For more information on the work of Professor O'Connor go to: http://www.suicideresearch.info/