Winter is the hardest time of year. The days are shorter, it’s super cold and everyone is grumpy. Then comes Christmas and the crippling loneliness that so many people feel throughout the holiday season. It’s also one of the times of year when suicide rates peak.
Suicide is one of the few remaining societal taboos, and although people are starting to speak about it more, there is still much work to be done. Programmes like 13 Reasons Why that came out on Netflix earlier this year, although criticised by The Royal College of Psychiatrists for its “graphic depiction” of the protagonist’s suicide, are still breaking down the barrier of talking about suicide. Through friends and family connections alone, I know of at least 5 people who have committed suicide, the majority of them men.
It’s far more common than people think.
According to the Papyrus website (a UK based charity for youth suicide prevention), between 1980 and 2010, over 4000 men killed themselves each year. While the numbers for women are less, between 1000 and 3000 each year, suicide is still a prevalent cause of death, and in the UK, the leading cause of death for women under 35 and men under 50. The World Health Organisation estimates that 788,000 people died by suicide globally in 2015.
Richard Taylor, chair of the youth advisory panel at OCD Action explains, “We need to talk about male suicide – and not just when celebrities suffer. Suicide is the biggest killer of men in Britain between the ages of 20 and 50, but we seem only to talk about it when famous men die. Our society fears seeing men as vulnerable or weak, which makes the stigma around suicidal feelings even worse for those seeking help. If we don’t carry on the conversation, if the hashtags only last a day or two, then I think we’re failing.”
The discussion around suicide must become more widespread and more informed. Despite people’s personal experience with suicide, you can’t explain away the causes with anecdotal evidence. Most suicide (apart from in cases where people commit suicide for very different reasons, like giving your life up to save another), is very closely linked to mental health, specifically depression, and illnesses that can affect people’s mood.
So what can we do about it?
As a society, not just in the UK, but globally, we need to do something to try and prevent suicide. A spokesperson from the Royal College of Psychiatrists explained to me, “On a practical level, the best thing to do is change access to poisonous substances and other lethal methods of self-harm. On a societal level, we must try and reverse the taboo surrounding suicide and mental health in general. It is also essential that young people today learn how to use social media in a healthy way, and become aware of its potential toxicity.” On December 18th 2017, the front-page headline of The Times newspaper was “Social media is bad for your mental health, Facebook admits.” It’s clear that something needs to change.
From personal experience, I know that dealing with the suicide of a loved one, people struggling with suicidal thoughts, and the wide fall-out it causes is extremely difficult. It is essential that every person strives to do their best to change the way we view these issues.