The January Blues: Desolation

Warning: discussion of suicide

Last week in my county division, someone stood at the edge of a motorway bridge with the intention of jumping off. Fortunately, the emergency services got there in time and their life was saved.

I know personally the devastation that suicide can bring on family and friends. My close relative died 26 years ago, and the ramifications are still deeply felt.

As the third in this January Blues series, I wanted to discuss the often hidden topic of suicide. Suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 in England and Wales. About three-quarters of suicides in 2016 were male, and the highest rate was amongst men aged 40-44. For women, the age group with the highest suicide rate was 50-54 years. Around the world a person dies by suicide every 40 seconds, according to the World Health Organization.

Mental Health First Aid training teaches that you should bring up the topic if you have any suspicion that someone might be thinking of suicide.

Suicide can be prevented. Most suicidal people do not want to die. They simply do not want to live with the pain. Openly talking about suicidal thoughts and feelings can save a life.

The opening line, “How are you doing?” can be followed by, “Is it all getting too much?” and “Are you thinking about ending your life?” and then “Have you thought how you might do it?”

It seems an extreme conversation to have, but if someone you know is displaying any signs that concern you, it is worth having a conversation. And if you don’t feel you can take it as far as asking if someone is thinking about killing themselves, you can at least express concern and suggest they talk to their GP. Or, you can find someone else who is willing to have that conversation with them.

The Samaritans offer support 24/7 for those feeling unable to cope with the stresses of life.

It is sometimes thought that suicide cannot be prevented. However, in Detroit, Michigan, the Henry Ford Health System (HFHS) has received international recognition for its attempt to produce a zero suicide rate. In the past two-and-a-half years, they report that they have not lost a single patient to suicide. Mersey Care NHSFT have recently attempted to emulate this with their “zero tolerance approach to suicide”. We do not need to treat suicide as inevitable or unavoidable. We can challenge it.

Regarding young people and their risk of suicide, Norman Lamb MP has tabled an Early Day Motion titled ‘Save the #ClassOf2018’. The full text reads:

That this House welcomes World Suicide Prevention Day, which took place on 10 September 2017 to raise awareness and promote worldwide action to prevent suicides; recognises that suicide is the biggest killer of young people, male and female, aged under 35 in the UK; is deeply concerned that over 200 children of school age die by suicide every year in the UK, and believes that this is a national tragedy; supports the launch of national charity PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide’s campaign to Save The #ClassOf2018, to raise awareness of the scale of suicide in schoolchildren and build suicide-safer schools and colleges; welcomes the charity’s new suicide prevention guide for teachers and school staff as part of this campaign, covering issues including language around suicide, identifying if a child is suicidal, intervention and postvention, to equip staff with the skills and confidence needed to support children who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts; affirms that suicide is not inevitable and can be prevented; and urges the Government to pledge its support for the Save The #ClassOf2018 campaign as part of a national Zero Suicides strategy.

Further information about the Papyrus’ campaign to prevent young suicides is here.

We are not open enough about mental health, and we are certainly not open enough about suicide. Please talk to those around you about how they are feeling, and let’s watch out for each other.

* Kirsten Johnson is an Oxfordshire County Councillor and Day Editor for Lib Dem Voice. She stood as the Parliamentary Candidate for Oxford East in the 2017 General Election.