NEWS — 15 August 2013

Suicide, particularly by young men, is still far too prevalent. Talking about it is the way to break down barriers, says SHELLEY MARSDEN

WORLD Suicide Prevent Day is on September 10, with events taking place across the globe. One of the themes of the international suicide prevention community on that day will surely be encouraging people to speak out.

In Britain, as in elsewhere, despite the tireless work of charities like CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) and Papyrus and more, one of the main barriers to suicide prevention is still social stigma, whether it’s  on the part of relatives of someone who has committed suicide or a person with suicidal behaviour or thoughts.

The UK government unveiled a new £1.5m suicide prevention strategy in September 2012, which has been backed by The Samaritans, focusing on cutting the suicide rate and providing more support for bereaved families. The issue of male suicide was also debated in parliament in February of this year. Yet the word “suicide” is still taboo, and young people, particularly young males– who according to the latest figures are those most affected by suicide – often feel they cannot seek help and be open about what they’re going through.

Of the 26 EU countries, Ireland and the UK come low on the list for number of suicides, but within those figures, within the youth age category of 15 to 24, Ireland has the fourth highest rate of suicide in Europe, and England the sixth. Internationally, suicide is typically a male phenomenon. In Ireland, approximately 80-85% of suicides are male, a figure which is reflected in the UK and Europe.

Rachel Clare of Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) thinks it is a step in the right direction that suicide is being debated in a gender-specific way, and echoes the sentiment that breaking down stigma is crucial.  “Men are worried it will go on to their medical records; then people are going to judge them and think they’re less able to do their job,” she explains. “It’s this stiff upper lip mentality that can be damaging. Silence isn’t being strong — it’s a lot braver to ask for help.”

Clare believes that it is harder for others to spot signs of depression in men than it is in women: “Women say they can’t get out of bed and cry all the time and the GP will (hopefully) say, ‘You’re displaying symptoms of depression.’ With a man, symptoms are more likely to manifest themselves in anger, rather than sadness,” she says, explaining that men tend to turn to drugs and alcohol. “So with a man going to the GP saying, ‘I have a drinking problem or anger issues,’ immediately the flag should be raised that this could be a depressive episode.”

Recent events such as the death of Hannah Smith, the English teenager who was bullied by anonymous users of the website ask.fm, have brought suicide amongst young women as well as cyberbullying into the spotlight. However, according to Ciaran Austin, Director of Services at Console Ireland the high risk category for suicide remains young men aged 15 to 24.

He said: “The challenge we face now with social and new media is the issue of connectiveness. Young people when they’re still maturing emotionally need connectiveness to responsible adults. Social media provides it with peers, but they are random, transient and not conducive to people forming communicative relationships in which they can talk about the stresses and strains in their lives, build on coping skills and resilience levels at a young age. Console would call on greater guidelines for regulations on these websites. The online landscape is changing all the time and I think we’re struggling to catch up, as they’re led by demand, from a very young age category.

“As for young men, they’re not as eloquent as young women perhaps in finding a shoulder to cry on, or communicating with someone if they’re having difficulties. Our message would be, find an agency, a helpline, and adult in your life, to sit down and admit that you’re struggling. Crises are temporary. With a little bit of support, we know that they can pass. They don’t get fixed overnight, but you get stronger and feel more able to cope.”

For the full article, see this week’s Irish World (issue 17 August 2013).

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