This week will see the world unite in a global campaign to prevent the rising scourge of suicide and to tackle the historic stigma and taboos which still surround the subject. World Suicide Prevention Day on Tuesday, 10th September, is an annual initiative organised by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH). The subject is a cause extremely close to my own heart. I'm not ashamed to admit that I seriously contemplated ending my own life eight years ago when I was rock-bottom and suffering from depression and severe anxiety. Thankfully I didn't follow through on those dark thoughts and that's largely down to the considerable help and support I received from family, friends and healthcare professionals during a turbulent time which had left me questioning whether I had any place in the world. I count myself as one of the lucky ones. Many others who find themselves in similar positions don't have the support network that I was blessed with. They feel isolated, alone and afraid and they don't know where to turn. But there is help out there if you know where to look for it and can just bring yourself to reach out. That's why campaigns such as World Suicide Prevention Day are so vitally important in raising awareness of suicide, the warning signs to look out for, and the sources of help available.
Suicide among young men is currently a matter of growing concern. In the West Fife area of Scotland where I live, a total of six young men took their own lives in the space of just seven weeks earlier this year, prompting local newspaper the Dunfermline Press to launch a commendable campaign, called We Need To Talk, in a bid to raise awareness of mental health issues, to combat the stigma surrounding it and to support the agencies and charities trying to help those in crisis. The campaign is encouraging young men to talk openly about their problems without fear of judgement or shame. Here at Phoenix we wholeheartedly endorse the Press campaign, just as we do World Suicide Prevention Day. The risk posed to young men is an issue I highlighted in a previous blog (Depression - Curse of the Black Dog) in which I called for an end to outdated concepts of masculinity and the expectation on men to bottle up their emotions. The best thing I ever did was admit that I needed help. Without that starting point I wouldn’t be where I am now. A weight lifted as soon as I sought assistance and was able to talk about how I was feeling. There’s an old saying that a problem shared is a problem halved, and there’s a lot of truth in that. It took time but with the right support I eventually made a full and complete recovery.
Responsibility for preventing suicide rests not just with healthcare professionals but with the entire community. Everyone has a role to play, whether it's by taking the time to check on a neighbour you haven't seen for several days, providing a friendly ear to someone who seems down or getting actively involved through charitable efforts. My good friend and neighbour Lorna Ward is among those doing her bit to spread awareness of the issue. Lorna was so shocked by the recent spate of suicides among young men in West Fife that she's organised a fundraising event at Dunfermline West Bowling Club next Sunday, 15th September, in aid of the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) featuring live musical entertainment from Jason Brand, Misha Sutherland and Carly Schiavone. Lorna has also quit smoking for three months to raise much-needed cash to fund SAMH's vital and potentially life-saving work. She told us: "With all the terrible young deaths recently in my area, I wanted to do something to help. Its not much but if it can help towards saving at least one life, I will be happy." Phoenix is sponsoring Lorna's efforts which are very much in harmony with our own work in providing help and support to vulnerable members of society and people battling with depression, anxiety and addiction, and we would urge others to get behind her campaign too. You can find a link to Lorna's JustGiving page at the foot of this article.
Some people still think that depression is trivial and don't see it as a genuine health condition. They’re wrong. Depression is a very real illness with real symptoms, and it’s not a sign of weakness or something you can just “snap out of” by “pulling yourself together”, "manning up" or "growing a pair". In fact, the very use of such phrases will only exacerbate the sufferer's condition and drive them deeper into negative introspection, particularly when it comes to young men who tend to feel extra pressure to project a stereotypical image of masculinity and so bottle up their emotions until they reach breaking point. Male suicide is rising at such an alarming rate that it's been classified as "a silent epidemic". It's the seventh leading cause of male death overall and the second most common cause of death in men aged 10-39. These shocking statistics highlight the dangers of suppressing negative feelings and the urgent need to do away with old fashioned macho attitudes. Despair, depression, and suicidal thoughts can happen to the strongest amongst us. People generally, and young men in particular, need to know that it's okay to talk about their feelings and that doing so is actually a sign of strength, not weakness.
This issue has never been more important than it is right now. Official statistics confirm that the UK is a nation that is overstressed, overanxious, overworked and insecure. Economic turbulence, austerity, budget cuts, the overhaul of our benefits system, the rising cost of living, concerns about the impact of Brexit and world affairs, wage freezes and redundancies have all had a catastrophic impact upon the lives of ordinary people. UK employees now work some of the longest hours in Europe, and over half of them are living in a state of near-permanent fear for their jobs. We are caught up in a self-defeating spiral of stress, depression and despair which is destroying the quality of our lives. A total of 238 people in Fife have committed suicide in the last five years according to figures published by the Information Services Division (ISD). This equates to 12.9 Fifers in every 100,000 who felt there was no other way. Last year saw a total of 784 suicides across Scotland - an increase of 15% on the previous year. Responding to the figures, Mental Health Minister Clare Haughey said: "An increase in deaths by suicide last year is concerning, and is sadly reflected in other parts of the world too. We want to create a Scotland where suicide is preventable and where anyone contemplating suicide gets the support they need. Scotland is not alone in tackling suicide prevention and we will undertake more research to establish the underlying reasons for the increase in 2018. Suicide prevention is everyone's business and we will continue to do more in collaboration with the NHS, local authorities, the third sector and communities to save lives and reduce the rate of suicide by 20% by 2022".
Billy Watson, chief executive for mental health charity SAMH, was also disappointed by the figures. He said: "After a number of years in which we saw an overall downward trend, it is devastating news that significantly more people died by suicide in Scotland last year than in the year before. These figures show we must redouble our efforts as a nation to deepen our understanding of the causes of suicide so we can help everyone who needs it. At SAMH we are committed to playing our part in this." Suicide prevention remains a universal challenge. Every year, suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages. It is responsible for over 800,000 deaths, which equates to one suicide every 40 seconds. Every life lost represents someone’s partner, child, parent, friend or colleague. For each suicide approximately 135 people suffer intense grief or are otherwise affected. This amounts to 108 million people per year who are profoundly impacted by suicidal behaviour. Suicidal behaviour includes suicide, but also encompasses suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. For every suicide, 25 people make a suicide attempt and many more have serious thoughts of taking of their own lives. A whole multitude of factors can contribute including genetic, psychological, social and cultural and other risk factors, sometimes combined with experiences of trauma and loss.
Preventing suicide is often possible and you can be a key player. You can make a difference - as a member of society, as a child, as a parent, as a friend, as a colleague or as a neighbour. Just look at the fundraising efforts of my neighbour Lorna Ward if you want inspiration. If everybody takes the time to make a contribution in their own way, then sooner or later we will see a difference and create a kinder and more caring and compassionate society. There are many things that you can do daily, and also on World Suicide Prevention Day, to prevent suicidal behaviour. You can raise awareness about the issue, educate yourself and others about the causes of suicide and warning signs to look out for, show compassion and care for those who are in distress in your community, question the stigma associated with mental health problems and share your own experiences. It takes work to prevent suicide but the positive benefits of this work are infinite and sustainable and can have a massive impact. The work can affect not only those in distress but also their loved ones, those working in the area and also society as a whole. Joining together is critical as preventing suicide requires the efforts of many. It takes family, friends, co-workers, community members, educators, religious leaders, healthcare professionals, political officials and governments.
This is the second year that the WSPD theme is “Working Together to Prevent Suicide.” The theme has been chosen as it highlights the most essential ingredient for effective global suicide prevention - collaboration. We all have a role to play and together we can collectively address the challenges presented by suicidal behaviour in society today. There are many ways you can participate in WSPD. You can show your support by taking part in the annual IASP Cycle Around the Globe, in which valiant participants are encouraged to collectively cycle the world! Participants can take part in groups, individually, at home, in the gym or anywhere! Please see www.iasp.info/wspd2019/cycle-around-the-globe/ for more information. You can also take part in the Light a Candle event in which participants are invited to Light a Candle near a window at 8pm on Tuesday 10th as a symbol of support for suicide prevention. For many it will also be a means of remembering a loved one. For more information, visit: www.iasp.info/wspd2019/light-a-candle/
Phoenix offers a wide range of services which can help those suffering from suicidal thoughts, including one-to-one therapy and training in mindfulness, meditation and other valuable life skills. Don't suffer in silence. Check out our website at www.phoenixcoaching.co.uk or drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about how we can help you. You can also call the Samaritans confidential hotline on 116 123 for free 24 hours a day, 365 days a year or call Breathing Space - a helpline funded by the Scottish Government's Mental Health Unit and delivered by NHS 24 - on 0800 838587. SANE Mental Health Helpline can be reached on 0300 304 7000 and is open every day of the year from 6-11pm. Combat Stress provides 24-hour confidential help and advice on any mental health issue to the military community and their families. Call them on 0800 138 1619. For under-19s, Childline is available on 0800 1111. Other options open to anyone needing immediate help include the police, your emergency social work team or emergency community mental health team. Details of services can be found at www.moodcafe.co.uk
To contribute to Lorna Ward's JustGiving page in aid of SAMH, click here: JustGivingSAMH