Suicide is a conversation stopper, not a conversation starter

Information in this article may be triggering to some people. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact CALM on 0800 58 58 58, or the Samaritans on 116 123 for support and assistance from a trained professional. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 999.

For more mental health resources, or professional medical support, please visit valahealth.com or helloself.com.

Let me get straight to the point: Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 50. A statement that has been thrown around very widely for many many years now. Nevertheless, Suicide is a conversation stopper, not a conversation starter. Which is precisely why we need to keep posting, and keep discussing it more openly than ever before.

There are so many statistics about Suicide, but what is almost impossible to articulate in data is the absolute devastation that the pandemic of Suicide causes to so many. Death by Suicide is like a pebble being tossed into the pond, with ripples spreading outwards, covering family, friends, work colleagues, and in the modern digital era, we need to factor in online communities who are webs of connections with often immeasurable in scope.

The first ripples close by, are big, and as they move outward, they get smaller and smaller. But the reach of the pebble’s ripple is much greater than the size of the pebble itself.

There is also significant evidence that one suicide in a community can influence the occurrence of further suicides. How this happens exactly is not clear, but the term used to describe this phenomenon is “contagion”. Contagion is defined as exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviours within one’s family, one’s peer group or one’s community that can result in an increase in suicide and suicidal behaviours.

Where are we?

In 2019 the rate of male Suicide in England and Wales reached its highest level for two decades. Men accounted for three-quarters of suicide deaths registered, making up 4,303 of the 5,691 losses written-up in coroner verdicts (another matter to discuss another day).

Men aged 45 to 49 have the highest age-specific suicide rate at 25.5 deaths per 100,000 people. Dads. Sons. Brothers. Husbands. Uncles. However, the ONS does point out that deaths by Suicide in England and Wales can only be registered following an inquest, which can take months or even years. This means that not all of the deaths reported in these figures will necessarily have happened in 2019, and the true number may not be known, at least not for a while anyway. It also means that we’re always looking backwards over our shoulders when we need to look forward at positive prevention.

With this year’s Covid-19 pandemic contributing untold hardships on communities, the true and final number of deaths by Suicide in 2020 could likely be much much higher. Given the length of time it takes to hold an inquest (around five months) we will not know the total number of suicides that occurred during the coronavirus pandemic for many many months.

All of our roles are to make sure that number doesn’t increase even further in 2021 and beyond.

Why are we here?

From my own research, campaigning and charity work (and being male myself) I know full well that the roots of this tragic pandemic often stem from social issues as much as they d from mental health complications. Depression brought on by relationships breaking down, separation from children, job loss, using drugs and/or alcohol to help cope with emotions and the enormous pressure of work, imprisonment, feelings of hopelessness and guilt, lack of close friendships, loneliness and social isolation, and of course the very toxic trend of being unable to open up about how we feel — although, I have to say, on this final one, I do believe this is often exaggerated, and a lot of men are much better at articulating their feelings than perhaps we give ourselves credit for.

I believe the rise in deaths is linked directly to people feeling like a burden. That’s the one we need to keep our eyes and ears on very acutely. The very second you hear a friend or family say anything about people better off without them, you need to lean in and tell them they are ‘ace’ and that they have a lot of good things in their life.

Deprivation is another major factor in all Suicide related death, but it’s especially dangerous in men. Deprivation increases the odds of taking your life by ten times, compared with the suicide risk of more affluent men. 2020 and 2021 are going to have a significant impact of the financial wellbeing of many many people in this U.K, and around the world, and that is why I am posting this simple plea — Use your power to support local business people, friends who lose their jobs, your family members and flatmates who are going to struggle. Share whatever you have with them even if all you have is time.

What do we need to do?

Raising awareness does not do enough to save lives, I’m sorry to say it, but it really doesn’t.

People who feel suicidal will often report a certain kind of tunnel vision, of being unable to see the broader picture and thinking only in terms of black and white. In such circumstances, that individual may not be motivated to seek out help for themselves even though they’ve been subjected to pathways and adverts and messages of support. It often falls on others to offer support by listening, offering encouragement, and sometimes even challenging the preconceptions that people hold about themselves, such as their abilities and worth to society. I’m contacted by many friends and colleagues who say; “I have a friend who says they’re struggling, what should I do?” or “I feel really bad because I’ve got enough of problems of my own without having to carry the burden and weight of someone else’s problem at the moment”, and we should never feel guilty about those feelings. But we need to learn not to turn the other way, and we must all equip ourselves with a community of support to help us, help them.

This web is what I believe will save the individual life, not trying to deal with the problem put on to you by another person, on your own. So ask yourself the question; “When I can not take on someone else’s burden, who do I have to hand it over too, or what support do I have to support me, when I’m supporting this person?” And so on.

Close friends who may have been privy to conversations about suicide on the part of a deceased friend can often feel a tremendous burden of guilt after the event too. Which is why forming connections with people who can help you to support someone living with a significant life event, or depression, can in itself be the life-saving tool you will need, and that they will require to come through a bad-day.

This is one of the reason why I’ve thrown my weight behind Rob Stephensons Form Score app. It’s not just about learning about my own up and down journey, it’s about having a small network effect, and it works. It’s a micro network.

All studies agree that the greatest need in communities following suicide is to reduce the distress of those most immediately affected. Which is why I’m also backing Matthew Steans and the Stigma Statistics platform as a large macro network effect project.

At both ends of the line there are opportunities to change the outcomes, and reduce the numbers if we are brave enough to face the challenge head-on.

Who is your X, Y or Z?

If you buy into my philosophy that it’s all our of role in helping to reduce the number of suicides by being there to support vulnerable people in our immediate circle of influence, or supporting the person who supports the person, then start with your own question of “What or who is my X, Y or Z?

I am very comfortable being the X, Y or Z to many people, and they turn to me for support when they’re supporting someone who is at risk. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Mental Health found that receiving support from a trusted and respected friend or colleague can be an effective suicide prevention strategy for most men, directly or indirectly. Which is to say you do not need to just support the case, you can support the person supporting the case.

I also have a really solid network of my own X, Y or Z people. Not just people I know I can go too when I feel crap, but also people I can go to when I need help with someone that I don’t feel confident being able to support without my own support.

Ripples in the pond can be reversed.

So today I ask you to start forming your X, Y and Z group. Those people who can support you, when you need to support other people. Who is your X, Y and Z?

Links and Resource:

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Pete Trainor is CEO of Vala Health, bestselling author, behavioural designer, technologist, mens mental health campaigner and technologist from London.

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Pete Trainor

Pete Trainor

Pete Trainor is CEO of Vala Health, bestselling author, behavioural designer, technologist, mens mental health campaigner and technologist from London.

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