Christmas and suicide
Suicide is more commonplace at Christmas - that seems like a true statement. In fact, it isn't. Christmas does magnify loneliness, but thankfully there are many services offering crisis-care at Christmas that aren't there at other times of the year. So while people may feel lower at Christmas, they have somewhere to turn.
This begs the question - why aren't those services there throughout the year? Well, some are - the Samaritans for example - but we tend not to see the problems around us when we're caught up in our own world. At this time of year we feel more charitable, and when reminded of those less fortunate, we acknowledge what we have and reach out to those in need.
I live in East Sussex and our suicide rate is significantly higher than the national average for England. We have about 50 suicides per year - between 2010-2013 there were 174 suicides, with 123 men and 51 women. What causes this? Social deprivation, lack of opportunities, failed relationships? Partly. But what might make some of us deal with these things and others not? Suicide happens when our pain outweighs our ability to cope with that pain. In 2013, of the suicide deaths recorded for those aged 15 and over, 78% were men and 22% women. Further, of the total number of suicides recorded in the UK in 2015 (6,188), three-quarters (75%) were male and one-quarter (25%) female. Something needs to be done to help men and meet this growing crisis, but what? Earlier intervention is needed and we need to ask the questions of young men: are you thinking of suicide? If so, do you have a plan? Telling them to "not do anything silly" will not help. Recently, my male 18 year old third cousin took his own life. I didn't know him, but it saddens me that he felt he had no alternative.
In order to get more men to talk about their problems, and to help them to shed the sense of shame they're feeling, we need to get the message out there that it's ok to talk. Men are judged by how well they conform to masculine norms and standards. In the same way that women are judged and narrowly defined, men are too. Outmoded stereotypes have been used to reduce men to certain roles and expectations by both men and women. Patriarchy doesn't only hurt women.
I think we need to take the conversation about suicide into our schools, colleges and workplaces. If we can educate or remind everyone of the support available and the importance of seeking help, maybe we can reduce our suicide rate. Women are more likely to talk about what they're experiencing, but they are susceptible too; it would be negligent to suggest this is a male problem, but the statistics suggest that we need to target our prevention more at men.
This Christmas, if you are concerned about a family member or friend, ask them how they are feeling. If you aren't convinced they are alright, it's ok to ask them if they're feeling suicidal. What's the worst that can happen? They're offended? Better they're offended than you don't ask the question and they become an unnecessary statistic. And remember, our work to prevent suicide is a responsibility we all share. Remain mindful of the need to ask those around us if they're ok throughout the year.
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About Michael O'Rourke
Michael O'Rourke is a counsellor working with clients who have had difficult or traumatic childhoods. He has experience working in addiction and with relationship counselling and sees clients in his private practice in Hastings. He also works with a local charity seeing clients with life-limiting illnesses. He is a member of the BACP.