Suicide – it’s the leading cause of death for young people aged between 20 and 34 in the UK. One person in the UK will take their own life at least every two hours, and globally that figure rises to one every 30 seconds. 1 in 20 of us will die as the result of a suicide attempt. And yet it’s not often talked about. We know that mental health problems are common, affecting one in four of us, but deaths as a result of suicide are often perceived as rare.
Suicide is still a taboo topic and, although attitudes around mental health are changing, this subject is a difficult one for most people to talk about. A survey of 100 people showed that whereas 85.86 agreed or strongly agreed that they would be comfortable having a conversation about mental health, only 56.82% of the same group would be comfortable talking about suicide.
Why are we so uncomfortable talking about this subject? Katie Bambury, 26, who works at Rethink Mental Illness and has bipolar disorder, said that “people struggle to know what to say”, and can find the symptoms of severe mental illness “frightening, or worrying, or confusing, so people tend to step back.” Feeling suicidal is an incredibly painful experience which can be very difficult to imagine if you haven’t been through it. Jodie Goodacre, a 21 year old mental health campaigner and student at the University of Hertfordshire, describes it as “this overwhelming sense of emptiness, like my life is void of all hope. My mind tells me there is only one way to cure this feeling and that’s to follow the giant metaphorical exit sign flashing before me. The thing is, I don’t want to die… experiencing suicidal thoughts creates a constant tug of war in your mind.”
There’s a lot of stigma around suicide, and those who have suicidal thoughts often experience feelings of guilt, making it harder to talk about. When a close family friend took his life 6 months after her own suicide attempt, Jodie said she felt like “everything came crumbling down around me… I felt indescribable sadness. I also felt guilty that I survived, that I got a second chance and he didn’t, I felt guilt for being suicidal while sitting at my friend’s funeral watching the emotional impact it had on his family and friends.” According to Time to Change, 3 out of 4 young people are afraid of the reaction they will get with friends if they talk about their mental health problem.
There’s a lot of stigma around suicide, and those who have suicidal thoughts often experience feelings of guilt, making it harder to talk about.
Men are nearly four times more likely than women to die from a suicide attempt, according to the Mental Health Foundation. There’s some debate as to why this is the case, but most agree it’s due to the fact that men generally feel less able to talk about their mental health with others. This is why it’s so vital to talk about our mental health and to break down the stigma around suicide.
A simple conversation really can make all the difference. Katie said that when she’s suicidal, it feels as though “no one would be sad if I died, in fact everyone would be so much better off, so every time I get a little message… it means I have connections and that makes such a difference. It doesn’t have to be a big gesture, it just has to be something.” It can be difficult to reach out to someone if you don’t know what to say or if you’re worried about getting it wrong. However, Katie says that, “it’s ok to not know what to say… you don’t need to be an expert, I see enough of them… it’s just important that you say something – that you ask a question, that you send a text saying I’m thinking about you and that I hope you’re ok… Letting that person know that you still care, that you know that they’re having a hard time and that they still matter to you”
There are many things that need to happen if we are to properly tackle the shockingly high suicide rates. Talking won’t solve everything – there also needs to be adequate support and treatment available, and this will require better funding so people don’t have to wait for months before they can see a therapist or psychiatrist. However, breaking down the stigma so that people feel just as comfortable talking about their mental health as they do their physical health is absolutely essential. By being more open with each other we can help the people in our lives who are struggling to feel less isolated, and in the context of suicide that is incredibly important.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts of feelings, you can call Samaritans for free at anytime on 116 123.