It is International Men’s Health Week and, although fewer men are diagnosed with depression than women, 75% of the suicides in Britain are committed by men.
Suicide in the whole population is actually quite rare — there are just over 6,000 deaths by suicide in the UK each year, but men are nearly four times as likely to die as a result of suicide than women. Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK — more die this way than in a road accident, and those at highest risk are men aged between 45 and 59 years who have a rate of 25.1 per 100,000 population.
Statistics such as these can come as a shock to people because men are less visibly affected by depression than women – we are used to thinking of depressed women who go to their GP for help but tend to think that men either don’t have depression or that they just ‘cope,’ ‘man up’ and ‘carry on’.
Men are notoriously bad ‘care seekers’. They are much less likely than women to ask for help or talk about their depressive or suicidal feelings, and this is a major reason that men are more likely to contemplate and go ahead with suicide. The most recent statistics show that 72% of people who died by suicide had not been in contact with their GP or a health professional about these feelings in the year before their suicide.
We all go through tough times, whether it’s a bereavement, a breakup, being made redundant, or just a feeling that all the good things in life are happening to other people and not you. Depression and suicidal thoughts can happen to anyone, any time: that really is absolutely anyone, there is no such thing as ‘the suicidal type’. Being aware of this and helping people to understand their suicidal thoughts better is absolutely essential in helping prevent further suicides.
As a friend, colleague or relative, you might think that you are well placed to notice whether someone close to you is struggling to cope or feeling suicidal. But it can be a very hard thing to identify, because suicide is a complex issue and often there isn’t one main reason why someone starts to think about taking their own life. Plus, there is still a lot of stigma about it, and they might not feel very comfortable talking about these feelings. They may want to keep their personal crisis private and work quite hard at keeping you out of it and hiding their thoughts and feelings.
What are the signs someone might be feeling suicidal?
It doesn’t have to be one big thing – it can be lots of smaller things that build up into an overwhelming or unbearable feeling for them. But here are some warning signs to look out for:
- Unexpected mood changes – including suddenly being happy after a period of depression
- Never wanting to go out and join in on things
- Lacking energy or appearing particularly tired
- Not wanting to talk or be with people
- Not wanting to do the things they usually enjoy
- A change in routine, such as sleeping or eating more or less than normal
- Using alcohol or drugs to cope with feelings
- Being less concerned with their personal hygiene and appearance
- Finding it hard to cope with everyday things
- Appearing restless and agitated
- Being un-typically clumsy or accident prone
- Becoming withdrawn or losing touch with friends and family
- Having low or no energy
- Putting themselves in risky situations
- Talking themselves down and being very negative about themselves
And how do you tackle it if you think someone is having suicidal thoughts?
If you do think that someone you know may be feeling suicidal it can very hard to know how to bring up the subject or what to say to them.
Never be scared to ask
It might feel as though you are crossing a boundary, but the best thing to do if you suspect someone is feeling this way is just ask how they are feeling, and encourage them to talk about it. Just showing that you want to support them and giving them the space to communicate their feelings can be a huge release for them.
Don’t shy away from the Suicide word
It’s okay to bring up the subject of self-harm or suicide. Some people fear, particularly when talking to teenagers and young people, that raising the subject of suicide will put the idea in their head. But this is not the case. If the person you are concerned about is suicidal then the idea is already there and it might come as a great relief to acknowledge that they’re feeling like this. And if they aren’t suicidal asking them about it cannot do any harm.
Stop worrying about what to say
In fact, you don’t need to say much at all, let them talk. The most important thing is showing that you are there for them and listening.
Explore their feelings
Acknowledge what they are telling you and ask them questions to keep the conversation open and give them more space to talk. Avoid saying things like “I know how you feel” because now one ever really knows that and this is their chance to learn how they feel themselves.
Follow up on the thoughts
If they express feelings of hopelessness or tell you they can’t seen the point on going on, ask them very clearly ‘have you thought about killing yourself?’ and if they have thought about how they might do it. They might try to laugh it off at this point but try to stay on point and not be deflected by denial or humour.
Maintain a non-judgmental stance
However surprised or shaken you feel try not to judge or criticise them for how they are feeling or behaving in response to their feelings such as if, for example, they are drinking too much. Instead of saying ‘well, your drinking isn’t helping’ try to reassure them that they won’t feel like this forever and that there is help out there for them.
Avoid going into practical, problem-solving mode
If the person is feeling suicidal, what they really is need to be reassured that they are valued that they can talk about how they feel and that help is available. Fixing things can wait for later.
Having suicidal thoughts can be very frightening and so if someone tells you they’re feeling suicidal, try to make sure they know they can be in touch with you or others so that they do not feel left alone with their thoughts.
Encourage them to talk to others
However wonderful and supportive you are, it might actually feel easier for them to talk to someone else, someone impartial. Your person might not want to upset you or could just feel more comfortable talking to a stranger. Don’t be offended by this encourage them to call a helpline (see below) or seek professional help.
Look after yourself
It can be quite difficult and painful to hear the suicidal thoughts of a friend or loved one so check in with your own emotions. You might feel hurt, devastated, shocked, angry, sad, guilty or powerless. And if you’re struggling yourself, talk about how this has made you feel and consider seeking help yourself.
If you are close to someone who is having suicidal feelings, or have those feelings yourself, it can really help to talk to an experienced professional. Call 020 8673 4545 or email [email protected]