Keep CALM and Carry On
The disturbing images of 84 life size male sculptures on the ITV building dominated the media last week. The intent was to raise awareness about the even more disturbing statistics relating to suicide amongst males. It was revealed that a staggering 84 males commit suicide each week in the UK. While I was aware that suicide in males under 30 was fairly common, I found it incredibly shocking that suicide is the biggest cause of death in men under 45.
The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) have created a campaign #Project84 to represent the lives lost to suicide, raise awareness and promote change.
This powerful campaign is proving successful in capturing attention and getting people talking. I initially felt distinctly uncomfortable for the families of ‘the 84’ seeing this horrific representation. It is now my understanding that people who had lost people to suicide contributed to this campaign in an effort to honour their loved ones and prevent further families experiencing this unthinkable loss.
I have changed my mind multiple times about writing this blog for fear of causing upset or distress. I have examined my reasons for my unease and identified that suicide is one of those topics that is spoken about quietly and not openly discussed. There seems to be a very real attachment of shame to suicide. There lies the problem I guess.
Ordinarily I would share a blog post amongst social media groups, however my intent was not to do so with this for fear of being viewed as negative or a perpetrator of bad taste. Ironically, none of these thoughts or feelings factored when I was writing about sexual assault or alcohol dependency.
I was also wary of trotting out clichés and platitudes. When a topic is hidden it becomes saturated in half truths and myths, which I think is the case with suicide. As with anything I am loathed to generalise as I believe in the uniqueness of people but there are clearly common threads when one cohort in society is more affected than others.
Many years ago I worked in the field of domestic violence and welcomed the emotive Zero Tolerance Campaign which highlighted the harsh reality of the impact of domestic violence. Many people felt that this campaign was in bad taste and inappropriate but I recognise that as with suicide the subject matter is not palatable or something that can be depicted in a tasteful manner. To shroud suicide with a veneer of respectability is a disservice to the many who have lost their lives under desperate circumstances.
As a nation we seem to struggle with death where other cultures embrace it as a part of life. I recall being 13 year old and decisions being made that I was too young to attend my grandfather’s funeral. I also recall the rage I felt at being excluded and being denied the opportunity to celebrate and grieve with others. I am aware of the Death Café movement where there is an attempt to demystify death and openly discuss end of life issues over tea and cake. As yet I have not attended a Death Café meeting but I’m keen to do so. The majority of people I have spoken to about this have demonstrated visible discomfort
and been vocal about their distaste of such a concept. An example of an exception to this is a woman close to me whose full term baby son died prior to being born. There is nothing more counter intuitive than the death of a child, however she is at ease about this subject and talks at length in the public arena about her experience and the experience of others. The driver for her to do this is to raise awareness and encourage people to talk openly. She has been supremely successful in raising awareness which then served as a platform for learning, changing practice, facilitating support networks and raising funds to support affected families. Ultimately awareness is the first step to positive change.
There are strong opinions about people who take their own lives. I am not even going to attempt to factor in religious or cultural dynamics. I have had experience of suicide both professionally and personally and it is my belief that in a significant amount of cases people want the pain they are feeling to end and cannot see an alternative.
I am aware that people with depression and suicidal ideology are often unable to comprehend the feelings of their loved ones and are existing in the mistaken belief that their loved ones would be happier and better without them in their lives.
For me, suicide brings whole other amplified level of grief and all the emotions that accompany it to loved ones. It is a situation which makes it difficult for others to support the people left behind. It is much easier to ‘say the wrong thing’ when someone has committed suicide. Therefore avoidance of the people affected often feels like the safest option. We can attach too much importance on “how” somebody has died which can mean the loss that people are feeling becomes secondary. I once read somewhere that the pain that someone feels when suicidal does not die with them but is shared amongst the people left behind.
There is an unfortunate phrase that was commonplace when I was growing up, “a dead loss.” This would be often applied to people who were not considered “bad” but generally pretty “hopeless.” In Collins Dictionary, the definition reads, “A person, thing or situation that is completely useless or unprofitable.” I have never heard anyone suicidal labelled as such but I feel that the person in question probably already has this view of self.
There are expectations and pressures on men to succeed and they are often defined by what they do rather than who they are. This can lead to unrealistic expectations and unachievable perfectionism. In addition to this men are supposed to be strong and shoulder life’s challenges while protecting their loved ones who are reliant upon them. These feelings could be amplified if someone is experiencing feelings of inadequacy and is in a mindset of
unhelpful thinking. I am pleased to say that the significant majority of people in therapy at Being Better are male which suggests a sea of change.
If someone’s mood is deteriorating they may be using alcohol to self medicate and lift their mood. There are obvious risks with this, alcohol is a disinhibitor and can lead to reactive behaviour and enable people to embark on a course of action that would not happen if sober.
It saddens me when I learn of people taking their own life because of financial pressures and difficulties. Options may be limited and not what we may choose but there are always options. Material possessions are replaceable and at the end of the day it’s just stuff. As someone who has experienced significant financial problems in the past, I know money problems and debt are not easy but I also know there are generally ways of overcoming difficulties and as with anything it doesn’t last forever. The only constant in life is change.
I could write at length about theories on why people view suicide as an option or solution but I am more concerned with capturing people before they become lost.
As a therapeutic practitioner my biggest mantra is for people to express themselves whether that be verbally, singing, dancing, writing, art, crafting or whichever medium is helpful to them. I’m a big believer of not ruminating and allowing things to fester and grow.
Sometimes the person suffering does not possess the where with all to ask for help. It is worth asking open questions about how somebody is feeling.
When considering disclosing suicidal feelings, there may be fears of sending someone into a complete tailspin and panic, which is not helpful and compounds feelings of being a burden to others.
Everyone is unique and individual but there may be some indicators of a
deterioration of someone’s mood:
Restlessness (inability to settle)
Not sleeping or over sleeping
Increased alcohol use
Irritability & agitation
Lack of concentration
Disengagement from friends / family, isolating self
Manic behaviour, forced jollity
This list is not exhaustive and conversely there may be none of the above indicators. We are not mind readers and cannot control the actions of another person.
If you are concerned about someone or have noticed some behaviour changes, contact your GP, other health services or the following helplines:
CALM – 0800 585858 or visit: www.thecalmzone.net for support and campaign information.
Samaritans – 116123 (24 hour helpline) or visit: www.samaritans.org to find your local branch and for other guidance.