As recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO), today, 10th October 2019, marks World Mental Health Day; an opportunity for us to work together in a bid to raise awareness and inspire action. Each year World Mental Health Day focusses on a key theme and this year, the attention is on suicide prevention.
What the numbers say
According to WHO, someone loses their life to suicide every 40 seconds – globally, that’s almost 800,000 people every year. And for each suicide, there are at least 20 suicide attempts. While it affects people from all walks of life, suicide is the most common cause of death for men under the age of 45. These numbers are frighteningly high and recent research suggests they’re currently on the rise. Without collective action, we won’t see the significant change that’s so urgently required.
Identifying those at risk
Anyone can become at risk of suicide. While there is a strong link between suicide and mental illness, this isn’t the only signifier. In fact, there are various reasons that can lead a person to take their own life; WHO distinguishes these in the following categories:
Whether it’s poor access to care resources, mental ill-health, financial difficulties or another factor, there are many circumstances that could drive a person to suicide. Importantly, if someone has previously attempted to take their own life, they are at a far greater risk.
The rising suicide rates in men
In recent years, it is becoming increasingly clear how many men affected by mental ill health are not seeking the support they need, for a variety of reasons. According to the BBC, of the almost 800,000 suicides last year (worldwide), most of them were men.
So why is this happening and what can we do about it? Of course, there is no single reason, but arguably the biggest contributor is the array of socio-cultural factors preventing men from asking for help; toxic masculinity often conditions men from a very young age not to be emotional or sensitive. Sadly, it can be seen as socially unacceptable for men to vocalise their mental health struggles. And without a safe space or social climate in which to openly explore the challenges they are facing, there can be confusion about where to find the right help.
Reducing the stigma
In order to reduce the number of people taking their own lives, we need to address the stigma around mental ill health and create a more open approach to the topic of suicide. Collectively, we need to foster a climate in which people feel more comfortable seeking help and sharing their experiences. By encouraging each other to be more open and honest with their thoughts and feelings, we can create a huge shift in how mental health is perceived, discussed and, most crucially, supported.
Stigma so often prevents people from getting the help they need. Fortunately, this is something that we can influence on an individual level. A big component of this is reaching out to friends, family and loved ones, letting them know they have someone to talk to as and when it may be needed. The more we can do for each other, the greater the impact on a larger scale.
Ultimately, preventing suicide demands action from all sectors of society. While we can all contribute on an individual level, combatting an issue as complex as suicide takes a joined-up approach, with measures being rolled out at a population level. But that’s not to say that we, as individuals, can’t have a say in making and enforcing these decisions; we can and should advocate for change.
World Mental Health Day is something that all of us can be a part of – be that in a public or private setting. Creating significant change can take many forms, but tackling suicide starts with each and every one of us: speak to the people in your life, advocate for others and do your best to create a safe space for people to discuss mental health.
What can you do today?
The Zero Suicide Alliance is a collaborative of NHS Trusts, business and individuals who are committed to suicide prevention in the UK and beyond. Believing one life lost is one too many, they’ve created an online training programme which is free and accessible to all. The training has been taken by more than 250,000 people in the UK, but we’d like to help increase that this World Mental Health Day. Within just 20 minutes you’ll learn how to identify when someone is presenting with suicidal thoughts/behaviour, how to speak to them in a supportive manner and how to empower the individual to seek the correct services or support. To take the short but super important training, click here.