Do High Profile Suicides Hold Clues to its Prevalence in Society Today
Its been a while since I have blogged my creative flair has left me a bit in recent times as it so often does. A topic that shows clear in my mind right now is the rising cases of suicide that are either on the news or shared on social media.
I have written a blog before where I have highlighted some statistics, but these statistics are vitally important, so I will present them again. These statistics I have easily turned out with a google search and www.samaritans.org says;
In 2017 there were 5,821 suicides in the UK
Men are 3 times more likely to take their own lives than women
The highest suicide rate in the UK was for men aged 45-49
Whilst two of these statistics are directly related to men I don’t want to deter thoughts about female suicides as they happen too. I also want to highlight that nearly 6000 suicides a year is more than 3 times the amount of people that die from road accidents each year.
Changing attitudes to suicide
I remember as a young boy hearing about suicide on the news a couple of times and having a grand curiosity to its meaning. I had a great resistance to asking my mum its meaning, I thought it was perhaps a word a young person shouldn’t know, or I might get into trouble for saying it. I find this interesting as I wonder what behaviours I had seen to influence such thinking.
My later thoughts towards the subject were later awakened with Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994. I was a fan of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and I also share a birthday with Kurt Cobain, information I learned from a girl who used to live across the road from me.
There is an ever-growing list of musicians that have taken their own lives, ‘Queen of the Night’ singer and ‘The Bodyguard’ actress Whitney Houston, ‘Linkin Park’ singer Chester Bennington, ‘Sound Garden’ front man Chris Cornell, Swedish DJ Avicii, this really is just a handful of a pool of names within the music industry who have taken their own lives.
I wonder if the ever-rising amount of names from the music industry whom chose this tragic route out of life hold clues to why the number of suicides is ever growing.
Studies have shown that there could be a link between suicides being shown on the television or via other media outlets or written literature, and people taking their own lives. This theory is believed enough that there are guidelines in media as to how they can portray suicides. Have you ever wondered why when there is a high-profile end of life via suicide that the media is not clear on the cause of death? That is because they must withhold that information due to the media guidelines set. Here are some of these guidelines;
‘Detailed descriptions of methods of committing suicide or deliberate self-harm should not be given, nor shown in fictional portrayals, since these will demonstrate possible means for those who are suicidal.’
‘Simplistic psychological notions, such as ‘pressure’, should not be used. Many people have such pressure, but few commit suicide, and such references belittle the complexity of the situation. Similarly, simple motives such as ‘getting even’ or ‘becoming famous’ should be avoided.’
‘Extensive or unnecessary repeated coverage of such episodes should be avoided.’
Whilst I can see some relevance to these guidelines, there are more but I picked out the most poignant, I cant help but feel there is something cold about them. Do we really believe that if someone wanted to end their life they could not figure out a means of doing so? This also sounds like, ‘we will talk about suicide a bit, but not much!’
I believe reasons behind the rise in suicide rates is down to the ‘pressures’ that the media said was not allowed to be mentioned in their guidelines. That the pressure of being the best versions of our selves that we can be, is detrimental to our mental health. We need to be the best son/daughter we can be, the best student, get the best grades we can, then be the best friend, the best boyfriend/ girlfriend or husband/wife, the best employee. Then we need to have the best online profile, our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram all need to represent that we are living ‘our best life’. The pressure is immense and if we don’t meet these pressures to the standards of our inner perfectionist this can bring up feelings of ‘not being good enough’ or failure, and these feelings lead to feelings of shame. When you consider the watchful eye musicians are under I think this could be a real point in to the direction of what lies underneath the problem.
Shame is a powerful emotion that ties into embarrassment and translates too in simple terms I don’t want to exist! We go into ourselves and would prefer not to be seen. Underneath shame and embarrassment is a driver of wanting to fit in, to be accepted as another human. The stress response involvement to feeling shame and embarrassment is an alarm system to the individual that there is a risk of being singled out. This, in the era of the hunter gatherer would have offered very grave dangers that pointed to life and death.
What can we do to change this?
First, we need to move away from jargon that tries to shut down how we feel. Examples of this are ‘get over it’, ‘man up’, ‘cheer up’ and ‘stop being silly’. I also believe that conversations should be held by GP’s with patients who seek anti-depressants that medication will help you suppress a feeling you are avoiding but is not a permanent fix.
If you know of somebody that has tried to take their own life, stay in touch. I believe a saving grace can be the connection that we have with others. Give them a call out the blue, tell them you can be there for a coffee or a chat, stay connected.
In recent times a young lad who lived about 10 doors up from me took his own life. I could not move away from feeling how tragic this really was. I never saw the lad but I knew it happened. This got me thinking that young people need to be shown problem solving skills when it comes to their mental health in schools. A mental health awareness week is not enough. As a teacher and a counsellor, I believe mental health and well-being, needs to be a core part of curriculum in schools. I believe by doing this we set young people up with the skills for life about coping with mental illness.
(Williams, 2014) Offers some statistics about how many people visit their GP before committing suicide and up to 40% of people who commit suicide visit their GP in the month before death. I have witnessed the massive loop holes within our mental health care system. This is not a swipe at GP’s but it is a call for more adequate mental health services to be readily available, this responsibility lies with the conservative government in office now. I am not talking being put on a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist 6 month waiting list. We need to be offering people choices about therapeutic services that are available there and then. I can usually fit someone in within a few days, because I recognise when someone is accessing support they want it as soon as possible.
We as people are expected to live up to the pressures of living in today’s society but there is not adequate support to help us cope with these pressures when they become too much.
What Can be learned from these high profile event?
I believe the pressures of being in the public eye are highlighted and perhaps more under the microscopic eye with high profile musicians. The need to generate enough material to keep a fan base interested, the pressures that come with promoting this creative material which include being in the public eye and touring to promote music via music events and this combined with, these humans have families and normal lives to lead as well. This sounds like a tremendous amount of work life balance that needs to be orchestrated accordingly.
How does this compare to my life for example, I remember when I was studying, trying to earn a living as a teacher which is a very high-pressure job. This combined with trying to lead a normal life as a father and a partner as well as trying to satisfy my own recreational needs which for me around this time was learning to play the guitar, I remember it being hard, really hard and at times all these areas of my life suffered, which left me with my own feelings of failure.
This has gone down for me now as life experience and I remember from my own counselling and support from people around me, I got through. In counselling I got to
‘You cant be everything to everything.’
‘My experience is what my experience is for me, regardless of what other people’s misfortune is.’
‘You can only do the best you can do at that time’.
I can say that this time of my life was tough, but I grew and evolved and today I can safely say I work hard at my work life/family balance. I remind myself that my own self care is of paramount importance and talking about my struggles is crucial.
I would just like to round up here by saying, I can categorically state that in my experience of working with suicidal clients as a counsellor. Talking therapy has always helped people move away from wanting to take their own life. The connected-ness that a therapeutic counselling relationship offers, a space to be heard, a place to discover the drivers of the pressures that sit on top of our thinking. I believe doing this offers the best chance of relieving the pressures of a suicidal mind.
I would like to just finish up here by offering the three points I offered in my last blog on this topic and that is;
Suicide is forever
Thoughts are temporary
Life can change in an instant.