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Based on the book Our Encounters with Suicide (ed. Fran Biley, Alex Grant, Judith Haire, Brendan Stone), Kathryn and Penny Capper’s films explore the impact of suicide in the wider community. Giving voice to diverse perspectives and experiences, the Suicide Monologues aims to challenge taboos and generate discussion around a complex subject that’s generally not talked about.
10th September was World Suicide Prevention Day. This is an opportunity for people and organisations across the globe to raise awareness about suicide and suicide prevention. So I’m going to use this opportunity to share some information about the rate of suicide and self harm, and also signpost you to some recommended on-line training to help people respond in situations where they are really concerned about someone else’s thoughts or intentions.
The most recent report produced by the Samaritans in 2018 shows a worrying increase in suicide rate across the UK. In 2018, 6507 people took their own lives, 75% were male and 25% female. This was an overall increase of 10.9%, the highest annual rise since 2013. In the UK, suicide rates among young people have been increasing in recent years, and the suicide rate for young females is now at its highest rate on record.
This is what the Samaritans report says about the reasons why young people take their own lives:
“Suicide is complex and is rarely caused by one thing. It usually follows a combination of adverse childhood experiences, stressors in early life and recent events. Research shows that bereavement, abuse, neglect, self-harm, mental or physical ill health, and experiencing academic pressures are just some of the common risk factors for suicide among young people. Of course, though, most young people will experience these stresses and not go on to take their own lives.
Workplace, housing and financial problems were more common for 20-24 year-olds
Academic pressures and bullying were found to be more common before suicide in young people under 20
Suicide-related internet use was found in 26% of deaths in under 20s and 13% of deaths in 20-24 year-olds”
A major concern, also highlighted by the Samaritans report’ is the increase in self-harm among young people over the last 15 years. There are many different definitions of self harm but the Samaritans define this as “any deliberate act of self-poisoning or self-injury without suicidal intent.”
Self-harm is a sign that someone is experiencing serious emotional distress and, while most people who self-harm do not go on to take their own life, it is identified as a strong risk factor for future suicide attempts.
The Zero Suicide Alliance provide a range of awareness training options, which provide a better understanding of the signs to look out for and the skills required to approach someone who is struggling, whether that be through social isolation or suicidal thoughts. These start with brief training sessions which aim to give you the skills and confidence to help someone who may be having suicidal thoughts. The focus is on breaking the stigma and encouraging open conversations.
Among the many news and research updates I follow to try and keep myself up to date, is a national research programme seeking to understand the psychological and social impact of the Covid 19 pandemic. The research study is being carried out by University College London to explore the effects of the virus and social distancing measures on adults in the UK. Over 70,000 participants fill in a weekly survey to share their views and experiences.
According to the findings from this research study in June:
“depression and anxiety levels dropped in May as lockdown easing began gradually across the UK but …….. remain worse in people living alone and with lower household income. The majority of people are not stressed about catching Covid-19, although it is notable that younger adults are equally as stressed as older adults despite the risk of serious complications being lower for them, suggesting an altruistic concern about passing the virus onto other more vulnerable people.”
Further reports from the survey suggest that rates of depression continued to decline as the lockdown measures eased, particularly among younger people. Throughout the pandemic, the researchers have found that
“people from black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds have had higher levels of depression, anxiety and loneliness across the pandemic, and lower levels of happiness and life satisfaction. They have also been more worried about unemployment and financial stress.”
Their latest report, for August, focused on people’s attitudes to changing lifestyles. Only 10% believed that they would go back to living exactly as they had before! Here were a few of the headline figures:
About half (51%) felt they were ‘more likely’ on balance to return to how things were before
40% said they would increase their support for local business
Around a third (35%) thought they would exercise more
A third (33%) felt they would save more money
A fifth (22%) felt they were ‘more likely’ to change things
9% said they would change their job
One thing is certain – more change is on its way. Some changes we can’t control, and others we can. How do you respond to change? How are you maintaining your emotional resilience given the uncertainty still about the future. Back in March, in the first of my weekly lockdown blogs I shared an image of the Change Curve. This is based on the work of Elizabeth Kubler Ross around dying, grief and loss, and demonstrates how normal it is to go through different stages of emotional and mental distress when faced with change, let alone the extraordinary events which have unfolded in the past six months.
Maybe collectively we’re now in an experimental phase, testing out new ways of living, working and socialising?
The coronavirus lockdown measures have now officially pushed the UK into an economic recession following the biggest slump on record during April to June this year. A Briefing Paper for the House of Commons said:
“Consumers may be reluctant to return to ‘normal’ spending patterns. This may be due to health concerns but also perhaps due to concerns over their income. A key factor will be how high unemployment levels rise. Particularly important is how many employees currently furloughed will return to work and how many will become unemployed. Uncertainty may also dampen businesses’ inclination to invest.”
International research is now telling us a lot more about the impact of Covid 19 on our mental health, and the picture is not good. What does the research tell us about those who are less stressed, depressed or anxious? There’s a lot we can’t control about the current situation, so what can we control?
“Why should we all use our creative power…? Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful,lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and and accumulation of objects and money” Brenda Ueland
“What Soap is to the Body, Laughter is to the Soul” Yiddish Proverb
Children laugh spontaneously and naturally – it’s not something they have to learn. Apparently children laugh 200-400 times a day, while adults laugh as average of 15 times. Laughter, along with playfulness, gets lost as we grow up and take on responsibilities and obligations.
This week, the Good Mental Health Coop hosted it’s first virtual open dialogue event, called a Mental Wealth Trialogue. A couple of the participants spoke about how the impact of Covid 19 on our mental health generally was now being talked about everywhere. As if it had just been discovered that people are often emotionally and psychologically distressed by trauma, unexpected crises, being cut off from family and friends, losing jobs and experiencing financial hardship. Who would have thought it?
A ‘Trialogue’ group is a neutral space where communities can gather to develop their understanding of mental health issues, the challenges of maintaining mental health and to transform thinking on developing better services and healthy communities.
The Covid 19 pandemic is affecting many of us in unexpected ways. In the responses to the survey we circulated during May, a number of people expressed concern about neighbours, friends or family members who have been distressed for various reasons. There’s extensive research evidence of the psychological impact of quarantine, disasters and ongoing stressors such as finances or housing. With Covid 19, we have all three. Certain groups can be identified as most at risk – frontline staff, high risk groups such as people with health conditions, disabilities, caring responsibilities, experience of domestic violence and so on. But many of those not ‘at risk’ will also experience unexpected periods of psychological distress.
It was a striking feature of the survey we conducted during May, that many people focused on ‘acceptance’ and ways to stay in the present moment, to help manage the rollercoaster of emotions, anxieties and overwhelming stress they were experiencing during the Covid 19 health crisis.