The song from the theme tune of M*A*S*H says “Suicide is Painless”.
Clearly, this is not the case.
This week, the Office for National Statistics released data on UK suicides for 2014. It’s horrendous reading:
- 6122 suicides in the UK in 2014
- Male rate of suicide 3 times higher than female rate
- Increase in female suicides
Anyone who has been affected by suicide will know of the trauma and devastation that such a death causes to those left behind. Human rights barrister, Michael Mansfield QC, demonstrated this pain in a BBC interview that was shown on television this week.
Most of us can’t begin to imagine the hopelessness and anguish that drives someone to take their own life. And it’s hard to imagine the painful helplessness of friends and family who have to contend with self-inflicted guilt and shock as much as grief and loss.
And yet suicide, which is the largest killer of men between the ages of 20 and 49, is rarely talked about – such is the anguish we all feel about the subject.
A couple of months ago, following the Paris bombings, we published a blogpost on talking with children about death.
Whilst we believe that it’s essential to do this as part of planned programme for PSHE, we also think we need to go further than this.
It’s not enough to talk to children about death. We should be talking to children about managing feelings and emotions – all of the time, as a proactive and preventative measure to help them live well.
We should discuss the emptiness of feeling bereavement, the desperateness of friendship breakdowns, the trauma of separations and the loneliness of loss, but we should also talk with them about how they effectively manage good feelings too – how that impacts positively and sometimes negatively on others.
If children, or indeed adults, aren’t given the opportunity to talk, to listen to others, to understand themselves, to know where help is, then the suicide rates aren’t likely to fall, and we will instead be praising the fact that they are “stable” – as some did this week on news that the increase in male suicides is negligible.
We’re not saying that a few lessons as part of a PSHE programme of work is going to eradicate suicide but at least it gives all children the opportunity to consider their feelings and how to react/behave in good and stressed times.
Data on mental health problems for young people is alarming, and there has to come a time when we stop being alarmed and start doing something. In fact that time has long since gone, and yet we continue to be shocked into paralysis by news items about mental health and suicide that are patently obvious to those of us who’ve been trying to develop preventative work in emotional health and wellbeing for years and years.
Our young people need action now!
As we said in this post, written in November 2014, it’s a child’s right to be given appropriate support for all health issues, include their mental wellbeing – Article 24 of the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child.
And if all of this horrific data about the mental health of our youngsters isn’t bad enough, we’ve come across an additional statistic from the suicide data this week – that nearly 100 young children between the ages of 10 and 14 killed themselves in the UK in the past decade.
If we could have saved ONE of these lives by having a mandatory PSHE programme that helps young people to know themselves and know where support is, then it would have been money well spent. The fact that a properly funded programme with clear training may well have prevented more of these 100 deaths means that it’s imperative that we demand changes to the law so that every child, in accordance with the UN Human Rights declaration, is given the education and health care to which they are entitled.
We’ll end with a quote from the Samaritans Suicide Statistic Report 2015 – http://www.samaritans.org/sites/default/files/kcfinder/branches/branch-96/files/Suicide_statistics_report_2015.pdf
“Suicide remains a major gender and social inequality and is a devastating event for families and communities.
We need to see a greater focus at local and regional levels on the coordination and prioritisation of suicide prevention activity especially in areas with high levels of socio-economic deprivation. We know that good collaboration between different sectors and agencies is vital to reduce suicide. The causes of suicide are complex, and we need to encourage people to seek help before they reach a crisis point.”
What Samaritans say here about adults is equally true of young people. We need to work together for preventative solutions, and we need to start doing it today.
For anyone who didn’t see Professor Green’s documentary “Suicide and Me” on television, it’s worth a watch on YouTube: