Suicide Is Not a Joke

Today there has been a massive win for the world of social media, not only because it helped to ‘Find Mike‘ – the man who took time to talk a suicidal young man off Waterloo Bridge when others were just walking past – but it’s bought suicide into the spotlight.

Let’s think about mental health a bit more

We don’t talk about suicide much, mostly because it’s a confusing, painful and divisive subject.

But we should.

Why? Because if you haven’t thought about it, then it’s quite likely someone in your work place or social group has.

Did you know that:

  • The UK is in the top third of suicide rates in the world (Wikipedia)
  • 14% of the population has had suicidal thoughts (Samaritans)
  • 6,045 people killed themselves in 2011, an increase of 437 since 2010 (ONS)

Ultimately a lot of those who have suicidal thoughts can be helped by people who will just listen, folk who care and who allow the person to feel validated simply as a human being – which is what Neil Laybourn did in just 20 minutes for Jonny Benjamin on a cold, windy day on Waterloo Bridge in London.

When I was in my early 20s, a young, smart, but ultimately very emotionally fragile, male friend (who worked in the pub trade) committed suicide. The funeral was held for just close family and was over and done with as quickly as possible, and his sister would never speak of it, ever.

Then whilst I lived in Putney our neighbour, who apparently had a pretty decent career and certainly a very loving girlfriend, hanged himself – it turns out it wasn’t the first time he’d tried.

And just the other day, one of my closest friends in all the world told me that he’d been struggling with depression and when he’d heard that someone in the family had taken his own life, he found himself empathising and knew it was time to get serious help – can you see the pattern here? They are all men.

Men, sadly, are three times more likely to take their own lives than women – and that’s despite the fact that female suicides have increased significantly since 2007 (ONS).

This number always seems to peak around the times of economic hardships – this makes sense as men are still far more likely to be the major breadwinners and will therefore take job loss or monetary hardships more personally.

I can only imagine that when you see yourself as the breadwinner, the pillar, the person who puts food on the table and heats the house, how crippling it must be to have your livelihood taken away.

And even worse, how hard it must be that you can’t even talk to the person you normally would, your significant other, because you feel like it is them you are letting down the most.

In no way comparing my world to this dark place, but I know that I find it very hard to talk to my husband when times are financially hard in the freelance world, when clients don’t pay on time, or default.

I find it humiliating because I like to think of myself as a strong, independent woman and I can’t bear to ask for what I feel is almost like an old-fashioned housekeeping allowance.

As I type those words, I know it sounds a little silly, I can hear the rational voice telling me that of course my other half doesn’t mind contributing more to the household, he earns a lot more and has a sane steady profession…

But that doesn’t make a difference to how I feel – because what I am feeling has little basis in rational thought – but that’s emotions for you (sometimes I reckon Mr Spock and Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory have got it right, who needs ‘em?!)

But you’re probably wondering what this has to do with booze, after all, this is a beer blog… I’ll tell you what prompted me to write this post – it was something that was bought to my attention on Twitter – a cider, with a noose on the pump clip, called Suicider.

I’m sorry but for me, there is no excuse for calling a product Suicider for juvenile giggles – there’s simply not and I know I’m not alone.

However, I wanted to give the producer a chance to explain themselves, so after getting no response to my emails, I rang Phillip Maggs at JJ’s, the producer of Suicider.

As I’ll also be writing a column on this for a magazine, I asked him, on the record, whether he thought the name was offensive and he sounded genuinely baffled.

“Off the top of my head I wouldn’t, I guess people could take offence to a lot of beer names too, but on the other hand there are probably more people that would find them funny and just appreciate it’s just a name for a drink, I can’t really see that there’s a problem.

Hurriedly adding: “No offence is meant to be caused.”

But as Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind puts it: “We strongly encourage everybody to consider the impact of using mental health language in a way that could add to the stigma of mental health problems.

“Having a cider named ‘Suicider’ is not particularly helpful as it could be seen as making light of something which, last year, saw the deaths of over 6,000 people.”

So, what do we do? Well, I know a lot of people have already emailed JJ’s cider to ask them to change the name, and if you find it offensive then you can also, but I’d ask you to do so politely and without inflammatory language,

This isn’t a witch hunt on this particular brand, I’m using it as an example of how being thoughtless is often as damaging as being deliberately malicious.

If Neil Laybourn had been as thoughtless as everyone else who walked past Jonny Benjamin that day, Mr Benjamin could have become another part of those horrifying statistics I gave you earlier.

However, rather than contemplating that sad thought, I’d like to end this post on a positive note, so I’d like you to ask you to support the Time to Change campaign, led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, which aims to reduce the stigma associated with mental health by encouraging people to talk openly about it.

Mind’s Paul Farmer is asking people to step up to the plate on the February 6 to achieve one million conversations about mental health in 24 hours.

“We want to challenge negative perceptions and encourage people who may need support to take the first step to better mental health.”

There was a recent, very select, study on the benefits for men’s mental health of going down the pub – but I see no reason that this shouldn’t apply to everyone, so maybe if something is bothering you, if you are hanging on by a thread, if you’re feeling depressed about something, how about you ring a friend and ask them if they’ll go to the pub with you to have a chat.

But if you are feeling depressed, please do be aware that alcohol is, ultimately, a depressant and that talking is far better for you than drinking to excess.

And if you don’t think you can manage to express your worry or pain to a close friend, maybe make an appointment with your GP.

But if even that seems too daunting, maybe you could just ring someone, there are dozens of great helplines for people who are worried about their mental health, or if you’re worried about someone close to you.

So please, if you need help or think someone else does, contact Mind or one of the groups listed here at Rethink.org

Sometimes to start talking, all you need is to know someone is listening.

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26 Responses to Suicide Is Not a Joke

  1. Rob says:

    Completely agree. Had a bad time many years ago & basically had to be kept an eye on overnight. Next morning one of my sisters (who had been informed) visited – all she did was open the door, say “oh, youre not dead yet then”, and went back home. Apparently the note I left was pinned on a notice board in her kitchen and she “just looked at it and laughed”.

    To make light of depression is, in my eyes, the same as ridiculing a physical illness or disability.

    • Melissa Cole says:

      Thanks for being so open about that Rob, it’s a hard thing to admit, the more people who talk about mental illness the better, just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.

  2. Crafti Beer says:

    Melissa,

    Well done on writing such a good article and I wholeheartedly support your questions with regard to that pump clip. I would also like to spare a thought for the care-givers too – being a spouse, parent, child or friend of someone with clinical depression or other mental health conditions can also be lonely and difficult.

    • Melissa Cole says:

      Of course, sorry it’s hard to get everything into an article like this and as I’m no expert I’m only really able to speak from my experiences, thank you for sharing yours.

  3. anon says:

    Having struggled with this, and been exactly in that state of mind, i know that in that mindset i would find it poetic to get drunk on that drink and use the noose so playfully displayed on the pumpclip. If there was any sense to them, they would change the name, incorporate the silver ribbon and donate to the charities who deal with suicide and suicidal thoughts. For anyone affected, i do recommend http://www.thebloggess.com , she is the reason i am here.

    • Melissa Cole says:

      I am so pleased you found a source of solace and I thank you for posting that response and offering others that link.

      I also hope you have found somewhere you can talk and get professional help on an on-going basis, please stay well and safe.

  4. matt says:

    Thank you for speaking up. My brother took his life last September. It’s had the most devastating effect on our family. The hurt does not heal. You only learn a new way to get through the day. I get very upset when people say stupid things about suicide – especially when they joke about it. I can say with absolute certainty that I will never purchase anything that makes even a slightly joking reference to suicide. You wouldn’t make a joke about cancer and put that on a label? Would you? Hopefully the brewer gets the message…

    • Melissa Cole says:

      Matt, my condolences to you and and your family, I can’t even begin to imagine what such a devastating loss must be like.

      I really hope they get the message, I really do.

  5. It's a secret says:

    I really can’t believe that a cider with this name/pumpclip artwork is allowed. To any sane person, it could possibly be seen as a (very) distasteful joke. Given that I am currently recovering from an attempted overdose I find it (obviously) disgusting. That isn’t a word I use lightly, and I know that I am biased in my opinion, but anybody who finds that funny should probably get themselves checked out by one of the many mental health professionals I have had to talk to during my recovery.

    • Melissa Cole says:

      I’m so sorry that you found yourself in a place where an overdose seemed the best option – I hope that was your lowest point and that you can find help, love and support from friends and professionals.

      I can only hope that the stories that brave people like you and others on here have shared will shake the producers into removing this branding.

  6. Will says:

    “But if you are feeling depressed, please do be aware that alcohol is, ultimately, a depressant and that talking is far better for you than drinking to excess.”

    Just to clarify, the term ‘depressant’ means suppression of the central nervous system; reduced coordination, relaxation of muscles, slowed reactions etc and is not to be confused with ‘depressing’, which it can be misinterpreted to be in the above paragraph.

    But still, alcohol should never be used to cure depression; as it tends to be addictive itself; especially to people who aren’t in a good mental health.

  7. James B. says:

    Melissa,

    Really poignant article. A message of hope wrapped in the sharp contrast of the still looming stigma of mental illness and it’s often dire consequences. I would also like to point out that according to ONS, alcohol is a key factor in around two thirds (66%) of suicide attempts each year. The simple fact is branding is a powerful influence and the reinforcement of that image and wording in tandem with cider seems careless and irresponsible at best to me. Oh, and the question of liability…

    Best Regards,

    James

  8. Al says:

    I’d really recommend that people watch Channel 4′s “World’s Maddest Job Interview“. It was originally broadcast for mental health week a year or two ago. The scenario is that there are 8 candidates for a job, 4 of whom have had serious mental issues in the past, and it is up to the panel to decide who those 4 people are. It is available on 4oD (4 on Demand). The programme cleverly strips down your stereotypes and makes you realise how there truly is a future for people after they’ve recovered from their (often temporary) low.

    My thoughts are with someone I know who lost her mum to cancer last year and lost her boyfriend to suicide less than two weeks ago. :_(

  9. Melissa, this was so thoughtful and well-done, it truly shows what a fine professional you are. You are so right – “being thoughtless is often as damaging as being deliberately malicious.” Suicide is no laughing matter.

  10. Tim Sullivan says:

    Well done Melissa for helping to bring this out into the open. Nine years ago i found my best mate who had hung himself. The mess it leaves behind for family and friends is devastating with most people blaming themselves for “not seeing it coming”. Once you start ralking to other people it soon becomes clear how prevalent this is.

  11. Gav says:

    Wow i am really surprised to see a story like this. Melissa it was a great pleasure to meet you at Celt a few months back, you are a true professional.

    I was found by police in Cardiff at Christmas 2013 after i had left my wife while on a shopping trip. I had been suffering with depression for a while. To this day i cannot remember where i walked in Cardiff but what sparked a phone call from my wife to the police was the fact that i had send a text message to my family to say good bye and then switched my phone off. My plan was to drown my self in Cardiff Bay. Luckily the police found me and escorted me to the local hospital.

    Today, i am thankful of the decision my wife made to call the police and also to the police who tracked me on CCTV and talked to me prior to taking me to hospital. I am undergoing lots of counseling and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy). The event leading up to that day spanned over 29 years. Thankfully i have a lot of friends in the beer world who helped me get through the worst by talking. This was and still is a great healer.

    • Melissa Cole says:

      Hi Gav, thank you for telling your story – I am pleased you are getting help and please stick with it, the beer world is a great place to have chats with people because underneath all the frivolity we’re all pretty decent souls. I hope your recovery continues and to have a pint with you again soon.

  12. Ian Palmer says:

    Hey Melissa,

    As someone who’s struggled with depression since my mid-teens and someone who tried to commit suicide once I understand how this name can be insensitive and inappropriate. Like a lot of topics, I think that some people have a right to make light of them but most really don’t. I sometimes quip or make jokes about depression and suicide as I find it a form of therapy for coming to term with them. In this case though I feel very strongly that this play on words is tasteless and should be gotten rid of.

    Ian

    • Melissa Cole says:

      Thanks for your open honesty Ian, as you say, quips are different from using it as a marketing tool and potentially triggering people’s emotions – as you say, black humour used as a coping mechanism is entirely different to bad puns for profit.

  13. Kavey says:

    When I was a kid, just become a teenager, a very very close family friend committed suicide. Growing up in the UK with no relatives in the same country, she wasn’t just my “aunt” in the way that Indians call all family friends of their parents’ generation, she was properly my aunt, and we spent a lot of time at her house, which was just around the corner. She didn’t have her own kids, and she had divorced many years earlier.

    She took her own life when my family and one other who she was close to were both on holiday overseas at the same time. I guess she didn’t want to be talked out of it, perhaps.

    It took me a very long time not to be very angry at all those who commit suicide, at the selfishness of their actions, at the pain they left behind in order to duck out of their own. A long time.

    Of course, now I realise that depression can completely strip a person of that kind of consideration for others because, frankly, it’s hard enough to give rational consideration to one’s own needs, let alone anyone else’s — it’s like drowning. And many on that ledge have persuaded themselves the world, and their loved ones, would be better off without them, and even if they know that’s not the case, they can’t see beyond the blackness.

    I cannot imagine how hard it is to be in that place so, even though there’s still a little kernel of me that still screams “selfish”, I try as hard as I can to understand the reality and try and show the friendship and support that might make the difference.

    It’s not easy, and it saddens me that mental health still has such a stigma, even now, so many years after I remember people lamenting that fact in my childhood.

    I’m baffled that Mr Maggs is baffled that Suicider as a name for a beer is inappropriate and offensive.

    • Melissa Cole says:

      Thank you Kavey, your honesty is appreciated; I think a great many people will understand that immediate thought of ‘selfish’ because if we didn’t we wouldn’t be acknowledging that we’ve been hurt by the loss of that person too.

      It’s also societal, we’ve been conditioned to think it’s selfish and it is still a knee-jerk reaction emotion but it’s how you handle it and deal with it and don’t say it out loud, is the important bit!

      The more we understand the less angry we’ll be, because the less scared of mental health issues we’ll be – and hopefully that will lead to a better world all round.

  14. Mamta says:

    The ‘aunt’ Kavey mentions in her mail above, as a close friend of ours. For a long time, I felt very angry with the person who had come into her life after her divorce, and then left suddenly, even when I knew deep down that it wasn’t entirely his fault. I too felt angry with her for leaving so much pain for her elderly mother to live with. I felt angry with myself that I wasn’t there for her in her despair. It was such a waste of a brilliant life!
    Another friend of our attempted suicide after her husband passed away, fortunately saved by unexpected arrival home of one of her children. She has got over her despair now and is very positively involved in a lot of volunteer work.
    A suicidal person needs support and understanding, not condemnation, during their depression. I can’t even begin to imagine the loneliness felt by a person to take such a step.

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