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