If you were asked what you thought the leading cause of death was among young men, what would you say? Car accidents? Knife crime?
Would you be surprised to learn that every year more young men die by suicide than any other cause of death? Think about it. This means that the main reason men under the age of 35 die in our society is because they decide to take their own life. I think most people would agree something about this is very wrong.
Yet it’s something that rarely gets discussed. When a suicide takes place, it’s a tragedy, the papers report the death and, in the case of high profile men such as Garry Speed (whose death was not recorded by the coroner as a suicide), the papers may touch upon the subject of prevention for a day or two. Then nobody really likes to think about it again until the next time somebody dies – in other words, until it’s too late.
Every 85 minutes, somebody in the UK dies by suicide. When my brother became one of those statistics, to say I was shocked was an understatement. It took me quite a while to realise that the police were suggesting he had taken his own life when they knocked on our door. The thought that he would do that just had just not crossed my mind.
Even now, it still seems shocking to me. When I think back to that morning on July 12 last year it still makes my stomach clench and my heart feel like it’s turned to stone.
As far as we all knew he was happy. He had just finished his first year studying Pharmaceuticals at University and had done really well in his exams. He had made new friends, had a girlfriend, and still kept in touch with his schoolmates back home.
If anything it seemed to us that he had really grown in confidence since starting his course. On the night he went up to the bridge, he had been out drinking in town with friends, who all described him as being on ‘top form’. Even the coroner who was in charge of the inquest did not find enough evidence to prove that Nathan had intended to take his own life and the verdict was left open, not one of suicide.
But it still surprises me just how common our experience is. Once you start looking into it you realise just how many people are affected by suicide. Not just how many people attempt it, or die by it, but also how it affects the people left behind.
But it’s hard to know what to do to prevent it. It’s not like diseases such as cancer where you can develop a drug for it, or accidents that are caused by people driving too fast. The specific reasons people choose to end their own lives are so varied and often unknown to those of us left behind. Even those who leave suicide notes often cannot provide the full answers.
Think about all the other campaigns, that you have for young people regarding other issues; gang crime, violence, binge drinking. They’re all important issues to talk about. But it’s a struggle to find any large-scale campaign that tries to addresses the biggest cause of death for young men in the UK. And that seems a little odd to me.
There are some charities out there doing some brilliant work. ‘The Calm Zone’ is one and ‘If U Care Share’. Both of these charities try to address the gender issues surrounding suicide; 75% of those who die by suicide are male. As somebody who often likes to discuss feminist issues, I believe that when such a big gender gap occurs, you should always ask the question ‘why?’ Sometimes it’s just a correlation, nothing else, but sometimes there is some pretty apparent sexism at play.
One theory is that men are less likely to share their emotions when feeling vulnerable and depressed as this is seen as a weakness. But, even though men appear to be more likely than women to take their own lives, there are still far too many of either sex dying by suicide.
Although I do not have the answers to what exactly can be done to address this fact, I certainly think that discussing the topic is a good place to start. And that is part of the reason I decided to start my blog, in the hope that I can bring to people’s attention how common suicide is and provide a place for discussion about the issues that surround it.
But I also wanted it to be something positive, something that focused on the wide variety of experiences life has to offer. That is why I came up with the idea of ’52 Firsts’. Having started the blog on the anniversary of Nathan’s death, the plan is to do a whole range of different things in the next 12 months – one a week until the second year anniversary.
Things on the to-do list include being on a TV show, baking a soufflé, trying out meditation and test-driving a fancy car. Some of the activities are quite nerve-racking, but I want to push myself to try things I wouldn’t normally do.
The reaction to the blog so far has been very encouraging and it has really helped me open up to people. I tend to do better expressing myself in writing than talking about my feelings face to face. My only hope is that it will help other people too, by raising awareness of the issue and getting people talking about it.
Take a look at Emma’s blog at: http://emmas52firsts.blogspot.co.uk/
Follow Emma on Twitter: @Emmalisadavis