Real Bodies: LIFE DOCTOR

It is the first day of spring. Hurrah! Sunshine, flowers, long nights. Reasons to be cheerful, there are loads of them. Yippidee-do.

Sadly, nonsense like this is one reason why more people commit suicide in spring than at any other time of year. Everyone's miserable in winter, but if your life doesn't spring up with the eponymous season then you can feel more rubbish than ever.

Of course, this column is meant to be amusing (although from the letters I receive, I'm not sure many people realise this) and suicide isn't funny. But that's the very reason why it's a topic for the section we like to call Real Life.

"It's still hugely taboo," says Justin Irwin at the Samaritans. "But it's only by discussing it that things can get better. Since it was made legal in 1967 the suicide rates have dropped."

And it's not something that only affects the minority. "Research suggests that at any one time 1 per cent of the population is contemplating suicide," says Irwin. Several people who are reading this column right now. One in a hundred? How many people do you know?

So let's talk about suicide. It happens. And it does not just affect one person - it reverberates through families, colleagues, neighbours and friends.

"When my sister committed suicide," says Rebecca, 28, "I felt like I had to be aware of other people's feelings. I couldn't mention it without people getting embarrassed. It was like it was too awful. I felt guilty, stupid for not seeing it coming, worried that I might do the same thing. But if no one will talk about it you're left on your own. People would see me to be supportive and then would apologise for laughing in my presence. In the end it was only by going to a support group and laughing and crying and getting stuff out that I stopped feeling so awful. Suicide is not a word you should have to whisper."

There are 6,000 suicides a year in Britain but there may be many more that are tactfully given the verdict of accidental death. Men are more than twice as likely to successfully commit suicide while women are more than twice as likely to try. While it is more common in older people, the numbers in young men are increasing faster than any other group in society.

Who is at risk? Bad life events, clinical depression and social isolation are all potential triggers. There is a genetic link. But anyone can get miserable.

"Anecdotally," says Justin Irwin "people who talk about committing suicide don't do it. Look instead for change in people. Physical signs. They're not eating. They're normally quiet and suddenly they're really loud. Or they are silent for long periods. If you think they're in danger then talk to them about it. People think that if they mention suicide to someone it might give them the idea and push them over the edge but research has shown that isn't so."

I hope your spring is a happy one. But if you feel miserable because the weather has improved but your life hasn't, talk to someone. If you feel happy, talk to someone who doesn't. Above all don't worry if everyone else looks happy - they're probably just squinting in the sun. Spring isn't that good really. Two days of sunshine and it's already impossible to walk through city centres without falling over people desperately attempting cafe culture. And it'll get worse. Soon they'll be wearing shorts.

Samaritans Helpline: 0345 909090.

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