I was walking across Waterloo Bridge on an evening a few weeks ago when I noticed a man perched precariously on the barrier. His bag and coat were piled on the ground behind him and as I got closer, I realised he was crying. He looked pale and exhausted and his arms shook as they gripped the metal bar. It wasn’t until I saw another woman approach him that I realised he was about to kill himself.
The woman took his arm and began to ask him what was wrong. Fearing he was about to jump, I took hold of his other arm until three men passing by stopped to hold him from behind. His position on the barrier made it impossible to drag him down without risk of him slipping, so we stood in place until the police arrived to help pull him to safety, offering words that now seem desperately inadequate.
As I continued home after the encounter, I realised it was exactly a year since the first anniversary of the death of Robin Williams. I was shaken and barely slept that night, going over what had happened and what I could have done better – wondering what would happen to the man and if he would receive the support he desperately needed.
Although awareness of suicide has increased with charity campaigns and Nick Clegg’s call for “zero suicides” back in January, it is a problem – a tragedy – shrouded by the taboos surrounding mental health. And it is not one helped in any way by comments made by celebrities who exist for no other reason to provoke, such as Morrissey’s recent claim that suicide is “admirable” and that “everyone thinks about it”. Suicide is not admirable. It is a tragedy with a huge human cost that we desperately need to address.
That saying, Morrissey is certainly onto something. It might not be too presumptuous to assume many of us have thought – even fleetingly – about suicide, considering a quarter of the population will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year. Mixed anxiety and depression is the most common mental disorder in Britain.
But if everyone is thinking about suicide, why aren’t we talking about it? Of the 6,233 suicides of over-15s registered in 2013, 78% were men – with some 4,858 male suicides were recorded that year. It is the biggest killer of men aged between 20 and 49. Suicide is a silent epidemic fuelled by mental health stigma, the effects of which are devastating.
Mental Health Awareness: Facts and figures
Mental Health Awareness: Facts and figures
1/6 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report 2014
27 per cent of people who suffer from anxiety say work issues, such as long hours, are the source of the problem.
2/6 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report 2014
45 per cent of people who feel anxious in everyday life cite financial issues as their biggest cause of worry.
3/6 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report 2014
And 26 per cent of people who feel anxious say fearing for the welfare of their children and loved ones leaves them burdened with worry.
And 26 per cent of people say fearing for the welfare of their children and loved ones leaves them burdened with anxiety.
4/6 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report 2014
30 per cent of people deal with anxiety by talking to a friend or relative, or by going for a walk.
5/6 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report 2014
People are thought to be more anxious than they were five years ago.
Alessandra/Flickr Creative Commons
6/6 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report 2014
The stresses of modern life are thought to have created "The Age of Anxiety".
Nine in 10 people who have spoken to Mind’s Time to Change campaign say they face stigma and discrimination because of their mental health problem. And what’s more, 58% say the stigma and discrimination is as bad as – or worse – than the illness itself. Last year, a survey from Friends Life found 40% of 2,000 people from a variety of industries had experienced a mental health problem and not told their employer, for fear it would damage their career prospects. The majority of those feeling the strain of stress, anxiety or depression in the study were younger, aged between 18 and 24 – roughly the age of the man I encountered on the bridge.
Women are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide, but they are more likely to talk about their feelings and less likely to succeed in a suicide attempt. By comparison, men are more likely to keep their feelings hidden and more likely to die in a suicide attempt. Because of that, suicide eclipses cancer and coronary heart disease as the biggest killer of men under 35. It makes me wonder how many deaths could be avoided if we had the courage to open a difficult conversation.
If you are affected by any of the issues mentioned in this article, please don't hesitate to contact The SamaritansReuse content