Suicide is a major cause of preventable death and can have a devastating impact on family, friends and communities as people try to make sense of their loss.
For most people, experiencing such thoughts is distressing in itself and they are relatively common compared with actual attempts.
We can all learn how to help people in a crisis and identify warning signs and risk factors associated with suicide. Being able to talk about these thoughts and feelings, and listening to someone who is in distress, is crucial and can make all the difference.
According to the latest Samaritan Suicide Report, there were 6,122 suicides registered in the UK in 2014. This corresponds to a suicide rate of 10.8 per 100,000 people.
Rates in men aged 45-54 have risen by 27 per cent from 2006 to 2013 and men aged 55-64 have experienced a 20 per cent increase. There was, however, a fall of 30 per cent in men aged 25-34 from 2004 to 2014.
There is wide variation in rates across the UK, with the most at risk being middle-aged men. The gender difference is notable, with the suicide rate among men of 16.8 per 100,000 more than three times the rate of 5.2 for women.
Why are suicide rates higher amongst men?
There is no simple explanation for why this is the case. It is often believed that men may be reluctant to talk about their feelings, especially in relation to mental health. It is also assumed that men may be reluctant to seek help.
“In construction the culture is often described as macho, yet construction workers will experience life’s ups and downs the same as anyone else”
There are also cultural reasons, particularly the unhealthy traditional societal role of men. In industries such as construction – where there is a high suicide rate – the culture is often described as macho, yet construction workers will experience life’s ups and downs the same as anyone else.
They may have family and relationship problems, be socially isolated, have low self-esteem, misuse alcohol or drugs or face unemployment, all of which present emotional challenges. Last year the importance of raising awareness about suicide prevention was identified as the focus of International Men’s Day in November.
We must ensure suicidal men get the support they need before it’s too late. There are a range of resources aimed at raising awareness of suicide and its prevention.
What you can do to prevent suicide
The two-day Mental Health First Aid course aims to raise awareness of some of the most common mental illnesses and emphasises the importance of mental health first aid in assisting individuals experiencing a suicidal crisis.
Participants learn how to care for the suicidal person, how to listen and be supportive, enabling them to express distressing feelings and thoughts of suicide, assessing how high their risk is, and how to keep them safe.
Other resources that can help you learn the skills to save a life have been produced by the charity ASIST – Applied Suicide Intervention Skills. Its training provides interactive, practical support for suicide prevention and is available online.
The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is a charity that aims to prevent male suicide in the UK, operates a dedicated support helpline (0800 58 58 58) from 5pm to midnight, seven days a week and has an online webchat for men who are experiencing suicidal thoughts or who are in crisis.
Meanwhile, the charity Grassroots Suicide Prevention focuses on prevention and has produced the UK’s first suicide prevention app.
Help is at hand for the construction sector.
Dr Ben Thomas is the mental health, learning disability and dementia care professional officer at the Department of Health