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Men and Suicide: 'We weren't told in school we may one day have an illness whispering suicidal thoughts'

15-Dec-15
Article By: Angeline Albert, News Editor

The third Monday in January is typically known as the most depressing day of the year. Following the excitement of Christmas, your money is spent and it’s dark, cold and miserable outside but at least you’ve got the mental health to bounce back. For many, anxiety does not wait for a single day in January. It is a 365 day 24/7 nightmare of voices whispering suicidal thoughts.

One depressed man who considered taking his own life said he felt like he was inside Edvard Munch's Scream painting

The black hole and feelings of emptiness, being overwhelmed, inadequate, ashamed, guilty go on…and on. Rapper Professor Green, whose father took his own life, said in an interview “We all deal with things differently and some of us are less equipped to deal with things. Mental health can develop with some people but for others, it’s how we’re wired.”

For those grappling with anxiety, the remedy that is reached for is fatal. Mental health-related suicide is the number one killer of men under 35 in the UK. A mid-life crisis may sound like good joke material but its not so funny to think the UK’s suicide rate is highest amongst men aged 39 to 50 years old, according to the Samaritan's suicide report.

“You hear someone say such a person’s killed themselves, how selfish of them” says Graham, who has regularly contemplated suicide. “I can’t control these thoughts that are in my head, I don’t want to be having these thoughts. This is like someone is torturing me in my mind. But they keep popping in. I can’t get rid of them.

"You feel really ashamed to share them, you feel really weak.”

Another admits: “When I go in that darkness, I couldn’t tell you what I am going to do in those seconds. The shadows are there, there’s no reason to carry on. I’m not even thinking about myself.”

Former advertising executive turned theatre performer Tim Grayburn is another who has worked hard to battle the dark forces in his head. Credit: Photograph by Richard Davenport.   Performers Tim Grayburn and Bryony Kimmings in ‘Fake it ‘til you Make it’

“We weren’t told in school that there is a one in four chance that you will suffer from a mental health problem”, he blogs. "Or that we might one day have an illness that can whisper to us suicidal thoughts. If I would have known at the time, I wouldn’t have fought, drank, done drugs. I would have told my family, my friends, my doctor.”

He's not alone. Far too many men do not allow themselves to talk about suicide and as a result are undiagnosed and untreated.

“When you’re in your 20s the number one thing that most of us want to do is have fun. Opening up about depression to a group of 20 year olds felt like excluding myself permanently from a decade of fun, so I just didn’t,” he adds.

But Tim Grayburn is now talking in a big way. His public confessional plays out night after night after his partner persuaded him to join her in performing their love story ‘Fake it ‘Til you Make it’ about his battle with depression during their relationship.

A person’s fatal thoughts may stem from a mental health condition, such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. For the suicidal, helplines offer emergency support at the end of the phone and organisations like The Maytree charity offer free accommodation and counselling to give people a chance to talk through feelings. There are even online forums where people can come together and share the thoughts in their head.

For those who seek it, there is help too from home care. Although they may not offer psychiatric help, home care workers support those with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety in many different ways. They can offer emotional encouragement, help find them suitable accommodation or assist them in their management of medication, bills and budgets.

“Some individuals that we’ve supported have gone through that [suicidal] stage and they’ve come to us”, says registered manager Di Aspey working for home care provider Embrace’s supported living services based in Denbigh.

Embrace, which accepts patient referrals from hospitals, mental health units and psychiatric rehabilitation homes across the UK, aims to get people living independently in the community.

Di Aspey, who works with a team of 15 caring for 14 clients, says: “There is careful monitoring of medication and mental health. A lot of it is to do with the relationship you have with the individual. Knowing triggers, knowing if they are withdrawing and are becoming unwell."

But she admits the job is far from easy. “We have to try to reaffirm reality to them. Sometimes they are seeing and hearing things that aren’t there. They will tell us what they are seeing and hearing. We’ll tell them it’s the illness. If they are having it a lot, we may talk to them about seeing the doctor to possibly review their medication.

Music and headphones can block out the voices

“If they’re hearing voices, they may use music and headphones to block out the voices. “We’ll try and distract them. We’ll try and keep them busy. Go with them for a long, brisk walk for example.” Finding out what a person likes doing also leads to staff planning activities. “It could be horse riding, football or visiting a friend. If they really enjoyed something you see the expression on their faces and it’s something to get up the next morning for.

“It is important to keep the individual busy. We’ve always found that if they have structured days and structured lives and you ensure they are made to feel important, and they achieve things, then the depression goes away because they are happy. They have the support if they feel stressed out or anxious.”

For the really anxious and angry there is even a punchbag on standby where people can let rip with their emotions in prescribed doses.

Punchbags in bedrooms can help

“We may say ‘do five minutes in the morning and five in the evening’.

“If we did envisage any problems with people who were very severely depressed or had suicidal thoughts our first port of call would be their social workers and the mental health team and they’d be referred to them”.

To save a man, one may have to start with fixing small parts of him that he’s neglected. One focus area is personal hygiene. Di says: “If they look nice, they feel better”.

To 'take stress away from them' care workers may accompany clients to the GP and support them for medication blood test monitoring. Finding accommodation for them on their own or with others (depending on their preference) requires staff to match up suitable housemates and homes which can prove tricky as it’s a struggle to find affordable and decent property.

"They see the staff as friends. Everything together works," Di believes.

“A couple of individuals have gone home to live unsupported and are doing exceptionally well now. We had a gentlemen referred to us who used to isolate himself in his room. Now he’s changed his whole life. From staying in his room all day he been in music and drama performances and performed in front of huge audiences. It’s worked because he got that support. For me, I see success when people develop. That’s when we know we’re doing the right thing.”

On average, more than 6,000 people take their own lives by suicide each year across the UK and Republic of Ireland. For those thinking about suicide, the Samaritans’ 24-hour support helpline service is 116 123. CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) supports men with depression and suicide and can be contacted on 0800 585858 or via www.thecalmzone.net. Help for those who know someone is considering suicide can be found at the NHS site

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