‘Hope springs eternal in the human breast.’
If only the 18th century words of Alexander Pope were true for every person. Hope, that powerful emotion that, when present, so readily dispels its antithesis despair, is sadly lacking from many people’s lives. The result is a never ending spiral into an increasingly black hole at the bottom of which resides suicide; the thought of which curiously acted as a ‘great source of comfort’ to the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. Yet our true source of comfort ought not to be found in death, but in an optimistic outlook on life, fuelled by a game plan to bring our great expectations into fruition.
The statistics for suicide are a cause for great concern. The World Health Organisation calculates that every year some one million people worldwide die by suicide, corresponding to one death every 40 seconds. This is more than the annual loss through murder and war combined. Yet, the situation could be far worse as up to twenty times this number of people fail in their attempt at suicide. It is calculated that 5% of people attempt suicide at least once.
Often hidden by other events (such as road traffic accidents and cases of drowning), suicide is the leading cause of death amongst young people (100,000 adolescents per year). Those overwhelmed by stressful life events and emotional distress, in chronic pain, or suffering from a psychiatric disorder, alcoholism or drug addiction are most at risk. Overall, more men die by suicide, whilst more women attempt suicide. In terms of age, the suicide rate is high amongst middle aged men and highest in people over 75 years.
The costs to society from suicide are enormous, estimated to be equivalent to billions of US dollars per year. The psychological and social impact on families and communities is even greater. Yet, despite its frequency, suicide is often under-reported for fear of family stigma, religious concerns and negative social attitudes.
The good news is that suicide can be prevented. It was with this simple fact in mind that September 10th marked the 10th anniversary of the World Suicide Prevention Day. The latter exists to raise public awareness of risk factors, improve efforts to strengthen society’s protection of the vulnerable, and to teach people where they can seek help. The focus is on public awareness campaigns, increasing supportive networks for young people, increasing training for healthcare professionals, improving mental health resources and reducing the barriers to accessing these.
That said, even at present, there are various readily accessible support groups outside of the normal health services. For example, the Samaritans, founded by the Reverend Chad Varah (who was born in Barton upon Humber), provides a 24 hour support line on 08457 90 90 90 (www.samaritans.org). There is also Nightline; a student-focused support line, whose Hull number is 01482 466272 (www.nightline.ac.uk).
Life was never promised to us as something that is easy; but neither, contrary to the lyrics of the theme song to the television programme MASH, is suicide painless. Somebody, somewhere, always gets hurt to an unfathomable extent. Working together, society can reduce that pain.
(First published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Thursday, 20th September 2012)
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