Impact News

Responding to Violence, Suicide, Psychosis and Trauma

The facts about suicide are far less alarming than the media portray

Oliver James, The Guardian, Saturday 24 January 2009

A completed suicide casts a long, dark shadow on families. Yet there is much misinformation about who is at risk and how common it is. Many parents will, I hope, find the facts reassuring. The first myth is that suicide is increasing. Actually, it has been falling for many years: from 6,129 cases in 1994 to 5,576 in 2006, with the decline in numbers occurring almost annually.

The second myth is that it is a young person’s plague. Virtually no children under 14 do it (22 a year, albeit 22 too many) and the total for 15-34-year-olds is 1,400. While it may be the second largest cause of death in 15-24-year-olds (car accidents being the highest), that is because hardly any in this age group die. The real increase in suicide has been in the 35-64-year-olds, up 15% from 2,950 to 3,400.

The third and most widely touted myth is that suicide has become an epidemic among young men, totemic of a “crisis in masculinity”. In 1994, there were 1,850 in the 15-34-year-old male age group, dropping steadily year on year down to 1,200 in 2006. In other words, the real story is that suicide by young men has fallen by over one third.

What is true is that, in much of the world, men outnumber women in completed suicide. In this country, it is at least three times more men. However, this is not some biological given – there are many cultures in which women exceed men. One of the most suicidal groups on earth, for example, is rural middle-aged Chinese women.

It is a curiosity of suicide statistics that the gender differences for those who attempt it are almost exactly the reverse of those who complete it: women are much more likely to deliberately self-harm than men. Superficially, the explanation is that men tend to use much more fatal methods, like hanging or jumping off high buildings, whereas women take ineffective overdoses. However, that prompts the question of why, to which there are as yet no satisfactory answers.

In most developed nations, women are twice as likely as men to be depressed. We know from psychological autopsies that the great majority of people who killed themselves were depressed. That makes it all the stranger that relatively fewer women die this way. A possible factor is that men abuse substances much more than women (about twice as much) – women are more likely to visit their GP and accept pills or therapy. It’s possible that the disinhibition of booze or drugs means men are more likely to take extreme measures to end their lives.

But the remarkably reassuring fact is that only one in 50 young people who attempt suicide dies: 24,000 people aged 10-19 attempt it each year, at least three quarters of them female, but fewer than 500 die. Even allowing for a great many pleas for help, you would have thought that a higher proportion than this would end in tragedy.

All in all, if you are a parent the facts about suicide are a great deal less worrying than the tosh you read in many newspapers. Just as we are
encouraged to fantasise about creepy strangers making off with our little
girls when this is so rare that it is not worth giving the time of day to, so with suicide: forget your teenage Smiths fan for whom the GP wants to prescribe antidepressants: if anything, the person you should worry about is any 35-64-year-old man in the household.

For information about suicide go to samaritans.org/your_emotional_health/about_suicide.aspx.

Advertisements

Filed under: Suicide, Uncategorized, , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: