There is a powerful statistic about suicide that tells us that it is the biggest killer of men aged under 50 years; Office for National Statistics figures for England show that 15.4 per 1000 population men died by suicide compared to 4.9 women, with men aged 45 – 49 having the highest rate overall (24.1) .1 This data is for 2020 and is the latest data available from the ONS. It is a tragic and shocking story; but suicide is so much more than a story about men.
Suicide represents some 5, 224 deaths in England and Wales and 753 in Scotland. Across the UK there is variation in the data with the North East having the highest suicide death rate of 13.3 per 1000 population and London the lowest rate at 7.0.1
The suicide narrative is not all about men, higher risk groups include LGBT communities where suicide ideation, attempts and completions are disproportionately higher. According to Stonewall, one in eight 18 – 24 year old LGBT people attempted to take their own life in the last year,2 and furthermore, 44% of the LGBTQ people reported suicidal thoughts, compared to 26% of heterosexual non-trans respondents.3 The Trevor Project reported that LGBT youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers. One mental health provider has reported a recent 26% increase in suicidal thoughts in children and young people of BAME origin.4
The ONS data also identifies that the age group 45 – 49 of Women have the highest rate of suicide deaths of those women dying by suicide. Meaning that both women and men of the same age group are higher risk.
The way that we talk about men and suicide seems to make it a man’s problem, which it is not. It is true that more men die by suicide, and by quite a margin, but the problem is not limited to men alone. In addition, we must not normalise suicide in men as if it accepted and we can do little about it. Suicide is about all of us, and it is important that we talk about how it affects all of society, and in particular the effects and devastation that it can cause for families.
1 in 5 people think about suicide in their lifetime, that is a really big number.5 It is the same number as those in the workplace affected by mental health. The huge increase in attention given to mental health in the workplace has resulted in programs, support and stigma reduction. Yet suicide seems only to get mentioned when the annual World Suicide Day comes along. Suicide deaths happen every day, in fact some 18 deaths per day.
A suicide doesn’t just happen, it is part of a series of events that lead to that final crisis.
Research data suggests that there are 30 attempted suicides for each suicide death and some 200 people have thoughts about suicide for each death.6 Clearly there is a lot of suicide ideation happening around us. The journey from suicide ideation to completing suicide is not terribly well understood. There are factors that we should consider and are important. Suicidal ideation is third highest predictor of death by suicide.7 According to the Samaritans, most people who attempt or complete suicide will have told someone something like their life not being worth living. Therefore, thoughts about suicide are important and not to be dismissed.