Suicidal thoughts do not mean death is inevitable

June 8th, 2018

With the news that Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef has died today, just three days after the death of designer, Kate Spade, death by suicide has understandably been thrust into news headlines on both sides of the Atlantic, and beyond.

My condolences to their families, friends, colleagues and acquaintances, on their tragic deaths, especially as they navigate mourning in the glare of the media.

Both Antony Bourdain and Kate Space leave extraordinary legacies in their respective professional fields. For them, as with all the 45,000 people who have died by suicide over the last 12 months in the USA, and the 6,000 in the UK, we must all help to ensure that they are defined by the life that they have lived, and are not reduced to the manner of their death.

And yet, it would be irresponsible to not recognise, and take steps to mitigate the fact, that deaths by well-known figures present a very real public health risk as there is documented evidence of contagion effect. After the death of Robin Williams suicides in the USA rose by 10%. We therefore urge the media, health professionals and each and every one of us to make it clear that suicide is not inevitable for anyone.

When high profile suicides happen let’s seize the moment, to open up our minds to each of us having more conversations in our homes, our workplaces and communities about mental health. Talking is the way in which we can help break down taboos which do stop people in need from seeking help when they need it. Speak to everyone and anyone you meet about mental health – you need only watch the Prince William and Lady Gaga’s tête-à-tête to realise that you can share a tête-à-tête about mental health with the most unlikely of friends (youtube.com/watch?v=WXPx_fBJVPU)

Share with each other the fact that mental health problems are incredibly common – one in four of us will experience mental ill health at some point in our lives. And mental health does not discriminate – it affects men, women, young, old, rich and poor. You are not weak, a failure, or pathetic if you have a mental health problem.

Talk also about the fact that suicidal ideation is much more common than we think, and dare to admit. It is estimated that for every one death by suicide there are 300 people thinking of suicide. Yes, it is a difficult fact to accept, but if we lock talk of suicidal thoughts away, and shroud it in shame and secrecy, then people become too fearful to share their darkest thoughts, and that’s when suicidal ideation can turn to death by suicide. Talking openly about suicide is NOT more likely to make it happen. On the contrary, all the evidence shows that when we are prepared and brave enough to ‘call out’ suicide and give a name to what people may be thinking, that it reduces their risk of death. The word suicide should not be avoided in favour of one of many unhelpful euphemisms (remembered Lord Voldemort, and the sinister power he was given by being called ‘He who must not be named’).

We need to recognise as a society that suicidal thoughts can be a part of people’s lives, and a mechanism to navigate difficult painful times. By doing so people who are thinking of suicide will feel less shame, and feel better able to talk openly about how they are feeling, and turn to family and friends and health professionals for help and support.

Let’s make sure that Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade’s deaths don’t drive up the number of suicides, but that instead compel each and every one of us to help lives that are threatened by suicidal thoughts.

 
The Judi Meadows Memorial Fund is a restricted grant of the McPin Foundation. Charity number: 1117336
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