A quick glance at TV schedules, Twitter or 4chan may lead you to believe that there are very few taboo subjects. But there are some. Mental health is definitely one of them - and a closely-related issue is that of suicide.
World Suicide prevention day aims to raise awareness of this taboo. I have a particular interest because, earlier this year, BCS sent me on a Mental Health First Aid course. I hadn’t even heard of such a thing till recently, but I do know people who suffer from mental health issues. And talking to them about these things can very quickly reveal the shame they feel; their reluctance to discuss the issues; their fear of being judged; even fear of things like losing their children.
Society sets the agenda for how people feel and how they communicate. Working in IT and IT media also gives us a view of the extremes we face as a society: from the anonymity-enabled vitriol on Twitter (read Jon Ronson’s ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’) to the utopian Silicon Valley vision of tech saving all (and, to be fair, there are a lot of useful apps that can help with many aspects of mental health).
World Suicide Prevention Day is held each year on 10 September. It's an annual awareness raising event organised by International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
On the course we did we were taught about self-care - a recurring theme for all, and especially to be noted by those who try to help. We also learnt we can all contribute positively to this issue. For example, the US ‘take 5’ campaign suggests that we all ‘Learn the warning signs, Do your part, Practice self-care, Reach out, and Spread the word.’
What surprised me on the course was that men are more likely to take their own lives than women. We didn’t go deeply into the reasons - it was only a two-day course and it is a complex and sensitive issue - but I think it took me aback because I was the only chap on the course I attended.
The number of men taking their own lives runs at three times the rate of women. It is the biggest single killer of men aged 45 or under and, in real numbers, it means that around 84 men a week.
Of course, whether a person’s gender is not the point. For someone to take their own lives is a tragedy.
The words that appear at the beginning of this post come from the website of Mind, the mental health charity... anyone one of us could suffer from suicidal thoughts - or be the ‘someone’ that a suicidal person reaches out to. Learning about it can help demystify and destigmatise for all.
To find out what UK-based orgs are doing, and what you can do, check these links:
And why not get involved - learn more about the issue, tweet (#talking suicide #WorldSuicidePreventionDay #itsOKtotalk), or just look out for ways to support each other emotionally...
About the author
Brian Runciman is Head of Content at BCS and blogs about the Institute’s role in making IT good for society, historical developments in computing, the implications of CS research and more.