World Suicide Prevention Day - don't turn away
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Feeling uncomfortable already? Rather not think about it? Neither would the people who attempt suicide - but unlike you and me, they don't have a choice.
Worldwide, about one million people are known to die by suicide every year - more than the numbers dying by murder and in war put together. We think that half of them have tried at least once before.
However, it can be hard to measure the numbers accurately, because of differences in the way countries report them. It looks as if rates in the UK are lower than Eastern European countries, like Lithuania and the Russian Federation, but higher than many South American countries. Does religion, such as the belief among Roman Catholics that suicide is a serious sin, play a part? Possibly - but there must be more to it than that.
Men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women, although women make two to three times more suicide attempts than men. We may think of suicide as a tragic cry-for-help gone wrong, perhaps in a heartbroken teenager, but the reality is very different. While suicide is the second biggest cause of death among 15-19 year olds, rates are higher among middle-aged people and highest of all among the over 75s.
It may seem like a statement of the blindingly obvious that at least half of people who seriously consider suicide, and up to 90% of people who die by suicide, have been diagnosed with a mental disorder at some point in their lives. That doesn't make it inevitable - about one in 10 men and one in five women in the UK suffer from major depression at some point in their lives. Not all of them reach the state of desperation that makes them see suicide as the only option. People who are dependent on alcohol and recreational drugs are at very high risk of suicide - but so are people who have gone through a major life event or are socially isolated.
How can we stop these tragedies from happening? It's not all down to the Health Service, although there's no doubt that it can be hard to access urgent care and even harder to get ongoing support from our cash-strapped NHS. It's down to all of us.
We all need to stop shying away from mental health problems and start talking about them in an open, non-judgemental way. We need to recognise that depression and other mental illness doesn't just affect other people - it's not a lack of moral fibre and you certainly can't just 'pull yourself together'. We need to talk to friends who seem to be depressed, rather than avoiding them because they're 'hard work'. We need to start caring as a society for our old people living alone, and be alert for the warning signs that those we know are at the end of their tether.
We need to make everyone realise that it's okay to admit there's a problem and ask for help - before it really is too late.