Suicides of Young People

When a young person’s life is tragically cut short by suicide, the impact is catastrophic – completely devastating families and affecting the lives of many others who knew them.

While there is clearly a public interest in reporting youth suicides and suicide clusters, it’s important for journalists to be aware that young people who are affected by suicide – for example a death at their school or university – are at increased risk of suicide contagion.

Studies have shown that people who are bereaved by suicide are at increased risk of suicide themselves. A large body of evidence exists which links certain types of media reporting to an increase in suicide rates.

Deaths of young people by suicide are more likely to be reported.

Suicides by young people under the age of 25 account for 11% of all suicide deaths in the UK. However, these deaths are far more extensively covered in the news compared to other age groups.

Youth suicides are frequently reported in a more sensational way. This could include romanticised language, lots of photographs of the young people or person who has died, outpourings of grief and memorials, and often, intense speculation on possible causes. 

Young people can be especially vulnerable

For young people, the risk of influencing suicidal behaviour is greater for a number of reasons, including them being:

▪ more influenced by what they see and hear in the media than other groups

▪ increased risk of imitative suicidal behaviour

▪ increased risk of suicide contagion if they’ve been affected by suicide

▪ more likely to behave spontaneously

▪ less likely to have gained the level of emotional maturity which helps us to see a way through problems encountered in life (an issue like relationship breakdown or academic failure, can feel all-consuming and never-ending, increasing the likelihood of these experiences feeling overwhelming)

▪ less likely to fully understand the permanency of suicide – increasing their risk of suicide ideation and contagion. Suicide is a very permanent response to what are typically temporary problems.

Give extra consideration

In my opinion and experience please give extra consideration to reports covering suicidal behaviour by young people including attempts, deaths and inquests. 

In addition, language and tone are important. Carefully consider the inclusion of comments posted on social media sites, as these can sometimes inadvertently romanticise suicidal behaviour. Examples include: “Heaven’s gained another angel” and “You’re at peace now”.

Extra care should be taken around speculation of causes. For example, when a suicide death is reported and bullying is cited as the cause, it’s helpful to consider the impact on other young people who could be experiencing bullying and may feel hopeless about their own situation – stories including how a young person took their life, lots of photographs, outpourings of grief, revenge messages directed at bullies – can increase the likelihood of others identifying with the person who has died and could lead to suicide contagion.

It’s particularly important to be aware of the risk of inadvertently promoting the idea of achieving something through death which didn’t seem possible in life. This could encourage the idea of suicide to another young person who is vulnerable and make it feel like a suitable option for them too.

Reducing the risk

With young readers in mind

▪ avoid giving details of the suicide method

▪ bear in mind that suicide is complex and rarely, if ever, as a result of a single cause

▪ avoid showing photographs of others who have died

▪ stick with a factual tone – publish a respectful tribute piece, focusing on the tragic loss of life without overly romanticising a suicide death

▪ remind your audience that suicide is preventable and signpost people to sources of support (see the bottom of this blog for examples)

This is not about censoring or an attempt to brush the topic of suicide under the carpet. I personally do not believe that suicides by young people, or indeed any age group, should not be covered in the press. It is simply about giving extra consideration about how these stories are covered because of the extra vulnerabilities of young people.

The media can raise awareness

The media can play an important role in raising awareness of the issues surrounding suicidal behaviour and supporting national efforts to reduce the number of suicides in the UK.

Highlighting the importance of talking and encouraging people to reach out and seek help can help to reduce suicides and there is a growing area of literature which suggests that responsible reports of suicide, such as stories which promote suicide prevention messages and encourage people to seek help, can reach out to people and help prevent suicides.

The media help raise awareness of the issues surrounding suicide, highlighting:

▪ the type of problems which may lead a person to become vulnerable to suicide

▪ the signs which may indicate they are struggling to cope

▪ remind people who may be vulnerable that suicide is not inevitable, it is preventable

▪ encourage help-seeking behaviour by promoting the benefits of talking and signposting sources of support.

A powerful way to spread these vital messages can be through real life stories of people who have reached a difficult time in their life.

People call Samaritans for free any time on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org, or visit http://www.samaritans.org to find details of their nearest branch.

Call Breathing Space: 0800 83 85 87 or visit http://www.breathingspace.scot for more information.

Steven Connelly

Self Harm: Helping Men and Young People to Access Support.

I’m writing this blog as somebody who has struggled and suffered with self-harm for over 15 years now.

Every year during self-harm awareness day in March, self harm keeps receiving more and more attention, but there is still a long way to go.

There’s a lot of research out there about self-harm; statistics show that the UK has one of the highest rates in Europe. We know that it is particularly prevalent among young people, and it is generally thought that more girls self-harm than boys. However, self-harm is a very difficult thing to research accurately, because so many people keep it secret. This is even more the case for young men, who are less likely to open up about their emotional and mental lives.

So what do we actually know about young men who harm themselves?

The biggest difference, it seems, is that males are far less likely to seek help following self-harming. This includes general support, such as seeing their GP or using internet support forums, but also necessary physical treatment. Young men are less likely to go to hospital (even for serious cuts or overdoses), and if they do go, they are more likely to claim it was an accident. This is very concerning, not just because of the physical risk, but because they will not have a chance to talk about their problems or get support for their mental health.

Like females who self-harm, most males harm themselves to reduce emotional pain or distress.  However, research suggests that males tend to use self-harm as a last resort for coping with difficulties in their lives. As a result, they are more likely to use drugs or alcohol at the same time, or hurt themselves using violent methods. Despite this, they may not see self-harm as a problem. In fact, a lot of young men say they harm themselves in order to fit in with their friends. This is a really big deal: not only are young men more likely to keep their problems quiet until they reach breaking point, they may actually think it is okay to self-harm because their peers accept it.

But does any of this mean we should support men who self-harm differently from women? In many respects, it doesn’t. Most things which can be done to support those who self-harm do not depend on whether the person is male, female, transgender or otherwise. Such things might include telling the person that you do not judge them, letting them contact you when they are struggling, or providing them with ideas to distract themselves from self-harm.

However, it is key to bear in mind that a young man may feel less able to open up or see their self-harm as a problem. This does not mean encouraging them to quit self-harming before they feel ready, or telling them that what they are doing is wrong. It just means encouraging them that it is okay to talk, and emphasising how important it is to get treatment for self-harm. Knowing where to turn for help can be a long process for anybody, and for young men, the road to recovery may have a few more obstacles in the way.  However, by simply being kind and encouraging openness, hopefully those obstacles can be broken down a little quicker.

Steven Connelly

Essential Resource Information

If you are struggling and in distress please don’t try and cope alone.

Talking really does help and is life changing. It won’t necessarily take away your pain, negative thoughts and feelings but it can make it a little bit easier to cope with.

If you decide that you could benefit from talking and want to engage in conversation but your unsure who to trust and talk to.

Resource Information is listed below

A New Hope: Peer, Social and Support group for men living with mental health issues:

Email Us: anewhopemalegroup@gmail.com

samaritans: 08457 90 90 90

The Samaritans also offer an email service if you would prefer to write down how you are feeling: jo@samaritans.org or visit the website: http://www.samaritans.org

Breathing Space:

0800 83 85 87

SAMH: 0141 530 1000

Broken Rainbow: Lesbian, Gay, Bi Sexual, Transgender (LGBT) Domestic Violence Helpline:

Contact: 0300 999 5428

MIND

Mind Infoline: 0300 123 3393

mind.org.uk

Young Minds:

Young Minds Crisis Messenger: If you need urgent help text YM to 85258

Young Minds Parents Helpline: 0808 802 5544

The Mix

Helpline: 0808 808 4994

themix.org.uk

Self harm

Rape Crisis

Helpline: 0808 802 9999 (12-2:30 and 7-9:30)

rapecrisis.org.uk

Victim Support

Supportline: 0333 300 6389

NSPCC

Helpline: 0808 800 5000 (24 hours, every day)

nspcc.org.uk

Survivors UK – Male Rape and Sexual Abuse Support

survivorsuk.org

Anxiety Alliance

Helpline: 0845 296 7877 (10-10 daily)

anxietyalliance.org.uk

No Panic

Helpline: 0844 967 4848

nopanic.org.uk

Papyrus

HOPELINEUK: 0800 068 4141

papyrus-uk.org

Students Against Depression

studentdepression.org

Aware Defeat Depression

Helpline: 08451 202 961

aware-ni.org

Talk to FRANK

Freephone: 0300 123 6600

talktofrank.com

Drinkline

Helpline: 0300 123 1110

Alcoholics Anonymous

National helpline: 0800 9177 650

alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk

NACOA (National Association for Children of Alcoholics)

Helpline: 0800 358 3456

Gamblers Anonymous (UK)

Helplines: See contact page for regional phone numbers

gamblersanonymous.org.uk

Gam Anon

Helpline 08700 50 88 80 24

National Debtline

Helpline: 0808 808 4000

nationaldebtline.co.uk

NHS 111

NHS 111 can help if you have an urgent medical problem and you’re not sure what to do.

Why Men Should Talk About Mental Health

As a man, I am acutely aware of the problems surrounding speaking out and talking to others about mental health. The fact that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 speaks volumes. Clearly something is convincing men that the only way out is suicide. This needs to be tackled and I feel the best way is by getting people in society as a whole to talk about mental health more openly and honestly.

Since volunteering with charity Epilepsy Connections and helping to facilitate a men’s mental health peer, support and social group A New Hope in Ayrshire I have started therapy and blogging about my mental health; I have begun to reflect more on being a man and having a mental illness and how in the past stigmatisation has prevented me from getting support and help. I have also started to take more notice of how it can still prevent me now from speaking out. It’s been expected that as a man, I would be strong, stoic and not talk about my feelings; I vividly remember my uncle (despite being quite progressive and open around many issues) shying away from talking about his depression and anxiety. It’s only now I can look back on how much of my social anxiety is similar to his, in isolating myself from people, avoiding social situations and being extremely nervous and afraid around people, particularly in authority.

My uncle Michael never spoke openly about these issues and even when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer he hid away his pain and tears from me and my family. I still remember him not wanting the nurses at the palliative care unit to look at him when he was crying and how ashamed he felt to have to rely on them for help. This makes me upset and makes me often wonder how much better he could have felt emotionally and mentally if only he had seen examples of men talking about their feelings, he could have felt better at accepting help and talking about his emotions. Which is why I don’t want other generations to go through that, and don’t particularly want to go through it myself. No person; whether male, female or transitioning, should be made to feel like they can’t talk about their mental health, as it is as normal as talking about physical health and a mental illness can affect anyone.

What would I say though to encourage others to speak out? After all I still struggle many days to cope with low mood and depression, and when facing new situations I still feel anxious. On top of that, everyone is different and experiences often vary on mental illness. What I can say though is that speaking out and talking about my mental health has allowed me to understand my coping techniques, what works for me and has given me assurance that even when things get rough, there are people out there who understand me, can help me and there are techniques and coping strategies I can employ to help me get through the rough times.

I have had recent experiences of this, from when I’ve felt really anxious about a situation. I get the usual feelings of sickness, my mind going round and round with theories on how the situation will go terribly and feeling like I can’t concentrate on anything but the situation. However, sharing how I feel in a safe space, either online to a friend from volunteering or in a mental health group I’m a member of online, has allowed me to find support from others who understand my feelings, make me feel recognised and understood and give me tips on how to cope better with rough days.

Thanks to my therapy, I now make a point of writing down how I feel when I’m anxious or depressed and I have also recently taken to doing calming exercises taken from mindfulness such as deep breathing and grounding techniques where you focus on something in the present and try to take your mind away from thinking you can’t cope. These all help, but it wouldn’t have been possible for me to employ these techniques without coming across them from friends and support groups. Which in turn wouldn’t have been possible without speaking out and talking about my mental health.

Society should encourage everyone to do this, and it should encourage people to see their mental health as worthy of the same treatment that their physical health is. So I urge anyone feeling depressed, anxious or worried about their mental health, talk to someone and get support for how you are feeling. Both you and your brain are worthy of the support. You are never alone.

Steven Connelly

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Anxiety, loneliness and Fear of Missing Out: The impact of social media on young people’s mental health

The rapid growth of social media over the last decade has established an entirely new medium for human interaction. Online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have allowed people in every corner of the world to be connected 24/7. By 2021, it is forecast that there will be around 3 billion active monthly users of social media. From the statistics alone, it’s clear that social media has become an integral (and to a large extent, unavoidable) part of our lives.

One implication of social media’s rapid rise, that of its relationship with young people’s mental health, has gathered a significant amount of attention in recent years. Research has created a wide evidence-base supporting an association between social media use and mental health, and although still emerging, new evidence has painted a broad picture of the main impacts. The popularity of social media as a medium of communication for young people needs to be carefully examined, as it may indeed come to play a more detrimental role than we might have thought.

From the statistics alone, it’s clear that social media has become an integral (and to a large extent, unavoidable) part of our lives

So-called ‘social media addiction’ has been referred to by a wide variety of studies and experiments. It is thought that addiction to social media affects around 5% of young people, and was recently described as potentially more addictive than alcohol and cigarettes. Its ‘addictive’ nature owes to the degree of compulsivity with which it is used. The ‘urge’ to check one’s social media may be linked to both instant gratification (the need to experience fast, short term pleasure) and dopamine production (the chemical in the brain associated with reward and pleasure). The desire for a ‘hit’ of dopamine, coupled with a failure to gain instant gratification, may prompt users to perpetually refresh their social media feeds.

What is dangerous about this compulsive use is that, if gratification is not experienced, users may internalise beliefs that this is due to being ‘unpopular’, ‘unfunny’ etc. A lack of ‘likes’ on a status update may cause negative self-reflection, prompting continual ‘refreshing’ of the page in the hope of seeing that another person has ‘enjoyed’ the post, thus helping to achieve personal validation. Although these perceptions may not actually reflect one’s image in the eyes of others, the absence of gratification may amplify feelings of anxiety and loneliness. A recent study conducted by the OECD, for instance, found that those who used social media more intensively on average had lower life satisfaction.

The desire for a ‘hit’ of dopamine, coupled with a failure to gain instant gratification, may prompt users to perpetually refresh their social media feeds.

Associated with this desire for instant gratification is the negative impact that these platforms can have on sleep and sleep quality. Data from qualitative studies has shown that using social media compulsively can damage sleeping patterns, having an adverse effect on young people’s performance in school. The University of Glasgow found that young people found it difficult to relax following night time social media use, reducing their brain’s ability to prepare for sleep. Sleep loss works in a vicious cycle of reinforcement with mental health; that is, that loss of sleep due to night time social media use can lead to poorer mental health, and poor mental health can lead to intense night time use and sleep loss.

Social media can also heighten anxiety by increasing users’ ability to keep up to date with the activities of their social circles. The popular concept of Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) refers to ‘a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent’ and is ‘characterised by the desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing’. FOMO has been linked to intensive social media use and is associated with lower mood and life satisfaction. We have become more aware of what we are missing out on, for example, seeing photos of friends having a good time together in one’s absence. ‘Always on’ communication technology can cause feelings of anxiety, loneliness and inadequacy through highlighting these activities, compelling users to stay continually engaged and up to date due to fear of not being involved. Humans are social beings who desire group interaction, therefore perceived exclusion can have damaging psychological impacts. Indeed, studies from the USA have found a robust association between intense social media use, fear of missing out and both depression and anxiety.

Fear of Missing Out has been linked to intensive social media use and is associated with lower mood and life satisfaction

From another angle, online platforms may also have the potential to damage mental wellbeing through promoting unreasonable expectations. Social media has been linked to poor self-esteem and self-image through the advent of image manipulation on photo sharing platforms. In particular, the notion of the ‘idealised body image’ has arguably been detrimental to self-esteem and image, especially that of young women. The 24/7 circulation of easily viewable manipulated images promotes and entrenches unrealistic expectations of how young people should look and behave. When these expectations are inevitably not met, the impact on self-esteem can be damaging, to the disturbing extent that the Royal Society of Public Health recently found 9 in 10 young females say that they are unhappy with the way they look.

The rise of social media has been a fundamentally multifaceted phenomenon, the statistics suggesting that it will come to play an increasingly dominant role in our lives. The evidence suggests that social media use is strongly associated with anxiety, loneliness and depression. Whether it is causal or just a correlation will need to be further examined by researchers, mental health policy stakeholders and the social media industry. In the meantime, we must think very carefully about how we can manage its impact on mental health, for instance, through integrating social media ‘lessons’ into subjects in school, the use of behavioural economics and increased signposting efforts by social media firms.

Steven Connelly

Changing The Way Society Understands Mental Health

It’s no secret that mental health is routinely treated differently than physical health, but sometimes it’s difficult to understand how or why this affects us. This disparity can take many shapes and forms, ranging from negative societal perceptions to discrimination in health coverage for mental health. Consequently, this unequal treatment of mental and physical illnesses leads to unequal results.

If we don’t recognize mental illnesses as physical health issues, then we will never get people the treatment that they need. One of the few certainties that I have learned is that mental health is just as important as physical health. In fact, mental health is physical health; the two are inseparable. It baffles me that many people continue to make a distinction between the two.

In an effort to better understand the subtlety of mental illness, I have sought out opportunities that have changed both my life and my perception of mental illness. I went from reading articles online in my free time to doing hands-on research about the physiological development of mental illness.

While our current generation of medication and treatment can be frustrating at times, I have seen how learning more about the underlying biochemical pathways holds great promises for the future. My journey has also become an adventure all across the nation advocating for a more humanistic perspective of mental health. The ability to speak up and share what I’ve discovered with people and the chance to connect with others in similar experiences have been some of the most fulfilling experiences in my life.

Ironically, the same fluidity and complexity of mental disorders that I find so fascinating has prevented those same disorders from gaining societal acceptance in the same way that physical illnesses have. They are just as real, but they are sometimes more difficult to understand. The social stigma that those living with mental illness experience essentially stems from this fundamental lack of understanding of mental disorders as physical illnesses. This is what makes living with mental illness so hard and is something that we all need to recognize to a greater extent, myself included.

Initially, I dismissed my mental illness as simple craziness. During my crippling depression I couldn’t lift myself from my bed for days. It was naive to ignore the fact that there are people behind these diseases, and that their illnesses don’t encapsulate their personalities. If I dismiss you as crazy, then how can we start a dialogue? We need to begin by empathizing and loving those who we don’t fully understand. Whether this takes the form of a quick post on social media or a late-night conversation with a loved one in desperate need of support, simply speak up. Speak out. Be heard. Show love. Listen well.

This change doesn’t come easy. In fact, it was only through understanding the complexity of my mental illness that I gradually came to learn—through trauma, confusion, and grief—more about myself and the human condition than I had ever thought possible. My experiences with mental illness in my family challenged me to become a more compassionate and patient individual.

From my personal experiences, my biggest takeaway has been that a fundamental difference between mental progress and debilitation comes from understanding your current situation. The thoughts and worries we all experience are real and important regardless of whether our situation conforms to others’ ideas of mental health. If we can accept our current state, then we can begin to move forward. Mental wellness is not a mind over matter issue—nobody claims it is—but it does involve a certain level of acceptance.

At the end of the day, however, I’m still a youngish confused, weak man trying to process what mental illness really means to me. My greatest fear, however, is not that I am hopeless to change our society’s perception of mental illness, nor that I can’t adequately solve the world’s disconnect between mental and physical health issues. Instead, I fear that we possess a voice and a power to effect change, and yet we fail to speak out and bond together as equals.

If nothing else, everyone reading this can simply increase their familiarization with those living with mental illness around them to broaden their spectrum of receptive comfort. Hearing the stories of others can widen our capacity for love if we only allow ourselves to learn from a wider variety of experiences. We have all been given a voice and the ability to listen, please use these gifts to start affecting the way we perceive mental health. You are never alone.

Steven Connelly

Supporting Men with Mental Health Issues

Mental health issues can affect anyone irrespective of gender, age, socioeconomic status or cultural background. However, certain mental health conditions can present differently in men than women.

In Scotland males have some form of common mental health problem such as depression, anxiety or stress related conditions. However, they only make up one third of referrals received by psychological services.

Men are less likely to seek help and psychological intervention, so despite there being more women diagnosed with mental health problems, men are more likely to commit suicide, mainly before the age of 50. Being less willing to discuss emotional needs and mental health difficulties can delay access to appropriate treatment and recovery, leading to serious debilitating consequences.

Spotting the signs and symptoms:

Men and women tend to present with different signs and symptoms of mental illness, with men more commonly presenting with one or more of the following:

Anger and irritability

Aggression

Difficulty concentrating, feeling restless or on edge

Increased risk taking behaviours

Increased use of alcohol and drugs

Sleep difficulties

Suicidal thoughts, though may not discuss with others

Physical health symptoms such as pain/aches

Obsessive thinking

Thoughts or behaviors that interfere with work, family, or social life

Why are mental health symptoms different in men?

Societal norms and expectation – concept of ‘masculinity’ and expectation to adhere to the ‘norms’

Attitudes – men are generally more competitive and want to feel strong and in control. They are less likely to share their vulnerability

Coping mechanism – instead of sharing emotions and feelings, they may use drugs, alcohol or other risk taking behaviours

Different hormonal changes

Stress and pressure – expectation of being the breadwinner creating financial, employment and family pressures

Recognising the signs of mental illness in one of your patients, as early as possible, is the first step towards them accessing support and help. Early diagnosis, intervention and treatment can improve outcomes, recovery and overall quality of life.

Considering the differences across conditions

Substance misuse

Men are more likely to be involved in alcohol and substance misuse and are nearly 3 times more likely to be dependent on alcohol

67% of British people who consume alcohol at ‘hazardous’ levels are male, along with 80% of those dependent on alcohol

Almost 3 quarters of people dependent on cannabis and 69% of those dependent on other illegal drugs are male

More men who use drugs are admitted into hospital and die, compared to women who use drugs

Men suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental health difficulties are more likely to have problems with alcohol and substance misuse. Men may use alcohol or substances as a means of avoiding emotional pain and distress and can be an effective avoidance strategy for the short term, with detrimental long-term mental health consequences

It is a well-known fact that those who misuse alcohol and illicit substances can show increased anger and aggressive behaviour

Depression

Fewer men than women are diagnosed with depression as they either do not seek help or attempt less to minimise the distress

Men are less likely to share their feelings and emotional needs than women

Men suffering from depression may hide their emotions and feelings and appear angry, irritable and aggressive whereas women may appear sad and emotional

Men may present to their doctor with more physical health symptoms such as pains, aches and physiological symptoms of anxiety rather than low mood

Suicide

Suicide is one of the leading killers in men under 50 years of age

Men are three times more likely to take their own life compared to women and 4 out of 5 suicides are by men.

Although more women attempt suicide, more men are successful due to the more dangerous methods they use.

If you ever feel this way, please join us in our Safe, secure, confidential and non judgemental space.

Everyone is welcome, join us from 6 – 8pm once a fortnight.

Our next meeting takes place on 15 October

Saltcoats Library

Springvale Place

Saltcoats

Ayrshire , KA21 5LS

We are all looking forward to seeing you all. #LetsTalk #MentalHealthMatters

Steven Connelly