The recent opportunities given to me to spend time researching has opened many educational, philosophical and social pathways.
I am often amazed to discover facts that seem to pass us by without us either knowing or wanting to know. But today, I came across a revelation that got me thinking. I discovered that more people die each year from suicide than in all of the worlds conflicts.
By their own hands
The Centre for Disease Control (CDC)‘Suicide in the United States’ (2000) found that more people die by their own hand than are killed by others. In fact, by their own statistics there were 1.7 times more suicides than homicides.
Furthermore, in the UK the Office for National Statistics (Non-fatal suicidal behaviour [March 2002]) showed that nearly one in six adults had considered suicide at some point in their lives. The study also found that over 4% of people between 16 and 74 had attempted suicide.
Biggest cause of death for 15-35 year olds
The World health Organisation (WHO) have discovered that suicide rates have grown by 60% worldwide in the past 45 years. With the statistic provided by WHO who state that in 2000 alone 1 million people died from suicide it is now the biggest cause of death among people aged 15 to 35 worldwide.
Not just a western problem
Furthermore, it is not just a Western problem as I have heard mentioned so many times before. Former Soviet states such as Belarus, Kazakhstan, Latvia and Lithuania have all showed alarming rates of suicide. Also areas such as Uganda and Pakistan have shown a marked increase in people showing ‘depressive disorders’ and suicide (N. Hussain et al. ‘Depression and social stress in Pakistan’ (2000). Psychological Medicine).
I have also heard it said that depression is a modern phenomenon based on the rise of leisure time. However, again I have found a contradiction to this so-called fact. Depression was once referred to as ‘melancholia’ and the earliest records of such a condition can be found back in the 5th century BC. Philosophers such as Hippocrates and Arateus both described symptoms that sound all too familiar with what we would now describe as ‘depression’. Arateus described melancholia as ‘…the patients become dull or stern, dejected or unreasonably torpid… they also became peeving, dispirited and start up from a disturbed sleep’ (Matthews ‘How did pre-twentieth century theories of the aetiology of depression develop’).
Since 1950 suicide rates in men aged 45 or under in England and Wales have doubled. I consider that a change in family circles and a rising lack of security in work may have contributed to this. Could it also be worth considering that there is a rise in drug and alcohol use since the 1950s?
Men and women
As a paramedic I can argue with the fact that more women attempt suicide but more men likely to fulfil their actions. This has also been supported by The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) ‘Suicide in the United States’ (2000). In fact, CDC have made it known that males are more than four times as likely to die than their female counterparts. Yet as we know, men are less likely to admit to depression and so it can difficult to diagnose. And here, in my opinion, rests the connection. I would suggest that as a result of men not seeking help they are more likely to turn to alcohol or drugs and perhaps, as in my own case, work longer hours.
Another shocking fact that I found out was that the elderly are at the highest risk of all. In fact, according to www.suicidology.org white men over the age of 85 are at the highest risk of all with a suicide risk more than six times that of the general population. But what, in my opinion, is a truly sad fact is that only a small percentage (two to four percent) have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Time and again, I have witnessed our older generation being dismissed as ‘just getting older’ rather than seeking true and professional treatment.
For those of you who dismiss the idea of ever having or will ever have depression it is time to wake up. It has been predicted by WHO that by 2020 depression will be the second largest contributor to the global burden of disease. And by then . there will be 1.5 million deaths per year by suicide (quoted in ‘Stigma Ties’ Guardian 11 September 2002).
In my opinion these facts show a serious public health risk. Although I have noticed recent attempts to bring depression to the fore front of peoples minds there still carries a stigma. There is also a question on how public health bodies should tackle what is, in effect, an individuals choice. If a person has made a rational choice to die (say after being diagnosed with a terminal illness) then how can society justify in intervening?
Tools of the trade
I fully accept that the state and public health bodies are always operating within the ‘best interest’ policy. When the UK moved away from supplying household gas from lethal coke gas to a less toxic form, the suicide rates dropped. Yet in the US it is estimated that there are some 200 million firearms in private hands, yet it is the only country in the world where self-inflicted shootings is the most common method of suicide (A. Solomon, The Noonday Demon’ ). Would it not, therefore, be a sensible idea that to take away the means to make an impulsive decisions, then suicide levels may drop?
I believe that the crucial question rests with the fact that there needs to be a move away from the stigma associated with mental illness. In England alone, 5000 people killed themselves in 2010, yet only 1,200 had sought help or had had contact with the mental health services prior to their deaths (www.ohn.gov.uk).
I conclude with the on-going debate that more needs to be done. Time and again I have found that, even with the best of intentions, medical staff still struggle to find the best provisions for emergency mental health patients. As I have stated, this problem isn’t going away and it appears to be increasing at an alarming rate. We, or our loved ones could, may and perhaps will be a victim of this disease therefore, it is everyone’s problem.