Recently, while browsing the internet on my phone, I came across an article in the Washington Post showing that suicide rates among people between the ages of 10 and 24 had increased by 56 per cent between 2007 and 2017. I wish I could say that this was a shocking statistic really it’s a sad confirmation that suicide is still a crisis in our society.
This data is based on rates and reports from the US, and it prompted me to do some digging into the rates of suicide here in Ireland. At first I was happy to see that Irish suicide rates had been falling slowly but consistently in the last few years. But it soon became clear that Irish suicide rates had been falling from an astronomical amount – 13 per 100,000 – to something more in line with the rest of western society.
Mental illness is increasingly understood to be common in society. While this development is of course very welcome, it provides no real comfort to many in the deepest and darkest throes of mental illness.
Suicide is still killing hundreds of young people here in Ireland every year, and students are among the most vulnerable groups. Suicide and mental illness transcend race, gender, sexuality or anything we use to designate ourselves, but the suicide rate among young men is so extreme that we must start talking about it. The most up-to-date data shows the suicide rate for men between the ages of 20 to 24 is over 30 per 100,000 young men per year. Young men are among the most vulnerable to dying at their own hands, accounting for eight in ten suicides in Ireland every year.
Suicide is still killing hundreds of young people here in Ireland every year, and students are among the most vulnerable groups
If these sorts of statistics were linked with a new form of cancer or heart disease, they would be plastered across newspapers, prime-time television slots and radio shows. But the topic of suicide is something that we are still unable to talk about. Mental health issues like mild depression and anxiety are so commonly discussed that some people now feel as comfortable talking about them as they would feel talking about a recent bout of bronchitis.
As someone who has lived with mental illness for more than half of my life and who, as a younger man, felt deeply embarrassed to discuss the things I was feeling, this is wonderful to see. It is disappointing, however, that the conversation around suicide hasn’t progressed.
It is still, even after saying it many times in the past, very, very tough for me to tell someone: “I wanted to kill myself, planned it and very nearly did so”
I have become very comfortable owning my struggles with anxiety and depression, and have discussed them with anyone who wanted to. I think real personal stories are key to keeping the discussion open and honest. But the topic of suicide is one that I am yet to be fully comfortable with in the same way I am with other aspects of my mental health battle. It is still, even after saying it many times in the past, very, very tough for me to tell someone: “I wanted to kill myself, planned it and very nearly did so.”
I’m part of the issue with suicide not being talked about. We need to make it so that people who have these feelings don’t have the deep-rooted shame that I felt when these ideas were spinning around my head constantly. Suicidal ideation is the most extreme form of mental anguish that anyone can suffer and, like any other form of extreme suffering, it can prove to be fatal in the end.
Talking about mental health should not simply mean discussing the topics that are easy to comprehend. People need to become comfortable with the idea that there are people around them who are in so much pain that they would rather die than live another day. We need to talk about suicide. We need to make sure people know that it can be the end of a mental health journey if you don’t get the help you need. This is a crisis that is robbing people of their futures, and we need to start acting accordingly.