As someone who fancies himself as a men’s health expert, I can quote you chapter and verse on the statistics on male suicide: it is the biggest killer of men under 45; three times as many men as women take their own lives; and this week 84 UK men will kill themselves.
However nothing prepares the mind for a statistic becoming a tragedy, and a few days ago I learned the shocking news that a former colleague had committed suicide.
The shock around people who knew him was bruising. This was a very clever, funny and kind young man in his thirties, well-regarded both socially and professionally. Nobody had seen it coming.
But this is typical. I recall a chat I had a few years ago with Jane Powell, founder of the groundbreaking male suicide prevention charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). ‘If I was going to come up with a stereotypical male suicide, I’d pick someone who’s outgoing with lots of friends, very bright, and someone who’s there for everybody else’ she told me. ‘The idea of a suicidal man as being cloistered in his room is a pile of nonsense.’
'Most guys who take their lives don’t leave a note, they’re not in contact with any agency. Up until that point they’ve been trying to sort things out themselves and be in control. Then the only thing in their mind when they fail to get control is to leave.'
Spotting those at risk requires a proper skillset, and it is great to see the Nursing and Midwifery Council confirm that recognition and assessment of suicide should be part of nursing degree courses. But we should go further to press employers to make it part of on-the-job training. As the Royal College of Nursing’s Tim Coupland says: ‘Suicide awareness and intervention should be as fundamental to nursing as basic life support. Your response could literally save a life.’
None of this can bring my friend back, but if we can stop another son, husband, dad, workmate from just disappearing completely, it is worth our effort. This is a daily tragedy that should making society furious.