Updated: Oct 21, 2019
With suicide the biggest killer of young men in the UK, we look at what can be done to save a life...
Stopping someone from taking their own life is incredibly difficult but not impossible. Mental health issues are complex, and there is no magic pill to cure anxiety and depression. In 2012, my youngest brother, Lanfranco took his own life, aged just 26, and looking back there were things he did slightly different the weeks leading up to it. I call them 'micro moments', behaviours so small most of us wouldn't have noticed it until after the event. For anyone who has lost someone from suicide, you often search for the paradoxical answer to 'what could I have done to save their life?'.
In this blog, I want to share with you several of those 'micro moments' in the hope that after reading you might be better prepared to help someone in crisis get professional help. This is seven ways to save a life...
1. Know Who is At Risk..
Before 2012, I didn’t know a lot about mental health or that suicide was (and continues to be) the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. I used to stereotype people who took their own lives as loners, isolated, probably with a record of mental health issues, socially awkward or with financial difficulties. My brother was the opposite of all of these; he loved life, had a beautiful girlfriend, a supportive and close family, promising potential as a music teacher. On the outside it seemed everything was fine. I was shocked to discover after he passed, he had been suffering in silence for months with depression without his family and friends knowing about it. He was too embarrassed to open up about his feelings, and thought he needed to be 'strong', much like thousands of men every day. This is one of my key points; it could happen to anyone… you, me, the happiest person you know, the most confident person you know, your line manager, your best friend; just like cancer, no one is immune.
2. Share the Knowledge
Where do you go when you need to find something out? I'm guessing Google. Designed to store the world’s information in one single place, it is a fantastic tool. From holiday inspiration to cat videos, Google has made it easy to find 'stuff'. But it also has changed our relationships. It's become so invaluable we have begun to rely on it like a friend. My brother used it to answer some of his biggest questions. You see, men aren’t comfortable talking about their emotions, but anonymously, by asking Google a question, they are. That’s what my brother did. What volunteer work opportunities are out there? How do you become a Tibetan monk? But then the questions slowly became more dark. What's the most efficient way to die? How many paracetamol pills can kill you? Shall I leave a note for my family and friends?
Wouldn’t it be great if those search patterns companies like Google and Amazon store on us, not only tempt us with new products, but tempt us with the value of life? Because as I searched through my brother’s internet history after he passed, there was a very clear path that led to him taking his own life.
3. Raise Awareness
In the days before he took his life, my brother told two people that he was having suicidal thoughts. They both said go see the doctor, and this was his first opportunity to connect with what public healthcare is available. The doctor prescribed sleeping pills. He never opened the box and was dead within 48 hours. Since 2012, I’ve been on a mission to improve awareness, highlighting to the medical industry that when a man walks into a surgery and says he’s depressed, thinking about taking his life, it's the same as someone entering your surgery with a gun against their head saying they're about to pull the trigger. I've heard depression can sometimes be described as someone on a train track that leads off a cliff, as the depression gets worse, you move along the track slowly approaching the edge. Men seem to shout for help when they're on the edge of the cliff , but women tend to open up much earlier, in many cases preventing them from harm. The data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) supports this with men accounting for 75% of the suicide rates in the UK and growing year on year.
Understanding the role culture plays in mental health and the risk of suicide is a vital part in raising awareness. I come from a devout Catholic family, my parents from the Philippines and Italy. When my mother found out what had happened, due to her beliefs, she was concerned what people might think, and what the church would think - would he still go to heaven? Maybe we should tell others he died of something else. But when she opened up, she found other families coming to her and talking about their family's issues with depression. Starting a conversation is the first step on the road to recovery.
Likewise, at my recent visit to the UN, talking with policy makers and thought leaders about mental health and suicide it seems that other nations have an even greater problem than in the UK. Male suicide rates in many Eastern European nations are as much as double that of the UK, where factors including poverty, a reliance on alcohol and a macho culture put men at even greater risk.
5. Platforms to talk
How can we get men talking? Since 2012, we’ve seen change, with more awareness that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45. We’ve got publicity and even Royals promoting the work that must be done. But why aren’t the rates going down? Why are 89 men still taking their lives every week in the UK?
When I started working to prevent suicide, I was inspired by the work from the charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). Their approach to suicide prevention is to use platforms men can already identify with, for example, music and football. Inspired by this approach, and using football as a channel, I created the Mental Health World Cup in 2012. Its sole purpose is to help raise awareness around mental health and encourage men to start opening up. That it’s okay to not be okay. Football is traditional, it struggles with homophobia, let alone men admitting their feelings and is a very macho environment where any weakness on or off the pitch is exploited. Also, I work in construction, which as an industry, shares many similarities to that of football. Last year the ONS highlighted that the number one sector at risk from suicide is construction. Easy to see why; it’s a macho environment, full of testosterone. It’s lads being lads, with lots of banter. By bringing men together in usual ways like playing football, or at work, and letting them know it’s okay to open up, we have a better chance to make a difference.
6. Improve our Education
For society to change, it must start from school. I work for a progressive employer who offers Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training. This course teaches you to identify the early warning signs and gives you tools to cope with stress and provide resilience. But why aren’t we giving children and especially teenagers the same? How useful is differentiating trigonometric functions compared to learning the tools and foundations to look after our own mental health?
Finally, we need role models. There are not enough men in leadership roles who show vulnerability. From footballers to politicians, celebrities to CEOs, the archetypal image of a man who is too strong to ask for help, needs to change. We need to create safe environments where men feel comfortable and that starts by all of us showing more vulnerability and creating safer places to talk.
In the seven years I’ve been campaigning I’ve witnessed change. There are lots of things happening around mental health. But if we are serious about it, and if we want to prevent 89 men taking their life this week, then much, much more needs to be done.
If you want to take a stand against suicide, show your friends, colleagues and business partners that mental health is important and tell people that staying silent isn't take strong, join us in May 2020 for the next Mental Health World Cup. Whether you are looking to play football, sponsor the event, volunteer or just come along for a great time, sign up for the the latest news or to express your interest. Email: email@example.com