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Talking men's health in south Warwickshire - where to go for help

SHOCKING statistics show that 75 per cent of recorded suicides in the UK since the mid-90s have been men and the most common age group is not young men, but those between the ages of 45 and 49.

The reasons as to why this particular group is vulnerable and why males make up such a high percentage of recorded suicides isn’t always conclusive – counselling experts have found there are many factors involved as to why someone chooses to end their life. There isn’t necessarily one defining moment, but there could be several issues, over a period of time, and that in itself could be relatively short or long – a matter of days, months or years.

According to the Office for National Statistics there were 5,224 suicides registered in England and Wales in 2020, equivalent to an age-standardised mortality rate of 10 deaths per 100,000 people. Around three-quarters of registered suicide deaths in 2020 were for men (3,925 deaths, 75.1 per cent), which follows a consistent trend back to the mid-1990s.

“Modern society has gone through a big change and the demands and expectations placed on men and women can even be caused by the pressure of social media bullying, work and life in general,” Mark Brown, a private counsellor from Aston Cantlow told the Herald. “We can speculate on the reasons but there are so many things involved and so many variables that can turn a situation into suicide.

Mark Brown, director of Rooted Tree Counselling. (59034190)
Mark Brown, director of Rooted Tree Counselling. (59034190)

“We have to remember depression doesn’t discriminate.

“If you are breathing it can affect you whatever your age. For some people, there will be a fear of death, but the fear of life can be scarier and once you get into that mindset it becomes a very dark place to be.”

Mark, 32, runs his own business – Rooted Tree Counselling – which he founded in October 2020.

He added: “We’ve all heard the saying ‘boys don’t cry’ but actually they do. I’ve had grown men breakdown in front of me during our online sessions. We are trying to dispel this myth because the monologue has changed and we are encouraged to discuss mental issues more openly. ‘It’s OK not to be OK’ is how we regard it now. I can work with their hurt and understand it and if we start to peel back all those layers and accept we are on a journey together we can instigate change and help is out there.”

Counselling is seen as a key service to help deal with a growing mental health crisis and prevent suicide. Demand for NHS services can see waiting lists of more than nine months – the services are dealing with the mental health impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns, something that will be continuing for years to come.

And now there’s the new pressure of the cost-of-living crisis, including concerns about energy bills.

Just last month, the leading mental health and suicide prevention organisations in the UK wrote to the government warning of the impact of the cost-of-living on people’s mental health.

They wrote: “We are already beginning to see the impact. In July alone Samaritans received 12,000 emotional support contacts mentioning finance or unemployment concerns and Mind’s Infoline has seen a 30 per cent rise compared to last year in calls related to finances.

“YoungMinds also tracks young people’s experiences of mental health and, for the first time, ‘worries about money’ was found to be the top concern and negative influence on their mental health.”

They added: “The nation’s mental health services were already stretched, and the pandemic has pushed them to breaking point. With over 1.5 million people currently on a waiting list, the cost-of-living crisis could put our entire mental health system on the brink of collapse, leaving people that are already struggling without the support they need.

“This is a societal issue which will only be addressed if the government, private and voluntary sectors work closely together. The voluntary sector is ready to respond but we cannot do it alone. We need the government to stop being silent and show us clear and decisive leadership on this emerging national emergency that affects us all.”

There are changes planned to tackle the backlogs. In July, the former health secretary Sajid Javid spoke of his brother’s death and the work taking place on new a national ten-year suicide prevention plan.

Mr Javid’s brother, Tariq, took his own life in a hotel in Horsham, West Sussex, in July 2018.

He said at the time: “We must treat suicides with the same urgency that we treat any other major killer.

“I’m determined to make a difference on this issue, and one of the ways we’ll do this is by publishing a new ten-year suicide prevention plan.

“This is something that is deeply personal to me – there are too many families that are left incomplete, and too much potential has gone unfulfilled.”

A national suspected suicide surveillance system will be rolled out next year to look for patterns that put people at risk of suicide, including examining the impact of social media.

The government’s aim is that, by 2023/24, anyone in the country can dial NHS 111 to reach their local NHS mental health team and access round-the-clock support.

Support through counselling is key and the private sector is playing a vital role where the NHS cannot.

“Counselling can help with depression, addiction, bereavement, redundancy, anger, loss of libido, lack of motivation, abuse, low self-esteem, poor health, anxiety, relationships, gender identity, and suicidal thoughts. So when we try to find reasons why someone might contemplate suicide we have to be careful because there could be a number of influencing factors,” Mark told the Herald.

He is no in doubt that the modern-day world and the demands placed on people – not just men, but women and youngsters – can often leave them isolated, over stressed and feeling powerless to control their lives and that’s when dark thoughts start to take hold.

His training as a counsellor has taught him to look out for the signs that a person is in that dark zone and thinking about suicide. For Mark the red flag of greatest concern would be if a client were to tell him they already have a plan as to how they are going to end their life. In those circumstances he contacts the emergency services.

But the emphasis is on getting men to start talking.

“You have to have empathy with your client, not sympathy and I explain that we are on a journey and we do it together,” said Mark. “We build trust together and I remind them they are the expert on themselves and their life.

“There is job satisfaction when you help someone but there are such a wide range of people I deal with as a private practice counsellor. It could be addiction, a victim of rape, people who are suicidal, people who are vulnerable and people coming to terms with bereavement or depression.

“Men’s mental health is also a top consideration because there’s a lot of pressure on them but now men are actually talking about these things and that’s got to be good.”

Mark, a former pupil at St Benedict’s School, Alcester, plans to have his own community hub next year for the elderly and the young and for clients who need counselling. There will be outdoor activities as Mark, who worked in north Wales as an activity instructor working with youngsters who had special educational needs, firmly believes when people are outside and enjoying nature, they talk more and share more and when that happens the world doesn’t seem such a dark place after all.

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