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Monday, December 14, 1998 Published at 19:17 GMT


Young male suicides double

Potentially suicidal men can go unnoticed

The number of men under the age of 35 committing suicide in Britain has doubled in the last 20 years, according to a television documentary to be broadcast on Monday.

The BBC One Panorama investigation is presented by Juliet Morris, whose brother, Edward, took his own life at age 24.

[ image: Juliet Morris's brother took his life at the age of 24]
Juliet Morris's brother took his life at the age of 24
One of the findings of the programme is that men are much less likely to share their worries and seek help and Ms Morris says she felt this was the problem for her brother.

"Since my brother Ed's death, one of the hardest thing to come to terms with is that feeling of what a waste.

"I knew that Ed didn't have to die and whatever was tormenting him, we could have worked it out. It might not come naturally, but however hard it is, there is nothing wrong with asking for help."

Bucking the trend

The documentary shows that every day five men under 35 take their own lives, contrary to the general trend towards a decreasing level of suicide in the UK.

The programme includes the cases of several men who took their own lives before they were even 25.

It also names Manchester, widely regarded as Britain's clubbing capital, as the place where the most young men commit suicide every year.

It explains this is because the city combines a number of key risk factors for suicide including:

  • Social adversity;
  • High unemployment;
  • Poor housing;
  • A youthful population.

Professor Keith Hawton, professor of psychiatry at Oxford University, told the programme that these are some of the factors that can lead to a downward spiral of depression that ends in suicide.

[ image: Professor Keith Hawton:
Professor Keith Hawton: "Risk factors"
He said: "The common scenario would be that a young man is having difficulty with employment - maybe he is out of work or only able to find temporary work.

"Maybe he is using drink to deal with him feeling pretty low because of these work difficulties, and then a relationship he has been in breaks down."

He added that often relatives and friends do not see it coming because the tension may have built up over time and it only needs something small to push someone over the edge.

Long-term build up

"Quite often there is a final straw that breaks the camel's back, and sometimes for the outside person it is difficult to understand why the person did it at that particular point.

"You have to see the whole story to understand why someone gets to that point and why that final event which might seem less significant tipped them into a suicidal crisis."

Although there are clear factors contributing to suicide, there is never a clear idea of why this particular social group is more affected than others.

[ image: Professor Louis Appleby:
Professor Louis Appleby: "Opportunities to save lives"
Professor Louis Appleby, professor of psychiatry at Manchester University, said: "There is not a single cause for any suicide statistic, but the rising suicide rate in young men has occurred at the same time as the rise in unemployment, the rise in divorce and the increase of alcohol and drug abuse."

The majority of suicides are triggered by depression, but the programme reports that a quarter are caused by severe mental illness.

Professor Appleby said he believes such cases could be identified and prevented more often.

Preventable cases

"Very often suicides have seen a GP or someone in the mental health service in the month or three months prior to death," he said.

"That shows that there are obvious opportunities to save at least a proportion of people who commit suicide."

For those suffering from depression, the advice from specialists is that men should talk about their worries more than they do.

Professor Hawton said: "Men are less verbal than women. They feel less comfortable about sharing personal things with other people than women.

"We know they less often seek help when they are in distress than women."

A spokesman for The Samaritans said: "We encourage everyone in society to be given the opportunity to express their feelings and emotions.

"The more the subjects of suicide, depression, mental illness and despair are discussed, as far as we're concerned, the better."

The programme will be broadcast on BBC One at 10pm on Monday.

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