Men in the South Hams are being urged to think about their mental health as the South West sees the highest suicide rate in England.
Many in the region are employed on zero hours contracts and lowly paid jobs, the change to Universal Credits replacing six other benefits has added to families financial strains and anxiety.
Another factor is our rural location and the fact that farmers may be as much as three times more likely than the average person to die by suicide is a real cause for concern. On average, according to national statistics, one farmer a week dies by suicide in the UK.
Farmers are often viewed as people who are happiest at work but there is little comprehension of the pressure. Their dependence upon the unreliable weather to grow crops and feed farm animals, the anxiety, large amounts of paperwork and the financial stress as they wrestle with large supermarkets to gain a fair price for their hard-earned goods. Farming is a 24/7 business with very long hours. Farmers are often isolated in remote rural areas away from other people too.
The issue of men’s mental health was given national prominence recently as millions of Coronation Street fans across the country watched Aidan Connor, played by Shayne Ward, take his final walk in to the bathroom and was found dead the next day by his family.
The drama, known for tackling tough areas of life, pulled few punches when the heart wrenching episode went out in an hour-long special. As viewers watched Aidan Connor slip into the depths of depression, mentally closing down, shutting out his family and friends, saying goodbye to those he loved and his plan began to take shape.
Men are the particular focus as they account for seventy-five per cent of suicides and it is the biggest killer of men under the age of forty-five.
Men often close down as they feel that their vulnerabilities make them appear weak or even less masculine. It’s clearly difficult for men to know where to go with what they feel or who to talk to. Often the combination of poor job prospects, family and financial strains and low levels of job satisfaction can be factors that make a person vulnerable to suicidal thinking and behaviour.
There are guides for employers, ‘Reducing the risk of suicide’ and ‘Crisis management in the event of a suicide’ published by Business in the Community in partnership with Public Health England and the Samaritans.
Ruth Sutherland, CEO Samaritans reminds us that managing business and staff take up so much time that “Its rare that suicide prevention would even occur to us” but in it’s suicide ‘postvention’ tool kit it is recognised just how profound a suicide can be on other employees.
The role of the employer and of the line manager is absolutely crucial in helping other employees and the business to cope with such an incident. The likely impact on colleagues should not be underestimated.
AXA PP healthcare’s head of trauma, Eugene Farrell, says that often suicides “lead to a sense of guilt because people may speculate about whether they could have done anything to prevent the death.” An organisation should be prepared to deal with a death of a colleague, for what ever reason, and will often be judged on how they deal with such an event.
Making sure that there are the correct support networks, for example counsellor services, is the best thing to help a workforce come to terms and adjust to the sudden death of a colleague.
It should have a flexible approach allowing time to process and work through the event.
Director of psychological services for AXA PPP healthcare, Dr Mark Linwood, explained that depression is a very common mental health problem and that talking about it, especially by men, is still seen as a taboo.
The story line in Coronation Street, with its producers working hard with charities on its content, want the plot to give hope and says that it is designed to give people the opportunity to talk, for those who are suffering and trying to hide their emotions, their feelings of isolation, a choice. The team hope that it will give people a reason to start a conversation about how they feel and what’s going on with them. Chukumeka Maxwell told us " Action to Prevent Suicide in Devon is focused on raising awareness of this often taboo subject and preventing suicide adding that teachers are currently one of the highest risk groups " Chukes, as he is known, told us that men needed to focus on their well-being to help to combat depression to try to help prevent suicidal thoughts. Chukes takes his message into schools and other areas.
The message from us and the hard hitting episode of ‘Corrie’ is please just start a conversation, you don’t need to try to cope alone!
Help available from:The Samaritans 116 123, Young Devon 08082 810155 or go to www.kooth.com, Farm Crisis Network 0845 367 9990, Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution 0808 281 9490, Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide 0300 111 5065, YANA (You Are Not Alone) 0300 323 0400, DTSPA 07528 241 400, NFU 01392 440 700,