Throughout history, mental illness, and especially suicide, have long been considered taboo subjects. Despite efforts to open up a dialogue, stigma still prevents many people from talking about suicide at all. In Scotland, awareness about suicide increased this year, following the tragic death of musician Scott Hutchison from the band Frightened Rabbit in May 2018. However, statistics show that suicide in Scotland is nothing new, so why isn’t the topic being discussed extensively?
While the overall suicide rates in Scotland have decreased, conversely, suicide in young people has increased. As stated by the Scottish Public Health Observatory, suicide is a leading cause of death in Scotland among people aged 15-34 years: in 2016, suicide accounted for 24 per cent of all male deaths in this age group (148 out of 619 deaths), and 19 per cent of all female deaths (54 out of 283 deaths). Moreover, according to a ground-breaking study by Glasgow University published in May 2018, one in nine young people in Scotland have attempted suicide, and one in six have self-harmed. Therefore, suicide is a leading cause of death for young people, killing more people under the age of 29 in Scotland than all cancers combined.
Suicide awareness charity Samaritans Scotland stated that those at highest risk are men aged 45-54, whose suicide rate increased for a second year. They also noted that for the third consecutive year, suicide in young males aged 15-24 had likewise risen, a development the charity finds greatly concerning.
Why is suicide predominantly affecting men? Male suicide has often been depicted as a “silent epidemic” due to the absence of public awareness about it. Moreover, stereotypical ideas about masculinity mean that asking for help is seen as “weak”, “feminine”, or “gay”. Currently, these stereotypes are being challenged and seen as “toxic masculinity”, a term referring to the idea that men who act too emotionally or don’t do all of the things that “real men” do are not “manly” enough. Therefore, help-seeking behaviours for mental illness are less common in men than in women, which leads to higher rates of suicide.
However, as important as these factors are, there is no single driver of suicide, as it is far more multifaceted and complex than solely linking it to toxic societal norms about manhood. Access to support and health services, social support, socialisation in young boys, and relationships between parents and sons, all play an essential role in preventing suicidal behaviour in men.
Currently, the money spent on resources for researching and preventing suicide in Scotland is lagging in comparison to other UK countries. A March 2018 YouGov survey carried out for Samaritans showed that 39 per cent of Scottish adults would not know where to turn if they were supporting someone in crisis. While the reasons motivating boys and young men to take their lives in such numbers are still hardly understood, it is even more concerning that minimal effort has been made to find solutions.
At the local level, some bereaved by suicide decided to take action. Lewis Hazel, a St Andrews resident and Madras College alumnus, along with his former classmates and friends Inès Methven, Matthew Macanaw, Molly Renton and Harvey Rankin, decided to organise a charity concert called GIG21 for Lewis’s 21st birthday, on 16 February 2019, in memory of three Madras College boys and former classmates who committed suicide in recent years, as well as for all those struggling with mental health. The losses not only affected their peer group, but also hit their community very hard, which was one of the main motivations for organising this event.
With the help of several ex-pupils from Madras College, as well as the University of St Andrews who contributed by offering Younger Hall as the event venue, they are hoping to bring their community together, open up the conversation about suicide, and raise £21,000 for Scottish suicide awareness charities Breathing Space and Touched by Suicide Scotland.
When asked about the choice of these charities, the event organisers emphasised that it is important to them to ensure that the money raised will be invested into local services that Scottish towns such as St Andrews are currently lacking. They are hoping to prevent such tragedies from happening again by facilitating access to resources and support to those in crisis.
As the concert date approaches, Lewis and his friends are concentrating on putting the event together. Some of the artists that will be playing include November Lights, Lucy Harrower, Junky Fam and DJ RYZY. As many successful charity concerts have shown us, music can be a powerful tool to bring people together and make a message heard. At GIG21, music will act as a means to spread awareness against suicide and encourage people to be open about their feelings.
The fear many people have about expressing their feelings is what makes it harder for people to turn for help: “One of the biggest anxieties for young people is the transition between the last year at school and going to university. You’re in a new environment, you have to make new friends, which can be very daunting. Some people thrive in that kind of environment and are absolutely fine, while others just aren’t as good at it and they may feel isolated,” Inès, one of the event organisers, emphasised. “Just remember that it is normal to ask for help.” While this advice cannot be stressed enough, for many people, it is easier said than done, which is why access to resources must be facilitated.
Finally, although suicide can be a sensitive topic, we need to stop treating it as something so shameful that it needs to be ignored. Instead, people should be invited to share their troubled emotions or feelings of distress without being judged, ignored or criticised.
We don’t blame or stigmatise people who break a leg or an arm, get into an accident or who suffer a heart attack. We provide those people with love and support, and assiduous care. Why can’t we take care of people affected by mental illness or depression in the same way, instead of question their feelings or rejecting them? We need to lift the taboo on listening to and talking to people who feel like life isn’t worth living. That way, those who contemplate suicide can be given the chance to get help instead of proceeding with such an action. It is only by breaking the silence about suicide that we will be able to spread public awareness and carry out preventive strategies to address this tragic epidemic.
GIG21 takes place on Saturday 16 February 2019 at Younger Hall. Tickets can be purchased on www.tickets-scotland.com by searching GIG21. Further information is available on the Facebook event GIG21, or by contacting Lewis Hazel, Matthew Macanaw or Inès Methven. Donations are also accepted on JustGiving on the following website: www.justgiving/fundraising/gigtwentyone
In crisis now or need to talk? Drop in at Student Services or the ASC. For anonymous listening and information services, call St Andrews Nightline between 8 pm and 7 am at 01334 46 2266, or Samaritans Scotland 24/7 at 116 123.