The January Blues: Desolation

Warning: discussion of suicide

Last week in my county division, someone stood at the edge of a motorway bridge with the intention of jumping off. Fortunately, the emergency services got there in time and their life was saved.

I know personally the devastation that suicide can bring on family and friends. My close relative died 26 years ago, and the ramifications are still deeply felt.

As the third in this January Blues series, I wanted to discuss the often hidden topic of suicide. Suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 in England and Wales. About three-quarters of suicides in 2016 were male, and the highest rate was amongst men aged 40-44. For women, the age group with the highest suicide rate was 50-54 years. Around the world a person dies by suicide every 40 seconds, according to the World Health Organization.

Mental Health First Aid training teaches that you should bring up the topic if you have any suspicion that someone might be thinking of suicide.

Suicide can be prevented. Most suicidal people do not want to die. They simply do not want to live with the pain. Openly talking about suicidal thoughts and feelings can save a life.

The opening line, “How are you doing?” can be followed by, “Is it all getting too much?” and “Are you thinking about ending your life?” and then “Have you thought how you might do it?”

It seems an extreme conversation to have, but if someone you know is displaying any signs that concern you, it is worth having a conversation. And if you don’t feel you can take it as far as asking if someone is thinking about killing themselves, you can at least express concern and suggest they talk to their GP. Or, you can find someone else who is willing to have that conversation with them.

The Samaritans offer support 24/7 for those feeling unable to cope with the stresses of life.

It is sometimes thought that suicide cannot be prevented. However, in Detroit, Michigan, the Henry Ford Health System (HFHS) has received international recognition for its attempt to produce a zero suicide rate. In the past two-and-a-half years, they report that they have not lost a single patient to suicide. Mersey Care NHSFT have recently attempted to emulate this with their “zero tolerance approach to suicide”. We do not need to treat suicide as inevitable or unavoidable. We can challenge it.

Regarding young people and their risk of suicide, Norman Lamb MP has tabled an Early Day Motion titled ‘Save the #ClassOf2018’. The full text reads:

That this House welcomes World Suicide Prevention Day, which took place on 10 September 2017 to raise awareness and promote worldwide action to prevent suicides; recognises that suicide is the biggest killer of young people, male and female, aged under 35 in the UK; is deeply concerned that over 200 children of school age die by suicide every year in the UK, and believes that this is a national tragedy; supports the launch of national charity PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide’s campaign to Save The #ClassOf2018, to raise awareness of the scale of suicide in schoolchildren and build suicide-safer schools and colleges; welcomes the charity’s new suicide prevention guide for teachers and school staff as part of this campaign, covering issues including language around suicide, identifying if a child is suicidal, intervention and postvention, to equip staff with the skills and confidence needed to support children who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts; affirms that suicide is not inevitable and can be prevented; and urges the Government to pledge its support for the Save The #ClassOf2018 campaign as part of a national Zero Suicides strategy.

Further information about the Papyrus’ campaign to prevent young suicides is here.

We are not open enough about mental health, and we are certainly not open enough about suicide. Please talk to those around you about how they are feeling, and let’s watch out for each other.

* Kirsten Johnson was the PPC for Oxford East in the 2017 General Election. She is a pianist and composer at

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  • Helen Dudden 18th Jan '18 - 9:42am

    Well written article, on the sad issues of suicide. Depression, is pretty awful for those who suffer.

  • Helen Dudden 18th Jan '18 - 10:22am

    Could I add, the worst time for suicide on rail networks.
    After a recent meeting on disabled travel, this was raised very briefly. The effects on those who witness and families concerned.

  • Kirsten johnson 18th Jan '18 - 12:23pm

    Thanks, Helen, for reading and commenting. I’m not expecting a lot of interaction here as it is a tough issue. You are so right that the effects on those who witness and families are very deep indeed.

  • Helen Dudden 18th Jan '18 - 9:33pm

    I agree, a very brave article. Mental Health is a difficult subject. An illness, as real as a broken limb or any other medical conditions.

  • @ Helen, Your mention of suicide on the railways is timely…. awful for the families concerned but also truly dreadful for the loco driver. As a child, I remember a relative weeping because he had hit a an old man (who was deliberately standing on the line), and repeating a mantra “He was wearing his taws (medals)”.

    The old man (who must have been a first war veteran ) was a victim, but so was my poor relative – and it seems it’s a regular occurrence these days.

    Good for Norman Lamb tabling his motion, but surely there are practical things a government could do, eg supporting The Samaritans, training for carers visiting the elderly and a hole host of practical things. The Loneliness Initiative set up by Rachel Reeves MP (in memory of her friend of Jo Cox) must be supported. I’m glad the PM has appointed a Minister to follow up Jo’s work.

    Jo Cox Loneliness – Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness

  • Helen Dudden 19th Jan '18 - 11:05am

    David Raw. I heard, after the second suicide, the driver never returned to his job. You are correct, it will effect those concerned for the rest of their lives.
    The Mail online reports 7 suicides at Bristol University recently. We hear about young people getting caught up on line with being bullied, and the situation ends in this fashion.
    I know Norman Lamb has always supported those with Mental illness. Very important, this has been the bottom of the list with this government.
    There was nothing your relative could have done, the system failed, not them.

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