A look into the single biggest killer of young men in Britain.
It was September 2012 but Ant Meads doesn’t remember the date.
“I didn’t want to die”, he said. “I just didn’t want to live anymore”.
10-12 painkillers and a couple of sleeping tablets later and Ant found himself slumped over the toilet retching violently. It was 3am.
Ant was 23.
Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK. It is also the silent killer, the one that very few people talk about. A report from the Office of National Statistics revealed that 76% of all suicides in 2014 were men, on average 12 deaths per day.
Ant Meads is a writer, and blogs regularly for the Huffington Post and for Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), a charity dedicated to preventing male suicide.
Ant showed symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) when he was around 9 to 10 years old. As he got older depression and anxiety entered the mix.
“I’ve been a recurrent depressive since I was 15 to 16 years old”, Ant says. “There have been spells lasting 3 to 4 months at a time when even the simplest of tasks have been too much”.
Ant managed to control his depression with medication and regular appointments with his GP. However, three years ago he had a complete breakdown and attempted suicide by overdosing his medication.
“I got to the point where the pain of waking up each day and feeling terror and sadness, it all just seemed too much”, he quietly explains.
Since his suicide attempt, Ant has spoken publicly about his struggle with depression.
“The only way the stigma gets removed is if we start talking more. Men in particular struggle with that”, Ant says.
The fact that suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK is an alarming statistic. Dr. Mike Crawford, a Consultant Psychiatrist at CNWL Foundation Trust cites that “unsecure employment, social content and financial debt” are all contributing factors to suicide.
Organizations such as CALM, Chasing the Stigma and the Samaritans publicly advocate the need for men to reach out when they need help. They provide a community network, a platform for men to raise their concerns and receive help. Yet, figures released from the ONS indicate there are still so many men falling through the cracks.
“A stigma exists around suicide. Like cancer and aids people find it hard to talk about. The whole reason it exists is because people don’t talk about it”, the rapper Professor Green tells his viewers in his acclaimed documentary, Suicide and Me. Professor Green has 2.11 million followers on twitter. His public persona allows for his personal story of suicide to be heard and recognized by many. His father committed suicide at 41. Professor Green hadn’t spoken to him in seven years.
The quest to push male suicide into the forefront of national conscious has long been a struggle. Finally, on Thursday 19th November MPs took part in a general debate on male suicide and recognized the significance of International Men’s day in Westminster Hall.
Yet, the debate was not without objectors. Jess Phillips, Conservative MP publicly dismissed the call for a House of Commons debate on International Men’s Day, informing the committee that she felt “like every day to me is International Men’s day”.
The debate seems to have been lost in the backlash by politicians; the issue itself not even reaching the public news agenda. A major chance for the issue of suicide in young men to foreground in the government’s agenda was lost.
Jake Mills called the debate, “politicians using mental health point score, or even to mock each other”.
Mills is a Liverpool based comedian and writer. Ironic really, providing comedic relief to others considering that Jake has suffered from depression throughout the course of his young life.
Two years ago the pain became unbearable.
At 24 years of age Jake got in his car and drove to his favorite spot. He messaged his girlfriend one final time to tell her that he loved her. He then attempted to slash his wrists.
Jake was rescued by his girlfriend and has since spent all of his time trying to remove the sigma of mental illness and provide relief for young men in the same situation. He started the charity, Chasing the Stigma. He informs me that the reaction from the public has been “fantastic”. His charity has received support from Alistair Campbell and MP Jeremy Corbyn.
For Jake, just like Ant, education and communication is the only way to remove the stigma around male suicide.
“People don’t know enough about mental illness and we’re not doing anything to address that”, Jake tells me.
“Mental health education has to be made compulsory in schools. Kids know what foods to eat but they don’t know what to do if they feel sad”.
It is a sentiment supported by fellow activist Ant Meads.
“There isn’t enough support for mental health in this country”, he says.
“It’s tragic how many people are suffering. Mental health is seen by many, including it seems the government, to not be as important as physical health. It’s bizarre to me that a broken leg is patched in A&E the same day, but they are turning away mental health patients. Someone who is suicidal can have to wait a year to talk to someone. The disparity between the two is shocking”, says Ant.
Male suicide has been labeled a social epidemic in this country and yet few concrete preventative measures are in place to combat these high statistics. The fact that suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 is gravely alarming. It is a disturbing statistic that drastically needs changing. In response, the Government has instead cut mental health services leaving fewer mental health beds and insufficient mental health care for patients.
Ant Meads and Jake Mills, two young men, who attempted suicide under the age of 25, have remained vocal about the lack of mental health care support for young men.
“One of the biggest problems for men in this country is the stigma, but when you get past that and manage to ask for help that isn’t the end of your problem”, Ant says.
Ant speaks about his process of seeing a doctor, being referred to IAPT who then spoke to him, assessing his needs and determining what to do next. Ant says he filled out a big questionnaire, ticking all the boxes that asked if he was suicidal. They called him to say that yes, he did in fact need professional help, but the current waiting list was approximately 9 months long.
“It took absolutely everything I had to face this head on and visit the doctor”, Ant tells me. “To find out I was months away from getting any help was devastating”.
Ant was lucky that his employers paid for private treatment for a few months to bridge the gap, but so many do not have the same access to treatment. Many succumb to their suicidal thoughts and fall through the cracks.
The staggering high statistic of male suicide in the UK is something that needs addressing. The fact that it is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 should be enough to force the government to take action. Charities such as CALM and the Samaritans provide an outlet for men in need, but they are small and in serious need of government funding.
For as Ant clearly states, “the government needs to step up to the plate and get behind resolving this problem because it’s tragic that suicide is the biggest killer of young men in this country”.
CALM is a charity aimed at bringing the suicide rate down among men. If you are having depressed thoughts or suffering silently, please, reach out to them on 0800 58 58 58.
Words by: Catherine McMaster
Photo by: saccharinesmile.deviantart.com