A leading mental health charity is calling for more to be done to tackle the growing problem of suicide among middle-aged men in Northern Ireland (NI). In 2011, 289 individuals died by suicide in NI of which 75% were men mostly aged between 20 and 54 years. (1) Much of the focus of recent mental health campaigns has been on young adolescent men with the suicide risk in middle-aged men being less well promoted. According to research released by the Samaritans, men find it harder to deal with issues such as unemployment and relationship breakdowns than women do. It is also known that men from deprived backgrounds are more likely to take their own lives than those living in more affluent areas (2).
Another key factor that often gains less attention in health promotion is the wellbeing of those who are bereaved of a loved one following suicide. Whilst the rates of suicide amongst middle aged men in NI is increasing, there is a corresponding increase in the number of people who are left without a husband, father, brother or son. For each person who dies by suicide there could be 6 to 10 family members 3 and a wider group of friends and family who remain to cope with the loss. The Grief Study will be the first of its kind in NI to study the mental health of survivors of suicide. From this study we will be able to determine the effect suicide has on surviving family members and how outcomes may differ depending on an individual’s relationship to the bereaved. This information will provide insight into those most at risk post bereavement and those who should be targeted for support after bereavement by suicide. Whilst work is on-going to reduce suicide rates and improve mental health in NI it is important to remember that the effects of mental health disorders are never localised to the individual, but affect family, neighbourhood and societal structures and hence any improvement to individual mental health will have knock-on improvements for the entire population.
1 Suicide Deaths. Key Statistics 2011 as retrieved from http://www.nisra.gov.uk/demography/
2 O’Reilly D, Rosato M, Connolly S & Cardwell C. Area factors and suicide: 5-year follow-up of the Northern Ireland population. Brit J Psych. 2008;192:106–11
3 Mitchell AM, Kin Y, Prigerson HG & Mortimer-Stephens M. Complicated Grief in Survivors of Suicide. Crisis. 2004;25(1):12-18