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The Importance of World Suicide Prevention Day
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
might seem flippant to some but, when it comes to mental-health, I think we all have to ensure pain and anxiety. It is not an exaggeration to see every one of us with experience some form of depression or stress at some point in our lives. It need not be clinical or prolonged; maybe a bad period or a slump in their lives. There are so many cockamamie days that are marked through the year. Most of these are novelty days celebrating something irrelevant and whimsical. Days like today (World Suicide Prevention Day), when talk openly about suicide and reducing the numbers, resonates with all of us. Whilst we might not have experienced suicidality or known anyone who has committed suicide; we all know how severe the mental-health crisis and how hard it is to talk. In terms of music, I feel mental illness is especially pronounced and recognisable. Maybe it is because artists can express their depression through songs – there are many that do not feel comfortable opening up and are a little insecure about being that revealing. I get that and know, when I hear genuine pain come through in a song, there is catharsis but it is not a cure. I have known people who have considered suicide and certainly know famous musicians who have taken their own lives. Recent suicides like that of Soundgarden lead Chris Cornell (last year) hit me especially hard.
A lot of the time, we are not truly aware of the pain and darkness inside the hearts of musicians who, to the casual observer, seems fine and relaxed. There is a marked contrast between an artist on the stage and in the studio compared to who they are behind closed doors. I speak to so many artists and there is this definite split between those who have mental-health issues and want to keep it private and those who want to bring it to the open. Both are valid stances but I am always shocked how widespread and severe the issue is. Maybe we are less connected and human as a species what with the Internet and busy lives. If anything, in a way, it seems lonelier knowing many others have the same illness as you – like it is seen as common and you will be another face in the crowd. For me, creativity is an outlet of sorts but it is a solitary and busy life that can get you into a dangerous cycle (not being able to turn off and shut down). So many musicians cannot sleep because of anxiety and irregular working hours; many are stressed with the pressures of being a successful artist; others find the general energy needed to maintain a career takes a lot from their brains and bodies.
Looking at this website and #talkingsuicide; it seems 130 broadcasters, journalists; politicians, authors and popular figures have lent their name to a letter which is calling on producers to change how we talk about mental-health. Everyone from Fearne Cotton to Ian Rankin OBE has signed the letter and I wanted to quote a snippet:
“There is a huge job to be done to educate the public: to tackle taboos; to break down stereotypes; to report and comment on suicide in a responsible manner. We hope that you will play your part. We are not trying to censor media reporting – rather we are striving to encourage safer reporting. Samaritans and Mind offer free advice sessions to media outlets, covering safe and informative reporting of suicide and mental health.
Suicide is preventable; we can dramatically reduce the number of people who take their own lives. There is a body of research known as the ‘Papageno effect’ which shows that responsible stories, such as hopeful journeys of recovery, can help to highlight the importance of seeking help and can support efforts to reduce suicide. The language we all use to describe suicide can help or hinder this goal”.
The figures are out there and we can see the seriousness of suicides and how many people are affected. The suicides in men have hit a new low – fewer than there have been since 1981 I believe.
IN THIS PHOTO: Broadcaster, D.J. and journalist Fearne Cotton is one of the public figures who has signed the Talking Suicide letter calling for change in the media/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Rex
This is good news and leads me to believe education and openness are helping the plight. Nearly six-thousand suicides were reported last year and that accounted for 10.1 deaths per 100,000 people of the population. It may sound rather minor but that is still a huge figure. Great charities like MIND and The Samaritans are great charities and offer round-the-clock support and advice. The NHS provides a helpline and advice and there is that comfort there. It is also, as this article explains, worth dropping the word ‘commit’ when talking about suicide - adjusting our language when reporting. It is good to know there are people who can help but how often do we see mental illness seriously addressed on T.V. and in music? I will come to music in a bit but there are few documentaries, dramas and series that look at those who suffer mental-health issues and even fewer that look at suicide. This is why the letter that has been signed can lead to change and discussion. I know it is not nice seeing mentally ill people suffer or something as dark as suicide being discussed and televised but it is a way of raising awareness and instigating international discussion. Fundraisers, the major ones, we see on T.V. raise money for children and to fight cancer – where are those benefits for those with mental-health issues?! There may be smaller events but nothing that gets onto the T.V. Considering how widespread the mental-health issue is and the fact we all have some experience; why are we not allowing a national fundraiser to help those who struggle?!
I feel there is that taboo and stigma attached to mental illness. We can sympathise with someone who has a physical illness and it is not their fault. Many feel those who are mentally unwell can snap out of it and, as there are no physical scars, there is nothing wrong! The problem is this: there are scars! There are scars and tears and bruises and injuries. There are those with addictions and others who regularly contemplate suicide. It may not be visible to you but it is definitely visible to them! I am hopeful we can see more discussion in Parliament and T.V./film producers will do their part. There are some great campaigners out there and, in fact, mental-health is feeding more into music. In fact, there are mainstream Pop artists who document their anxieties and depressed feelings through song. This may sound like commercial jeopardy but it is a way of connecting with a predominantly young audience who go through the same things. I know it takes more than words and slogans to cure someone or talk them out of suicide but there is a lot of power knowing a big artist and a famous musician feels the same as we do. It a leveller and reality check that shows that, when you take everything into consideration, there are very few differences between musicians and their fans. Bands like IDLES, on their recent album, Joy as an Act of Resistance, have tackled mental-health and toxic masculinity. They are a tough and manly band but are sensitive and unafraid of exploring emotions, mental illness and suicide in their music. One of the reasons that album is doing so well and gained huge acclaim is because of their willingness to tackle these big subjects.
There is a lot of addiction and struggle in the music industry. The pressure and strain can lead many to self-destruct or close-off. Many take their own lives or can cause premature death through addiction. The toll is being felt but, with support and positive conversation we can see some real progression. We will never see the end of all suicides – some people do not want to be saved and their problems are too severe to be cured – but there are many who commit (I apologise for using the word but I know we need to stop seing suicide as sinful!) suicide because they feel ignored and misunderstood. Bullying on social media makes the issue worse; there are those who troll and abuse those who reveal their mental illness. Days like today, where we look to prevent and reduce suicide rates, are vital in order to get the ball rolling. Musicians are a powerful sector of society and the more that come out and tell their stories; maybe that will reach those desperate and in pain and give them cause to resist that voice that leads them to darkness. Suicide was a crime until 1961 – not sure what the genius logical behind that was?! – and it is considered a sin. If we tell people suicide is immoral and a sin; how are they ever going to oxidise their burden?! The media holds a lot of influence and needs to channel more energy and money discussing suicide and its severity.
I know how many musicians go through serious mental-health problems and how many, on a regular basis, talk about suicide. It is alarming and worrying to see and you feel helpless being sat at a screen – not knowing where they are and how to actually reach them. It is that intangible and digital façade of the Internet which can create a barrier and a sense of loneliness. I talk with a lot of musicians online but rarely meet them or actually see them. More forums and meetings need to be established; setting up dates and events so those who think about suicide can talk with one another and work on finding a solution. It is a long road but we are seeing changes. Artists, new and established, are talking about mental-health and suicide in music and that is reaching a huge audience. The stigma is being lifted – not that there ever was one! – and that helps a lot. It can be hard, if you are that low, accepting there is a way through and a chance of positivity. World Suicide Prevention Day is almost over but its cause and objectives are being felt, remembered and preserved. Many of us go through mental-health issues and that is as evident as anywhere in music. The format has a lot of power to make real change and to get people talking. The R.E.M. song said that everybody hurts and it pays to hold on. That may seem trite and impersonal but it is very true. Bringing something like suicide to the surface can go a long way and is a brave step. For anyone in that position and unsure how to go on; contact one of those mental-health charities or speak to the NHS. It may seem tough to do but being brave and making that decision might be the very best…
YOU will ever make.