‘Connect, communicate, care’ is the theme of the 2016 World Suicide Prevention Day on Saturday 10th September.
The World Health Organization estimates over 800,000 people die by suicide each year – that’s one person every 40 seconds. Up to 25 times as many again make a suicide attempt. Suicide is the single biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK, and men accounted for 75% of the 6,122 suicides reported in 2014, according to the latest available figures. But how does that relate to us, here, in Leeds?
Jon Hindley, Public Health Specialist tells us about a project, The Male Suicide Insight, set up to find out why male suicide rates in Leeds 12 were some of the highest in the city*. BARCA, a local third sector organisation took on the work of finding men at risk of suicide, who had attempted suicide or experienced suicidal thoughts to talk to them about the issues and barriers they faced.
The men they were looking for were typically middle aged, white, heterosexual, working class, unemployed, living alone, separated or divorced, with little or no contact with their biological children. These men would also usually be drinking heavily
So how did it go?
To begin with the project was slow getting off the ground as we couldn’t find the men. We needed to try a different approach. The work force was changed to be more in tune with the target audience. So, enter three grumpy middle aged male workers who instantly knew where to find the men. Where would this group normally go when depressed? The answer was – of course – the pub!
The newly recruited team were asked if they were prepared to work in pubs at night so they could locate the hard-to-reach men and talk to them about their lives. You can imagine how they agonised about whether or not they should accept that job! Actually, going up to complete strangers as they sat on their own in a pub corner and asking if they want to meet up the next day for a coffee to talk about their emotions was not without its challenges, and yet the two workers, Tim Dawtry and Mark Baker, made it happen.
The men’s stories were sometimes brutal, sometimes heart breaking and tragic; a sad narrative detailing a steady descent into depression and increased isolation. The interviews and insight were fed back and then more information obtained – it was an effective two way partnership.
Mark continued with the work in the pubs and Tim persuaded the men to start up and join groups. The groups were formed on an asset based community development (ABCD) approach. They looked at what the men could do and what they wanted to do. From these initial contacts grew a gardening group, a walking club, outings and trips, Men in Sheds, a music group and a poetry event. This enlightened piece of Public Health commissioning blossomed into a solid base of community groups. Some of the men had alcohol dependency issues which had never been addressed. Slowly two of the men sought help and one accessed St Anne’s for support. Many of the men in the groups completed an accredited Introduction to Community Development and Health course.
After a short stall in progress, this Public Health work has developed into a successful project which helped set up similar work across the city. The project created a deep pool of assets that other professionals and community members could join and dip into to.
In fact, if you need some grumpy, middle aged men who know their way around Leeds pubs to undertake similar work, we are pretty confident we know where to find them!
For any men who are interested there are volunteering opportunities at the New Wortley Community Centre.
There is a regular walking group and house band. They currently have about fifty volunteers and always looking for more.
There is also the PEP project (social prescription) which can be accessed through their General Practioner at any practice in the West.
*The reasons for the high suicide rates were complex but basically a toxic mixture of separation from family, unemployment, feelings of low mood and worthlessness and no hope in their future. Mix this with alcohol, drug dependency and poor mental and emotional health and the frequency of suicidal thoughts can increase dramatically. Catherine Ward who leads on this work has a full copy of the Insight report on request from Catherine.Ward@leeds.gov.uk This report has informed other work across the city and explains the city wide and local work in more detail and some of the reasons contributing to suicide.