Today, as I write this, it is ‘International Mental Health Day’. Ed and I got talking on the podcast about suicide and mental health service provision in the UK. Sadly in the UK we closed most of the long stay psychiatric hospitals in favour of ‘care in the community’ services which failed badly. From my point of view the NHS and many UK governments have failed those that are in need of psychological medicine and support.
The statistics that hit me hardest are that globally every year 800,000 people commit suicide. In the UK suicide is the greatest cause of death in males under forty five and 20% of 14 years old girls in the UK are self harming. The cream on the cake is that the government have now appointed a minster to over see suicide prevention. My first thought is ‘that’s good’, the only country in the world to do such a thing. My second thought is ‘how awful is it that when we have so many suicides in the UK that we now have to have a government minister to over see the situation’. Something is fundamentally wrong here.
Ed and I discussed how men are often emotionally closed and not good about sharing their feelings when things are going wrong. It is certainly true that in most of the cases of male suicide that I deal with the family didn’t see it coming. Or, in retrospect they can see that the signs were building but they didn’t understand what was happening at the time.
I had a bit of time this morning and I was thinking about how suicide is a death that happens suddenly and immediately after a sudden action. We would see this as an action of intent. I have spoken in previous blogs about the difference between suicidal ideation and suicidal intent.
Then I got to thinking about suicide by life style. There have been many cases that I have dealt with over many years of people who have been on a slow yet apparently deliberate road to suicide. When I look at life style at an individual level but also at a national and international level I wonder how many of us are on a suicide mission. Historically there have been so many situations where people have known the dangers but continue to do things and behave in dangerous ways and use dangerous products.
Lead in paint, lead in petrol, asbestos in buildings, additives in food, bacon and cured meats, red meats generally, the hormones in milk, the pesticides that are killing the pollinating bees, our continual use of plastics and plastic related products, paints and finishes. The list could be endless but I feel I need to include the amount of time, human consciousness and money that is poured into bombs and other weaponry designed to end lives.
The countless life style clients that I see all the time and have done for many years. All the addicts, addicted to both legal and recreational drugs. The smoker who despite multiple amputations will not quit the habit. The drinkers who never give their system a rest. The diabetics who despite sight loss and limb loss maintain bad diets and never exercise. The motorcyclist who had to go ever faster round corners until eventually he came off and died, taking someone else with him. That list could be endless but what about…
…those people who chose to focus all their attention of negative experience never seeing the positives around them increasing their depression in increments until they had nothing left to live for. Those people who continually fear the future, never living in the present and becoming ever more anxious. Those people who can never stop and are workaholics both at work and at home. All of these people creating ever more stress, filling their systems with ever more stress hormone, hardening their arteries and heading for strokes, heart attacks and vascular dementia. Those people who chose to self medicate with carbohydrates as comfort food whose weight became unsustainable for their heart and their joints…
I guess that in the end it does not really matter if we are living a long or a short life, the issues is are we happy. Is it better to live a shorter life that is full of happiness or a long life that is full of misery?
When Ed and I were talking about this we were looking at what is the difference in modern society and the past. Well, we know that preindustrial and agricultural societies have much lower levels of all mental health issues, and we know that as countries start to industrialise, urbanise, mechanise and digitalise that levels of stress and lack of mental health increase.
I think this is all about family and community. When we lived in extended families there were people around for support, help and advice that had it’s own informal stress management function. In our bid for individual fulfilment and the culture of ‘I’, ‘Me’ ‘My’ and I must have now and sod you…has led to both social and family isolation.
We have forgotten the fact that we are animals, we are primates, that were designed to live in groups, to be caring, sharing and mutually supportive.
As someone said recently, “racism does not exists because there is only one race and that is the human race”. I keep saying it, but I believe it to be true,
‘if we all looked after each other, we would all be alright”
And the thing that enables us to both realise it and do it is called ‘MIndfulness’.
Maybe in the end the only solution that we have to all of our mental health problems is in our own hands right now. If we were more mindful, more caring and more sharing I think we could crack it.
Stay happy, be lucky and be mindful!