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Statistics show men most likely to commit suicide

Published 20/11/2015

Myths dismissed: Dr Neel Burton
Myths dismissed: Dr Neel Burton

Almost 300 were officially registered as having died by suicide in Northern Ireland in 2014, according to the Northern Ireland Statistics & Research Agency. Just over three quarters of those were men.

Dermot Winters Snr's suicide last Christmas tallies with the common belief that people are most likely to take their own lives towards the end of the year. However, according to recent research, suicide rates peak in the springtime, not the wintertime.

"This is probably because the rebirth that marks springtime accentuates feelings of hopelessness in those already suffering with it," said leading Oxford psychiatrist, Dr Neel Burton, an expert in mental health.

"In contrast, around Christmas, most people with suicidal thoughts are offered some degree of protection by the proximity of their relatives and, at least in the Northern hemisphere, the prospect of 'things getting better from here'."

Dr Burton also dismisses the following myths surrounding suicide, which is on the increase in the UK and Ireland:

"Psychiatrists believe that over 90% of cases of suicide are not the result of a rational decision, but of mental disorder," said Dr Burton.

"Suicidal ideation can be particularly intense in people with a mental disorder who are unmedicated or who are resistant to or non-compliant with their medication, and/or who are experiencing certain high-risk symptoms, such as delusions of persecution, delusions of control, delusions of jealousy, delusions of guilt, and commanding second-person auditory hallucinations (hearing 'voices')."

He adds: "The suicide rate rises during times of economic depression and during times of economic boom, as people feel 'left behind' if every Tom, Dick, and Harry seems to be racing ahead. This may explain the finding that people in developed countries such as the USA and the UK are no happier than 50 years ago; despite being considerably richer, healthier, and better travelled, they have only barely managed to 'keep up with the Joneses'."

Another finding indicates: "The suicide rate falls during times of national cohesion or coming together, such as during a war or its modern substitute, the international sporting tournament. During such times, there is not only a feeling of 'being in it together', but also a sense of anticipation and curiosity as to what is going to happen next."

There is also evidence that suicide will be copied, according to the academic.

"The suicide rate rises after the depiction or prominent reporting of a suicide in the media. A suicide that is inspired by another suicide, either in the media or in real life, is sometimes referred to as a 'copycat suicide'," says Dr Burton.

"In some cases, suicide can spread through an entire local community with one copycat suicide giving rise to the next, and so on. Such a 'suicide contagion' is most likely to occur in vulnerable population groups such as disaffected teenagers and people with a mental disorder."

Dr Neel Burton is the recipient of the Society of Authors Richard Asher Prize, the British Medical Association Young Authors' Award, and the Medical Journalists' Association Open Book Award. See www.neelburton.com. To contact the Samaritans, visit www.samaritans.org, Belfast no: (028) 9066 4422 (local call charges apply); National telephone: 116 123 (free to call); email: jo@ samaritans.org (UK and ROI)

Belfast Telegraph

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