Another post about suicide. Less raw and bloody than the last; still – you have been warned.
The uncomfortable truth is that stereotypical forms of masculinity – stiff upper lips, “laddishness” – are killing men.
– Owen Jones, writing in the Guardian
– Harlan Ellison
Owen Jones’ makes a common claim; men’s increased risk of suicide is due to factors relating to an unwillingness to talk about depression, embedded in a wider culture of masculinity which prevents conversation in this area. It’s claimed not only by newspaper columnists but also by charities such as the Samaritans and Mind. It’s claimed to be the case for good reason – there’s substantial evidence for it.
Let me tell you a story.
It takes me forever to see an A&E psychiatrist, these days. I’m not sure how much this is to do with them being busy, and with me having a large wad of notes to get through.
I don’t mind them reading through the wads. It means I don’t have to go over everything, everything, all over again. Doing so is exhausting. Draining. And I’m quite drained enough.
My head resting on Daniel’s lap, his strong, heavy hand resting on my shoulder. I’m hot. I’m tired. I’m running on empty.
Nurses come, check my blood pressure, my heartbeat, still beating.
“How’s your neck feeling? Your throat?”
I hold Daniel’s strong hand.
The psychiatrist comes, Daniel goes. I’ve already seen the psych nurses, they’ve referred me up the chain. Been sitting in A&E, hot, cared for, empty, for hours. Since morning.
She seems nice. Caring. I try to convince her I don’t need admission to inpatient care. Inpatient care is endless, pointless days. Wandering around blank and drugged in a room full of people wandering around drugged and blank, plastic cutlery and cheap plastic and foam mattresses. Unshaven and unsightly because you have to ask for your razor and be watched while you slide it across your skin, in case you slide too deep. Who can be bothered with that? Unshaven and unsightly. I don’t want hospital. Still; I’m unsure which way she’s going to sway.
“Why let it get to this stage, before you seek help?”
I laugh. There is no humour.
Comprehensive school green. This is the first time I’ve been in this room. I’m howling, I’m mumbling, I’m quivering on the foul brown sofa, the foul plastic and foam sofa.
“What is it? What happened? What happened, eh?”
I don’t know who he is. He looks just like an A&E nurse. Why is he asking me these dumb fucking questions? My counsellor sent me, she called ahead, the triage nurse knew exactly who I was so why is he asking me these dumb fucking questions?
“It’s not that bad, it can’t be that bad; c’mon, talk to me”
Shut the fuck up
He leaves. I’m tired. Alone, I sleep.
The door slamming jolts me awake. Two psych nurses, one senior, one student. Clipboards. Tea.
“…and have you tried to harm yourself?”
“Have you tried to put any of this plan into action?”
Go home. You’re stressed. Take some time off. “The next time you feel this way, just come to A&E”.
I go home.
Comprehensive school green. I’ve been in this room before.
I’m tired. I sleep alone, on the sofa. The shit brown sofa. It takes forever for a psychiatric nurse to come. Then again, it’s late.
We even chat, which is nice. He apologises afterwards, for being unprofessional, for veering the subject away from me; but you know it’s nice, in the middle of all this. A break in the clouds.
“It’s nigh on impossible to overdose on sertraline, you see? So I realised I couldn’t do that. So I came here”
“So you didn’t actually take anything?”
“Have you tried to harm yourself in the past?”
He chews his pen. I look at the grey lino floor. I’m tired.
“Talk to your GP. Maybe get your dose looked at”
I get the bus home. I think. I come up with a far more effective plan than sertraline.
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
I’m feeling fine. Good, even. Everyone knows people are more likely to feel worse in winter and better in spring, except of course that’s not true – rates of both depression and suicide are higher in spring. Still. I’m feeling good.
Alex, less so.
“Flashes – I get these flashes of violence. Horrible things in my head, it’s like they come from outside”
I know. I tell him I know. It’s shit. It’s scary. We share the scary images that invade our heads.
“The crisis team came over, I told them. I’m scared what I might do
“They asked me if I’d tried to do anything”
I know. I tell him, “they won’t take it seriously until you do”
“But I’m not going to try anything!” grimacing, eyes frantic, mouth quivering. “I’m going to do it. The first time I try will be the last”
Women are more likely to attempt suicide. Men tend to utilise more violent methods. Men are more likely to complete. First time.
In his article, Owen Jones does touch on the failure of psychiatric services to take seriously men’s mental health, but I think this is only part of the problem. The whole system is geared to only work once people are at crisis, but this means services remain blind to men’s cries for help even as we are screaming; we are scared, we are in danger, we are going to do it and there will be no second chance.
People just don’t fucking listen.