Suicide is one of the principal causes of death for young people in industrialized countries, including Scotland. An advertisement will be aired in prime time television highlighting the need for everyone to support individuals contemplating suicide. The ad mentions that help might be as close as your nearest cabbie or your hairdresser and goes on to propose that people from all walks of life can be trained in providing help to potentially suicidal people. The ad is part of the Scottish Government’s Choose Life Programme, which is a 10 year plan aimed at reducing suicides in Scotland by 20% by 2013.
It is commendable that help is being provided to train ordinary people to spot suicidal tendencies, and it is very good that a problem that is affecting young people in Scotland, particularly young men, is highlighted. While such a complex issue as suicide can be most effectively tackled by professionals such as counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists who undergo years of training for their help to be effective by evidence-based standards, it is also true that hairdressers are privy to many a confession, and in many cases just having someone to talk to can help- at least initially.
Research suggests that suicide is a response to a number of factors affecting an individual’s life. Unemployment, divorce, mental health difficulties (particularly depression) and addictive behaviours are just some of the reasons why young people contemplate suicide. According to a study by the University of Aberdeen and NHS Scotland, although Scotland at the turn of the 20th century had lower rates of suicide than England and Wales, suicide rates for young men in Scotland have increased every decade since, while they have progressively decreased in the rest of the UK. In times of economic crisis, with high levels of unemployment and a gradual disintegration of family values and community life in favour of the cult of individualism anything that can be done to help in tackling the social and economic causes that make life so difficult for our young people is to be welcomed. And perhaps we in the church need to learn to listen a bit more, as well as talking.