Sunday, 28 August 2011

A Hopeful Resurrection, Contemplating Suicide and Saying Goodbye

 With so many colleagues on holiday last week (and next) it has been a week for taking stock, getting all those things done that have slipped down the 'must do list' in favour of addressing the latest crisis or meeting yet one more demand generated by others. That said, the week felt, for the most part, a relentless task orientated one with little time (or energy) left for blue sky thinking.

So I was glad to get to the weekend (a long one) and enjoy a chance to step of the merry-go-round for a few days. Whilst the weather yesterday was pretty mixed it didn’t prevent me from going out to the annual Bolton Food and Drink Fair. This year’s event appeared bigger than ever. It really was so good to see so many people crowding the Town Hall Square and the surrounding streets. The last few times I have been into Bolton it’s been dead, no noise, no action and not attractive at all. This weekend has clearly provided a boost and I hope it will be the start of Boltons resurrection so that once more Bolton will become a place to shop, visit and enjoy at a weekend.

This week I came across a newly published research study that examined the relationship between physical illness and suicide. The report, Hidden data provide new insights into life at the end: the truth about suicide was published by DEMOS. DEMOS are a highly regarded independent think-tank focused on power and politics. During 2011, DEMOS focused on five programmes: Family and Society; Public Services and Welfare; Violence and Extremism; Public Interest and Political Economy

And as the report notes, suicide continues to be an extremely important public health issue here in the UK. In the UK there is one death by suicide every two hours. Nearly four times more men than women die from suicide. Although over the last decade the overall rate of suicide has fallen, in the last two years there has been an increase. Indeed, data included in the Coalition Government’s recently published Consultation on Preventing Suicide in England suggest that the 20 per cent reduction target set by the previous Labour Governments National Suicide Prevention Strategy is unlikely to be achieved. Suicide rates tend to rise during periods of high unemployment or economic uncertainty. Some of the key risk factors for suicide are well known and include gender, unemployment, drug abuse and mental illness, the latter being considered as the most significant risk factors.

Of course this is not new. In 1897, Emile Durkheim, the French sociologist, published what at the time was a paradigmatic shifting thesis on the prevailing view of suicide. He described four subtypes of suicide: Egoistic; Altruistic; Anomic; and Fatalistic. For me it is the egoistic and anomic subtypes that are of most interest – both deal with the individual sense of self and self in relation to others, and perhaps more particularly the impact of perceived expectations of others on self.

Durkheim established through his work that generally suicide rates are higher in men than women, for those who are not married, or for people without children, for soldiers rather than civilians, and are higher in Scandinavian countries. This new study by DEMOS adds to our understanding of suicide and is definitely worth a read by all those interested in this aspect of mental health care and the care of people with long term conditions.

Friday was both the end of the working week, and unfortunately the end of a fabulous relationship. Lunch was spent saying goodbye to a wonderful colleague and friend who was moving on to a different place. Although I found lunch a very sad occasion, I was reminded that like all good relationships that involve hard work, there had also been plenty of fun along the way as well.

And fun it was yesterday – my grand niece was staying for a sleep over and although she is only four, sometimes she behaves as if she was 40 - and she certainly reminds me I am 56! When I asked her if she wanted to have some music on as she ate her dinner, without hesitation and in all seriousness she said she would rather like to listen to Coldplay! So that’s what we played and in truth, it was lovely to hear such fine music again.