84 life-size statues of men were seen standing at the edge of tall buildings in central London in late March representing the same number of men lost to suicide every week in the UK – a hard hitting visual project aiming to bring this tragic loss out into the open from behind closed doors.
Common threads emerged from articles published in April:
“Students more likely to kill themselves” in the Times: Researchers from a Hong Kong University analysed the ONS figures and found that the number of university students in Britain increased by 5 per cent between 2012 and 2016. The total number of suicides among students increased by 32 per cent, from 139 to 183 deaths. A think tank said that a law banning universities from contacting the friends and family of students who are struggling should be revisited.
The number of first year university students reporting mental health problems in UK Universities has risen five fold in 10 years. A combination of increasing awareness of mental health issues, a lowering of the taboo previously attached to mental health services, mounting debts, homesickness, loneliness and a greater sense of anxiety about the future may be some of the reasons for it. Some vice-chancellors still think that mental well being is not the business of universities and it’s just about developing the mind. But developing minds means nothing unless students settle down well in their new environment and be ready to learn.
According to recent ONS statistics on loneliness, people between 16-24 are at the epicentre of the loneliness epidemic in the UK. More so than the elderly. Women were found to be lonelier than men. Other variables were renting a home rather than owning one, being single or widowed, having poor health and feeling disconnected from the local community.
In an article entitled “Doctors knew my son was suicidal. I should have been told before he died” in the Guardian, I raise this question yet again: Is confidentiality more important than helping someone at risk to stay alive? Is it correct for a father to be informed by doctors after the death of his son,”Now that he is dead I can tell you that this was not his first attempt”?
Joe put an advert in his local paper which read: “Senior citizen, 89, seeks employment in Paignton area. 20 hours plus per week. Still able to clean, light gardening, DIY and anything. I have references. Old soldier, airborne forces. Save me from dying of boredom!” He said he had lived alone since his wife, Cassandra, died two years ago and had been lonely. “When you live on your own there is no one to speak to. Since she died I’ve moved into a flat and it’s a big block. Once you walk into that flat it’s like solitary confinement,” he said. He is due to start work at a cafe in the town after the owners of the family-run business spotted his request.
Film-maker Sue Bourne says it’s a major public health issue. Her BBC documentary is called “Age of Loneliness”. It tells the stories of 14 people, young and old. “A silent epidemic that’s starting to kill us. But we don’t want to talk about it. No-one really wants to admit they are lonely.”
Si is away for a week. It’s only tolerable because I know I will see him at the end of the week. I tell myself it’s ok but it’s not easy. I miss him. I have something planned with friends for every other evening of the week so that I have something to look forward to. Something to keep me distracted. I can’t imagine how it must feel to loose a spouse or a partner you love and have been with for decades.
View: An online magazine that talks about issues that matter.
Editor: Brian Pelan
A simple source of hot water in Delhi is the sun heating up supply pipes. Very eco-friendly.
Another simple yet highly un-eco-friendly source is an immersion rod. I used it today after about 3 decades. It was like revisiting my university days. The plastic bucket and the broad clip reminded me of the 2 parallel burn marks on the edge of the light blue bucket in college. The soft hissing sound of the frantic molecules was all too familiar. Seeing the little eddies set off by the heat waves made me smile. All those times when I had completely forgotten about the water and got distracted only to come back to the horror of half a bucket or less of absolutely boiling hot water! Adding just the right amount of cold water was crucial especially at the peak of winters.
The geyser with a red and a green light is another old friend. My brother lives with his family in a rented house in a little village in India. The landlord and his wife live in part of the house with a separate entrance. For some reason, the guest-room (my room) bathroom geyser is shared with the land-lord. The switch happens to be in their house. This is never a problem as most people are around most of the time. We forgot to ask them to switch it on in time, hence the immersion rod.
This kind of arrangement between neighbours, land-lords and tenants is normal here. It’s no problem. It’s perfectly workable. There is no desire to change it. I suppose things like this make it a close community. It would be quite unthinkable in more ‘advanced’ settings.
Fact: 4 days is the time it took for our next-door neighbour to find out that Saagar had passed away.
Loneliness – a disturbing word, often invoking a sense of sadness and despair.
It’s not one thing. It is subjective. Imprecise.
It can be found anywhere.
When after many requests you still don’t have a sibling.
When you are born with skin colour darker or lighter than it should be.
When you are the new girl in class.
When you don’t get picked for the team.
When you sit alone at lunch time.
When you are not sure what you want and settle for what is available.
When you are stuck in a loop of cold-hearted bureaucracy.
When you are different.
When you are told ‘you should be happy’ by the one you are married to.
When you work from home and see no humans for many days.
When you feel you have to be somebody else to be successful and accepted.
When you are unable to have children.
When you have an abortion or a miscarriage.
When you have children and don’t see anyone but them all day everyday.
When your family is no longer a family.
When you have a fracture and are stuck in bed for weeks or months.
When ‘Facebook’ and ‘Instagram’ constantly offer comparisons.
When you get fired.
When you have just retired.
When a loved one suddenly disappears.
When you are blamed for a mistake you did not make.
When you get mugged.
When you are diagnosed with a serious illness.
When you are old and so easily forgotten.
Solitary confinement is one of the most severe forms of punishment because it can break your spirit. In 1951 researchers at McGill University paid a group of male graduate students to stay in small chambers equipped with only a bed for an experiment on sensory deprivation. They could leave to use the bathroom, but that’s all. They wore goggles and earphones to limit their sense of sight and hearing, and gloves to limit their sense of touch. The plan was to observe students for six weeks, but not one lasted more than seven days. Nearly every student lost the ability “to think clearly about anything for any length of time,” while several others began to suffer hallucinations. “One man could see nothing but dogs.” A study at Harvard found that roughly a third of many solitary inmates they interviewed were “actively psychotic and/or acutely suicidal.”
In the biggest literature review into the subject of loneliness, the University of York looked at 23 studies involving 181,000 people for up to 21 years. They found that lonely people are around 30 per cent more likely to suffer a stroke or heart disease, two of the leading causes of death in Britain. More than 1 in 5 people in the UK privately admit they are ‘always or often lonely’. It is a public health problem.
I welcome the ‘Commission on Loneliness’ launched in memory of the murdered Labour MP Jo Cox, to look for practical solutions to reduce loneliness in the UK. Let’s do our bit, however small.
“Fools,” said I, “You do not know – Silence like a cancer grows. Hear my words that I might teach you. Take my arms that I might reach you. But my words like silent raindrops fell And echoed in the wells of silence… -Sound of Silence by ‘Simon and Garfunkel’
This time of the year is difficult for many families. Financial pressures, obligatory socialising with people whose affections may not be entirely genuine, a perceived time for evaluating various aspects of one’s life, overindulgence, having to revert back to traditional gender roles, the need for things to be just so…
Many women fear the festive period. Not a year goes by when there isn’t a seasonal rise in incidents of domestic violence reported to the police. Humberside Police Force reports that calls rose from 38% in the rest of the year to 54% in December 2015.
“For too many children across Ireland, being home at Christmas, is not a place of safety, warmth and happiness. It’s a place of fear, loneliness, pain and neglect,” said the ISPCC (Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children). On Christmas day more than 1000 calls were received by their 60 strong staff on Childline service from children reporting distress due to domestic violence and/or alcohol abuse.
Pangs of loneliness are more acutely felt by the elderly and floating populace at this time of the year. Age UK works steadily on reducing loneliness in the elderly, 1.2 million of whom suffer from it on a chronic basis. Their objective is : ‘No one should have no one on Christmas’.
For those of us who have recently lost a dear one, their physical absence is more visibly, painfully and deeply felt than other times. That one less present, that one less seat on the dinner table, that one less name on the card, that one less beaming smile, that one less hug …
She lives in sheltered accommodation. As an octogenarian, it is safer. Her sons think so. When she moved in, she had hoped for some company. She likes a bit of chit-chat. She enjoys people. But she is fairly content. Every other day she neatly pins her hair up, wears one of her long skirts with a woolly jumper, wraps herself up in her sea-green duffle coat, puts on a smile and walks to the high street.
Betsy goes to the post-office to buy and post a card for her grand daughter’s birthday. She picks one with flowers and butterflies and queues. The only other person in the queue is a young woman. She has big black cordless head-phones with a ‘b’ in red covering her ears. She also has a vacant look in her eyes. It seems she is elsewhere. No chance of a chat here. When Betsy arrives at the window, the teller appears to be preoccupied. He is worried that the Post office might have to close down soon. He’s not sure how soon. That worries her. Last year her bank had shut down the branch on this high street.
She used to be able to go to the GP Surgery on days she felt a bit off. In the waiting area she often ran into someone she knew. It was good. But now the rules have changed. There are screens with smiley pictures and buttons. Appointments have to be made weeks in advance. One can’t just show up. Now, she feels like an outsider at her own surgery. She doesn’t like to go there anymore.
The grocery store is always a good place for a chat. The staff are friendly. Sometimes she even runs into familiar faces. She strolls around at her own pace and picks up a pint of milk and a pack of 80 PG tips teabags. As she approaches her favourite part, the check out desk, she is ushered in a perfunctory manner towards three ugly self check-out machines. That confuses her. She is not sure what to do.
It’s been one week since she spoke to anyone. On TV they said that the population of the world is the highest ever and rising – 7.4 billion! That must have lots of zeros.