Beneath a smile: Why are gay men at a high risk of suicide?

Jarrad Williams has a striking smile. I’d like to say it was the first thing I noticed upon meeting him, but that wouldn’t be quite true -it was his bright green hair, with the smile coming a very close second.

Jarrad is from Rotherham, South Yorkshire. We met the day before his nineteenth birthday at Sheffield Pride, where he was with his partner and a friend, seemingly having a great time, taking in the relaxed atmosphere at Sheffield’s Endcliffe Park.

In a quiet area, set away from the conversations of the many festival goers and the performers on the main stage, Jarrad tells me he’s been suicidal since he was twelve years old.

JARRAD PIC 1
Jarrad Williams

Twelve was when Jarrad came out to his family, and he says his sexuality has been a cause of friction ever since.

“My Dad was very unaccepting and said I don’t support you… I don’t care.”

As Jarrad openly talks about his anxiety and depression, which have developed over the years, he asks:

“[If] my family can’t accept me, why would anybody else?”

But Jarrad has his own personal fears surrounding his sexuality, and they stretch beyond the disapproval, he feels stems from his family.

“I’d rather go out my own way rather than someone else killing me …honestly it’s a possibility,” Jarrad says.

Jarrad admits that incidences of ‘gay bashing’ has led him to continuously ask: “Is it ok? Am I safe?”

“I’ve had help before, but sometimes [my suicidal thoughts] just peak …they come and go.”

Statistics reveal that suicide is the UK’s biggest killer of men under 50, with men being three times more likely to take their lives than women. In addition to mental health, socio-economic factors such as isolation, unemployment and relationship breakdowns have been identified as some common contributors to suicide risk.

Pride Sheffield 2017
Pride Sheffield 2017

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of  The Sexual Offences Act, which came into force in 1967. The act decriminalised private sexual activity between gay people aged over 21 in England and Wales.

Since then, positive attitudes towards same sex relationships have seen a steady increase in Britain, particularly over the last thirty years or so.

“We’re going further and further towards more acceptance but there’s also [still] a lot of non acceptance,” says Jarrad.

The rising rates of homophobic hate crimes seem to confirm this. The Gay British Survey found that more than three quarters of people identifying as LGBT who had experienced a hate crime or incident, did not report it to the police. Half of the victims who did report a crime or incident, said that no further action was taken. The survey also revealed that 6% of gay, lesbian and bisexual people count crime as their biggest fear.

Jarrad is much better at managing his fears of being targeted, now that he’s identified what triggers his depression. His suicidal thoughts have also decreased. Jarrad has close friends he calls upon whenever he is feeling particularly low.

“[My friends] will be there where my family might not be. I’m friends with a lot of my friend’s parents as well, they kind of do a lot of mothering and fathering,” says Jarrad.

“I have a good support network now, but when I was younger, that’s when a lot of the issues came to light …that’s when it was really bad.”

However, Jarrad is not fully recovered, his anxieties still remain. The 2014 report Youth Chances found levels of anxiety and depression to be particularly high within the gay community, with self-harm and suicide attempts outnumbering those of heterosexuals. Of the 7,000 LGBT 16-24 year olds who were surveyed, it found:

52% had reported self-harm

42% had sought medical help for anxiety or depression

44% had considered suicide.

Tom Bilton, 20, is from Sheffield, he struggled with suicidal thoughts when he went through a period of homelessness. Tom was able to gain access to a youth worker via a charity and it was then that he shared what he was going through. Together, Tom and his youth worker went to see a GP.

“People could be really scared to go and ask for help. They might feel that what they’re feeling isn’t legitimate,” said Tom.

“[When I went to the GP] I was talking about my suicidal thoughts mainly [and] trying to get control over that. They said that they’d get back in contact and that I’d go and see someone to talk to …and it’s been over a year and I’ve never heard anything back.”

“I say people shouldn’t feel bad about going to the GP to talk about their mental health, but I just feel that pressure.”

“Knowing that there’s other people that wouldn’t have gone to the GP in the first place…”

“I probably wouldn’t have gone if I didn’t have a youth worker. It [was] a luxury a lot of people don’t have.”

TOM PIC
Tom Bilton

Just last month, Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt revealed his plans to improve mental health provision in the UK, pledging £1.3 billion towards providing a 24/7 service and recruiting 21,000 nurses, therapists, consultants and psychiatrists.

The Royal College of Nursing, however, is sceptical about this promise.  It states that there are 5000 fewer mental health nurses under this government and that a lot of work will need to be done just to get the numbers of specialist nurses back up to where they were in 2010.

Attracting people into the nursing profession will also be a challenge, according to Janet Davies, RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary, who said:

“[…] We have seen that the withdrawal of the bursary has led to a sharp fall in university applications and we are yet to see funding for additional places.”

Mr Hunt’s mental health plan followed a report released by the Quality Care Commission just a few weeks earlier. It found that although 68% of core services provided by NHS Trusts were found to be good, 39% of NHS trusts obtained the requires improvement rating.

Staff shortages, poor quality information systems and commissioning of crisis care services were key areas of concern.

Tom and Jarrad have not needed crisis care due to the intervening support of the charity, which helped Tom contact a GP, and also the friends who provide a support network for Jarrad. Help was available when each man sought it.

Although asking for help may be hard for some, Jarrad sees this as the best thing anyone who is feeling suicidal can do.

“Someone will always listen,” says Jarrad.

“There’s always someone that will miss you.”

 

Luchia Robinson

If you are feeling suicidal or if you are going through an overwhelming situation, you can talk to The Samaritans. Call them for free, any time on 116 123.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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