Last week the ‘youth culture’ (whatever that means) magazine, Vice, made a rather ill-advised decision to run a fashion article depicting female models recreating the suicides of famous writers.
Just reading that synopsis of the shoot makes you wonder how it got past the ideas stage – even more so when you realise that one of the suicides depicted was that of historian Iris Chang, who killed herself in 2004 and whose son is still around.
So, without doubt, a thoughtless move on the part of Vice. However, I’m not interested in jumping on the bandwagon of hate which has
been directed towards this subject in the past week – to be honest I haven’t even seen the pictures so I can’t comment further than as a response to the writing of others.
What has stuck with me more about the situation is that it seems to me that the taboo of suicide is one that is impossible to tackle – a Catch-22 Taboo.
To truly bust a taboo it cannot be put on a pedestal. It has to be opened out and be free for all discussion – which unfortunately means open for parody, ridicule and ill-informed debate.
But here’s the problem with suicide: the Samaritans have guidelines about how and when it should be discussed, which includes not reporting instances of people throwing themselves under a train. The idea behind this is to stop people getting ideas and so reduces copycat suicides.
And it seems to work. The Samaritans tell us that the voluntary restrictions on reporting subway suicides reduced their occurrence by 75% in Vienna and Toronto.
And yet in England and Wales around 24,000 people between the ages of 10 and 19 attempt suicide every year. Globally, around 1 million people kill themselves every year.
Now far be it from me to second guess the Samaritans ….
….but surely saying we can’t openly discuss suicide in all its forms makes it more of a taboo. Suicide exists; ignoring it won’t make it go away.
What we need to do is destroy the pedestal and make it an approachable subject. That way, those in the grip of suicidal thoughts know it is a subject they can talk about and they don’t have to suffer in silence.
Here at WMD, we are big believers that a Man has to deal with his own shit. That means being able to openly approach a situation and sort it out.
Think about it this way: if your washing machine breaks do you sit around ignoring it, hoping it’ll fix itself, or do you get a guy in who knows what he’s doing to fix it?
You break your arm. Do you stare at it in the expectation that it’ll magically fix itself, or do you go see a doctor who can mend it?
You’re suffering from a bout of depression, your thoughts turn suicidal … why is talking to an expert about that any different to dealing with the other issues by ‘getting a guy in’?
It is different because anyone can talk openly about washing machines and broken arms and no-one bats an eyelid. As soon as depression and suicide are raised we’re told we have to be careful what we say. That’s what makes it a taboo.
So let’s stop pussyfooting around here and make this an open conversation where we can encourage guys to sort out their own shit – with a little help – rather than suffer in silence. Otherwise those stats aren’t going to go down.
And we reckon a good place to start that conversation is with our friends over at CALM. As they say, ‘the silence is killing us’, so let’s make some noise.