The death of any person at the age of 42 is something of a tragedy, when they leave families behind it is even more so.  It happens, and all too frequently figures in 2008 showed 5,377 deaths attributed to suicide, for men the figure is 17.7 per 100,000 population (it is 5.4/100k in women).  The 2008 figures were said to have risen due to the economic crisis and the effect this was having on people but I believe this is grossly over-simplistic and brushing the issue under the carpet where it has been for many years.  We will see when figures for Greece are revealed that show whether or not the rates have risen from the (M5.2/F0.9 in 2009) The trouble with figures is that they are flat, they have no person attached to them but when one of those deaths is high profile it is at least more likely to come to the attention of a wider spectrum of people and may, possibly, throw a spotlight on the matter of suicide and its causes, for a while.

Certainly the case of Gary Speed’s suicide seems to have caught everyone in the public eye by surprise, at least those who are saying anything.  What is interesting is that the world of sport including people that have been quick to class themselves as friends (and I have no reason to doubt their sincerity) have expressed their shock and concentrated on how much of a nice guy Gary Speed was.  This is pretty much the norm when someone dies, naturally they will not be interviewing people who either did not know or did not get on with the deceased.  Speed was described by more than one person as “the nicest man in football.”  Some hours before his death he had appeared on BBC’s Football Focus, which appears to have made his death shortly thereafter even more of a head-scratcher, the inference being who could have known, he seemed to have so much to live for.  This tends to be the stock response from people when dealing with a case of suicide.  It is true for them it is usually a bolt from the blue.  Should it be?  There is often the belief that there will have been cries for help that could have been heeded, “if only I’d done… this/that …perhaps I could have stopped it, perhaps I should have helped.”  But people who are actually going to commit suicide do not let others know in advance, they do not warn those around them because they do not wish to be stopped, there is rarely any cry for help at the time.

The fallout is one of loss and guilt, it makes those left behind feel bereft and powerless, those a little closer to the person in question do often have anger and the feeling of being let down by all the shit that has been left behind, it is seen by many as an ultimately selfish act.  This is not how the person will have seen it, of that I am almost certain, in fact usually it is the diametric opposite.  I do not know what was going on in Gary Speed’s mind that would have caused him on this occasion to have taken his own life,  I do not know if he might have considered it before or how long he may have been struggling.  I do not know if his situation is the feeling of hopelessness and the sense of being a burden to those he loved around him which can often be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  Did he see his removal as the only option to stop the hurt caused to those he cared about.  This may seem strange in the case of someone with a good job, a nice house, family, prospects, all the things most people aspire to, but aspirations rarely include what mental health condition you may have when you grow up.

If we look at the number of people we see in high profile jobs and tally it with the known 1 in 4 statistic then it would be no surprise that a large number of them may have mental health conditions.  If Match Of The Day has three pundits and a presenter then one of them statistically is likely to have or have had a mental health condition.  The lack of this being addressed shows that whilst progress has been made it is still taking a long time due in no small part to the stigma that still accompanies mental health conditions and hidden disabilities.  High profile figures are wary of declaring such conditions for fear that it may harm their image and thus their careers.  Given the ignorance and intolerance in wider society they have grounds for such concern.

To hear some of the comments about Gary Speed’s case shed some light on it.  For example On Match of the Day 2 today Mark Lawrenson stated that “he was such a normal person a normal family man… to achieve what he’s done and be normal…”  I’m sure that Lawrenson does not mean ill with his tribute, he thinks he is being sensitive and preventing Gary Speed being thought of as a weirdo.

There is never really any good that comes from a death but one can only hope that these deaths are not entirely in vain, perhaps they might prevent others from taking the same path, or assist those left behind in such cases deal with it better.  I do not know if Gary Speed ever sought, or got, help, but perhaps his death might allow some people a brief period where they are not quite so ostracised and misunderstood, as a long time captain of most of the teams he played for it might be seen as setting a fitting example.

Song Of The Day ~ Thomas Tantrum – Hot Hot Summer