Friday 14 December 2018

Celebrity suicide is not a fashion to be copied

Robin Williams
Robin Williams

John Masterson

The language brigade have pulled me up once or twice for using the phrase "committed suicide" and told me it is "died by suicide". They then give me a lecture telling me it is no longer a crime. This is real tinkering around the edges of the issue. Sadly, it does nothing to address the problem.

Now it is much loved chef Anthony Bourdain. I had never heard of Kate Spade until last week. The day her death was reported, I learned that she was a big deal, and one colleague showed me the bag that she carries most days. Sure enough, it was a Kate Spade. "This was the first good work bag I ever bought, and I love it," she told me. I notice Ivanka Trump lost no time in leading the tributes to Kate.

I have no idea what goes on in the minds of L'Wren Scott, Alexander McQueen, Avicii and Robin Williams to name but a few. All were highly successful people who made decisions to end their lives, and all of their deaths were widely reported. In the four months after Robin Williams's death there was a 10pc increase in suicide in the United States, with a disproportion number using the same method, and a peak in the male 30-44 age group.

No matter how bad most of us feel, we retain a fear of death. One theory goes that reading about celebrity deaths may help people overcome their natural fear of death.

According to the National Suicide Research Foundation, our figures peaked in 2100 with 554 suicides. This figure has gradually reduced, and one suspects the economy has a role in that. The 2016 provisional figure was 399, still far too many, with males accounting for 80pc.

The cultural context of suicide varies from country to country and has changed hugely in Ireland in the last few decades. From being a crime and a sin and pretty much unthinkable, it has become an option and something that has touched many families, schools and workplaces.

The Samaritans are at the end of a phone line. Good counselling can reduce thoughts of suicide. Cognitive behaviour therapy can help.

While it is no longer a crime to commit suicide, it is a crime to assist someone. I can clearly remember my mother, a nurse, making me promise not to let her die in pain. I knew what she meant. In any case, morphine eased her out of this world. I hope to die in my bed. If terminally ill, I hope to be in the fine care of home care nurses and surrounded by friends and family. I know I would not be able to take my own life until the very final stages. Then I would like to be able to choose my time rather than have to cling on for days and prolong the suffering for everyone, having left it too late for the trip to Switzerland.

Newspapers must report these celebrity deaths. You hear about youngsters fantasising about their funerals and I cannot but think that tributes from the likes of the US president's daughter must make some vulnerable people with a desire for attention even more vulnerable.

I have no solution. The 'war on drugs' doesn't work and we keep on doing it. With suicide I think we need a lot more than talking cures.

We have to find a way whereby it is not, any more, an option to even be considered.

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