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The taboo of suicide in accountancy


Accountancy is a profession where the culture of presenteeism and being ‘always on’ puts serious pressure on accountants’ mental health. To mark suicide prevention day, Lucy Cohen discusses the biggest taboos of mental health.

17th Sep 2020
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During the last few months accountants have been under tremendous stress as they worked tirelessly to support their clients as well as keeping their own businesses running. 

Some have lost loved ones during the pandemic and been unable to process the loss or grieve properly. Almost all accountants have taken on the burden of worrying about their clients businesses as well as their own. 

Those who had children at home all the time had no space to breathe or time for themselves, with subsequent homeschooling responsibilities added to the pile of burdens. Romantic relationships have been put under strain. Even popping to the supermarket suddenly became a monumental effort.

The impact of the pandemic on the mental health of SME owners is just as alarming. In a survey conducted by the ACCA and the Corporate Finance Network, 89% accountants said their clients have reported feeling more stressed than usual, while 11% said their clients shared the fact that they’ve had suicidal thoughts. 

Suicide is still a word that gives pause. It’s one of the last taboos of mental health, and a topic that we desperately need to become more comfortable talking about. Open discussions around depression, anxiety and mental health have become far more prevalent in today’s working world. However, suicide still remains a subject that we shy away from. 

Not all suicides are mental health-related, but research conducted by the charity Mind shows that a significant proportion of people who take their own lives have asked for help with their mental health in the last 12 months. So if we’re talking about mental health, we need to talk about suicide too.

We’re witnessing an alarming rise in suicide rates in the UK, specifically in men. Data from the ONS shows that in 2019 the male suicide rate of 16.9 deaths per 100,000 in England and Wales was the highest since 2000, with men aged 45-49 being at highest risk of suicide. And these are pre-pandemic figures. 

It’s been well documented that the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental wellbeing has been devastating. 

You are not alone

While there are no guarantees that the impact of the pandemic will increase the rate of suicide, it’s certainly something that we need to be mindful of. 

The Samaritans has reported a rise in people calling with concerns over losing their income, jobs and homes, and concerns around their business and their finances. All of which are known risk factors for suicide which the pandemic has exacerbated.

Most people will experience periods of sadness or feeling depressed at some point in their lives. Many of us will experience depression. 

In fact, almost one in five adults were likely to be experiencing some form of depression, indicated by moderate to severe depressive symptoms, during the pandemic (June 2020). This had almost doubled from around one in ten before the pandemic (July 2019 to March 2020).

Understanding and supporting

The vast majority of us would be able to help a friend or colleague who said they were experiencing a period of poor mental health, or who suffer with anxiety, or have been diagnosed with depression. But what would you do if someone said they were having suicidal thoughts? Or even if you yourself have had them? 

It is not unlikely that you will be faced with this scenario in the future. Suicidal thoughts (suicide ideation) is not uncommon. One in five people have thought about suicide at some time in their life. And not all people who die by suicide have mental health problems at the time they die. 

As with everything there is a wide spectrum – thoughts can range from being fleeting all the way through to actively planning a suicide. 

Talk to someone

What’s really important to remember is that most people who feel suicidal don’t actually want to die – they just don’t want the life they have right now. It’s an important distinction and highlights how crucial it is to talk about suicidal feelings. 

Simply talking them through with someone can offer great comfort to those suffering. Yes, it’s a taboo topic. But if you can get over how uncomfortable it makes you feel, you can save a life, maybe even yours. 

Many people who have felt suicidal have spoken about what a great relief it was to share those feelings with someone.

Triggers and trust

While suicide is often linked to mental health conditions such as depression, life factors can also be a trigger. The loss of a loved one, financial pressures, workplace stress – they are all recognised as contributing factors for suicidal thoughts and suicide. 

Let’s face it – the world has been an uncertain and scary place this year. 

Things have been really tough. I’ll be the first to admit that at times I have really struggled and I’ve become depressed and despondent. I’ve come out the other side of it each time – but when you’re deep in that pit it can feel like you’ll never feel happy again.

At your lowest point, there is still hope

“I went to bed each night hoping that I wouldn’t wake up. Praying that some mystery illness would take me in my sleep so that my family would avoid the pain of what I was planning to do. Thankfully, I never acted on my ideation. A friend, who sensed that I was struggling, reached out and helped me get help. But those were dark dark days.”

The quote above is from a friend of mine who, understandably, wishes to remain anonymous. 

However, when I told them that I was writing this piece, they wanted to share how they felt. And to promise people that even when you’re at your lowest point, there is still hope.

Are you ok?

Take a moment to check in with yourself and make sure that you’re ok. If you’re not, reach out to someone now.

So what do you do if you, or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts?

1. Tell someone. No matter how scary that feels. You need to reach out and ask for help. There is no right or wrong way to talk about suicidal feelings, the most important thing is that you start the conversation by talking to someone you trust. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone you know, then the following helplines are available:

Samaritans – for everyone

Call 116 123

Email [email protected]

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – for men

Call 0800 58 58 58 – 5pm to midnight every day

Visit the webchat page

Papyrus – for people under 35

Call 0800 068 41 41 – Monday to Friday 9am to 10pm, weekends and bank holidays 2pm to 10pm

Text 07860 039967

Email: [email protected]

Childline – for children and young people under 19

Call 0800 1111 – the number will not show up on your phone bill – advice for helping a friend

2. Know how to cope right now, in the moment. Don’t think about the future, concentrate on getting through today. If you need to, take it one breath at a time. Try to stay away from drugs and alcohol and if you can, get yourself to a safe space like a friend or family member’s house.

3. Have a safety plan. The Staying Safe website has excellent advice on how to keep yourself safe from suicidal thoughts.

Finally, remember that no matter how uncomfortable the discussion may feel, or how you can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel, talking will provide you with relief and hope.

Let’s take the taboo away from talking about suicide.


Replies (4)

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By martinf81
18th Sep 2020 10:56

Great article, that's spot on.

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By Jane S-D
18th Sep 2020 11:56

Thank you. The other thing I would add is that if you really feel you are not safe go to A & E and ask to see the duty psychiatrist. Useful if you can have someone with you to plead your cause - have had to do this with various family members over the years.

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By North East Accountant
18th Sep 2020 13:48

There is some great support out there as highlighted in the article.

Please don't be ashamed or afraid to ask for help if you are struggling in any way.

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By farrcorfe
19th Sep 2020 17:43

HMRC's headlong rush into Making Tax Digital will contribute to the suicide rates of accountants and their SMEs. I hope someone from the Revenue reads this post. If I get diagnosed with terminal cancer or a heart condition then I'll be glad to go after 50 years at the coal face. (But definitely NOT suicidal)

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