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Father and son mark World Suicide Prevention Day with launch of Wales-wide men’s suicide prevention initiative

A father and son who shared suicidal thoughts have teamed up to launch helpu.org.uk – an initiative aimed at addressing the stark statics that men are nearly four times as likely as women to die from suicide in Wales, where male suicide rates continue to be higher than England’s.

Ian Smith and his son Jake are behind Helpu. –  the Welsh word for ‘to help.’ It is a hub connecting men to resources, groups and each other by sensitively showcasing the personal experiences of men from all walks of life, who have overcome mental health challenges.

The charity launches on World Suicide Prevention Day [Sunday, September 10th] and Cardiff-based film maker and former BBC producer, Ian, said: “Jake and I have a great relationship, where we can and do talk about anything – but not suicidal thoughts we’ve both been hiding for years.”

Jake, who is also a film maker, struggled with suicidal thoughts from the age of 15 to 20 and once reached for a kitchen knife. Ian first felt suicidal when he was coming to terms with being gay. They have filmed their raw and powerful conversation, to launch Helpu. and to encourage other men to talk.

Ian was married to Jake’s mum for over ten years in his early 20s and said: “At the time I was going through ‘Pray the gay away’ reparative therapy in a church context. You can understand why you might feel rubbish about yourself, because in the ideological world of Christianity, gay is bad.

“A lot of it was that I couldn’t please anyone at the time, especially God – I’m not at all religious now. And I couldn’t please the person I was living with…my wife…I wasn’t pleasing anybody. And I certainly wasn’t pleasing myself. There was that overwhelming robotic logic of just ‘I don’t want to be here.”

A psychologist reassured Ian, who says: “That was a big turning point for me. That it’s ok to be gay. It’s alright.’”

Jake has had similar feelings of not wanting to be in this world and would inflict pain on himself. He said: “I think I was striving for someone to listen and that built up into anger, which would turn into arguments, which took me to the point where I would want to hurt myself or would want to hurt other people.

“I was hitting myself and one time went to the drawer to get a knife. I was in a fit of rage. I was so angry. I was looking for someone to care but I didn’t do anything. I just cried.

“I thought, ‘I don’t want to be here anymore. I don’t want to be in this situation, but I don’t know how to get out of it. The only way I knew how was to get really angry. Inflicting the pain by punching myself, by hurting myself, was kind-of easier than the emotional struggle.”

ONS* statistics show that between 2012 and 2021, the male suicide rate per 100,000 in Wales averaged 19.02 and 15.59 in England, for the same period. Historical statistics show that there have been fluctuations, but male suicide rates in Wales have always been higher than England since 1981 – when Wales had 8.581 male suicides per 100,000 and England had 16.879.

Ian is also a qualified therapist and has worked with Mind Cymru, Cardiff University’s Wellbeing Service, and is currently working within the Welsh Youth Justice System.

He said: “There could be several complex factors contributing to these concerning statistics showing Wales’ higher male suicide rates. Socioeconomic disparities, regional access to mental health services, cultural attitudes toward mental health and other environmental variables may all play roles.

“Understanding these factors is essential for policymakers, healthcare professionals and mental health advocates to develop targeted interventions and support mechanisms to address the issue.”

Helpu. aims for zero suicides by empowering men’s mental health in every corner of Wales because, Ian says: “Access to men’s mental health can be a geographic lottery, especially in rural Wales. We want to amplify voices of those who have come through difficult times.”

Helpu. is currently supported by peer volunteers, overseen by an expert advisory board of local councillors, Senedd Members, therapists and media professionals.

Those who feature on the website all share their stories and coping mechanisms, to provide hope and reduce stigma around male suicide. Social media will be a crucial platform in ensuring Helpu. is as accessible as possible. Face-to-face meetings will also be available.

Jake, from Newport, said: “I guess there’s an embarrassment about talking about the lowest point in your life.

“Dad isn’t the stereotypical father who says, ‘Don’t talk about your emotions.’ We do talk. So it’s weird we hadn’t talked about this.

“When you’re in such dark moments, you’re at a point where you are already struggling to communicate and to speak to people and you might not have people around to talk to. Helpu. will address that.”