Jerome Rogers was a 19 year old man from Croydon who took his own life in 2016 after amassing debts he couldn’t afford to pay. His story was dramatically shown by the BBC in July 2018 in a documentary called “Killed By My Debt”.
In this program, we see how Jerome gets a job as a courier for Citysprint on a zero-hours contract and coupled with two increasing traffic fines he can’t afford to pay, a payday loan and threats from Bailiffs, he eventually decides that he can’t cope anymore and takes his own life.
The debt camel has given an in-depth account of the financial events leading up to his suicide on the money principle’s blog. I think it’s an excellent piece, and I don’t want to cover this story in the same way.
Instead, I want people to understand that it is easy to “blame the system” for this man’s death – the bailiff, the mounting fines, payday lenders, zero hours contracts etc.
Yes I understand that this is a toxic mix of debt and poor working conditions, but there is an overarching “elephant in the room”.
And that is mindset.
If Jerome had received positive support for getting out of debt, I have no doubt that he would be alive today.
Help Is Out There
What is so frustrating is that there is so much fantastic support out there too!
According to Happiful Magazine, the “StepChange Debt Charity was contacted by more than 326,000 people looking for debt support in the first half of 2017 – the charity got a call every 48 seconds on average”
Help with suicidal thinking or just needing someone to talk to can be found via the Samaritans. If things are really bad, then you need to go to A&E.
Killed By My Mindset
The sad fact is though, men are far more likely to take their own lives in the UK to fix a problem than to seek help.
The Samaritans release a report every year about suicide rates in the UK. It makes for a sobering read.
The risk of suicide is higher for everyone aged 45-49, but for men it is slightly earlier, and women it is slightly later. The main point to drive home is that men are 3 times more likely in the UK to go through with a suicide than women.
There is huge debate as to why men choose suicide more than women – you may even have your own ideas, but this is a topic for another discussion.
Suicide is often a gradual process – starting with suicidal thoughts, to then planning, then attempting, to then ultimately dying. In Jerome’s case, there was no attempt – it happened first time, but it took less than a year to get to that point. His GP said that he had no history of depression, but how do we really know this? We can be very good at hiding our thoughts and feelings to pretend “we’re ok” to the outside world. You only have to look at someone like Robin Williams to see that.
Even though Jerome’s financial state was the trigger, I believe the internet was the incubator that cultivated his suicidal thinking.
The Internet Is A Double-Edged Sword
According to the BBC report, Jerome was using online forums to help him, and instead, comes across many hundreds of people who are in debt and suicidal.
Like this post from a Reddit user: (Thread)
“Im (sic) about to fucking kill myself, but either nobody wants to listen, they just don’t care, or they don’t take me seriously”
And while this kind of post isn’t the only thing that is discussed on these forums (there are actually some people on them asking for help with picking a therapist, and others offering words of help and support for example), there are plenty of people writing about their pain and suffering, and how they are planning on taking their own lives.
When you mix this with someone who is as stressed as Jerome was, then you have a big problem.
We Want To Belong
As human beings, it is in our nature to seek out others who think and feel like us. It gives us a sense of belonging and relief to know others are, and it stems from our prehistoric wiring.
The more we are thinking about something, the more we seem to attract it. To illustrate this, have you ever thought about buying something like a car, and see the exact model you want absolutely everywhere? This is our brain filtering it for us so this seems to be all we see.
It’s also the basis for positive attraction – if we look for the good, we’ll find it. Gratitude is great for reminding us of what we have. A few minutes a day of this and it gives me a much better outlook on life.
Humans are really good however at looking at the negative. We have to – it’s what kept us safe from sabretooth tigers and poison berries.
We no longer need to protect ourselves from these prehistoric dangers, but the wiring is still there. The triggers are now work, money and the constant bombardment of information from our environment and our phones.
Taking this phenomenon to it’s worst effect – the more a person thinks about killing themselves, the worse and more intrusive the thoughts get (unless an intervention occurs to break the chain), and the more likely they are to follow through on it.
Social media has a huge part to play in this as well. Most of us only show the positive stuff happening in our lives, and if someone is feeling stressed, anxious and depressed, this exacerbates their symptoms because they feel that they don’t measure up.
Although the BBC account doesn’t say it, I’m willing to bet that Jerome was looking at posts that made him feel worse about his own situation through comparison of others who seemed much better off than him.
And we all know deep down that these accounts are all exaggerations of the truth – snapchat filters are a case in point. How many of us have used them to take better pictures to share?
I’ll go first: *raises her hand in agreement*.
It’s Now Affecting Our Children
I sat in with a psychologist not too long ago as part of my training in children’s mental health, and I was shocked at the number of children now using internet search engines to find out how to kill themselves. For example, one boy at the age of 13 was looking at “painless ways to die”.
I tried to find out how easy this is, and with a quick google search, had over 57 million results in less than 1 second. Thankfully the top result was the Samaritans helpline number and the NHS offering support (thank you google), but this was quickly followed by the forum Quora, a list of top 10 ways to kill yourself, and a website that provides detailed information on committing suicide.
My heart breaks.
THIS is what caused Jerome to die. It was not simply the case that the money problems he was in did it (although this was a significant factor at triggering it). How many of us have money worries and seek help from debt charities and other sources such as books, blogs, family and friends without ever needing to resort to online chat forums or pro-suicide websites?
So I hope you can see that while I don’t discount the financial stressors on Jerome’s death, the internet has a huge (and unspoken) part to play in this story. I think that companies need to take more responsibility to help those seeking answers.
If anyone from google/microsoft is reading this, I know you’re trying, but can you come up with something more? Maybe a built-in centre page pop-up box that displays the Samaritans website/helpline number for anyone who appears to be seeking help with depression, or advice on how to kill themselves no matter where they are on the internet? You can block adverts, so why not things like this? Refusing to list websites on page one of a search with these kinds of negative messages would also be helpful. You’re clever, I’m sure you can think of more things you could do.
And we all need to be vigilant too. Offer to have coffee with a friend who is struggling. Keep in as much contact as possible. It doesn’t take 5 minutes to send a tweet or a text. And if you’re the one suffering – please please please please please get help. Go to A&E, go to your GP, ring Samaritans or open up to a friend or family member. ANYONE, JUST NOT REDDIT OR ANY OTHER PRO-SUICIDE WEBSITE – because we all know where that has the potential to lead.
Now just to finish on something positive – the samaritans are a FREE service that runs 24/7. They do a fantastic job, and it’s all run on charity. Why not donate a little something to them in your next paycheck so they can help keep as many people safe as possible.
Let’s do some good!
Until next time,
If you’re looking for something else to read – why not try this: