Some people woke up this morning feeling dark, empty, hopeless. Maybe they didn’t sleep, again. They feel desperate, crazy even, from lack of sleep. Not being able to think straight, not even knowing that they’re not thinking straight. Some people today can see no value, no point in being alive. There is no joy, not even peace. A quiet mind would be enough. But how to get that…
I understand that those of us left behind to ask the questions and feel the almost unbearable pain of separation and grief need someone, something to blame. But someone else’s suicide is not about what was done “to” you or me. It’s about the one who felt they had no choice but to leave. If we are the one left behind though, that brings with it a world of different pain.
It’s hard not to take suicide personally. I know people who have struggled for years with guilt and rage when a loved one chooses death over life. And fear – what if someone else does it? How can I prevent this?
This is undeserved pain. We aren’t be responsible for someone else’s choices. But collectively, we might be able to influence future choices.
So what can we do?
I am a happy bunny in that we are at least talking about suicide. The recent Netflix show 13 Reasons Why brought a lot of focussed attention to the issue this year – particularly teen suicide. If you decide to binge-watch this show (as I did earlier this year), make sure you watch both seasons and consider watching it with your teen if you have one, and if you deem it suitable (I’m thinking not your tween though, and parts of it are difficult to watch whatever your age). Your teen will most likely have a lot to say about this show, even though it’s ‘old news’ now really. Your friends and colleagues might have a lot to say too.
This show, for all its faults, got us talking about teen culture – which is our culture: bullying, sexual assault, friendships, mental health and suicide. If you’re into Netflix this might be a good week to revisit thinking and talking about that show.
Things worth noting:
It’s worth noting that research tells us that talking about suicide does not increase its likelihood. I know lots of us are scared to mention it – particularly if we see someone self-harming. Another thing to note is that self-harm does not necessarily mean suicide is inevitable. Further worth noting is that most people consider suicide at some point in their lives. But we don’t all act on our thoughts. For most of us these thoughts are transient and appear at times of grief, high stress or periods of burnout or insomnia.
While I’m here I want to say this too – I don’t believe in the whole “just for attention” thing being an answer to any question. We must ask – why does this person need such attention? Why might they appear so selfish?
A major cause for concern is where there is self-harming, and a plan around suicide. When we ‘get our affairs in order’, start saying goodbye – in other words when we go about having a means to carry out this fantasy. But honestly, this is usually done in secret, so loved ones have very little hope of catching these signals. This is why mental health professionals ask these questions if someone tells us they are thinking about suicide. But even then, sadly, some will still choose suicide. It remains the person’s choice. It’s untrue, in my opinion, to say that all suicide is preventable. I remain confident though that we can work together to get our rate to continue to fall.
You are NOT a burden:
But I get that a lot of us feel like we are. I hear clients saying, all the time, that they don’t want to burden friends/ family, that they have “their own stuff”. If that’s how you feel, no amount of reassurance on this piece will work – but please feel OK about alerting a professional if you are concerned about yourself or a loved one. There are organisations out there with professionals who are specifically trained to do this work and to offer you support – whichever position you are in. The Samaritans (tel 116113) and Pieta House (021 4395555) are two such places. There are hundreds of private and public counsellors, psychologists and psychotherapists – I believe we have more per capita in Cork than anywhere in Europe! There are some wonderfully compassionate and skilled GPs.
And never underestimate the power and value of friendship.
I’m painfully aware of how strained and under-resourced our mental health services are but please, don’t give up. There is help, but it may require some effort and courage to access. If necessary, get help getting help.
Now that we are all talking more, my hope is that it will be easier to say if we’re not OK. The act of saying how we (really) are can change how we feel.
Now – how are you today so far??
You know what the most common lie we tell is??
Your Suicide Awareness Week homework:
Don’t worry – this homework gets easier with practice! So, try something new: when someone asks how you are, tell them. It needn’t be a long story – it might be simply – “not so good today – thanks so much for asking” or “actually, I feel terrible, have you time for chat?” When you ask someone how they are – double check – really? Are you fine?
Let’s stop lying to ourselves and each other – it may well save a life!
So, is suicide selfish?
Is it helpful to ask that question or make that judgment I wonder? For me that’s the wrong question. Why do we choose suicide? That’s a better question. And we can all help with that one. Be kinder to yourself and to others – that’s a great start.