To mark World Suicide Prevention Day, here are 6 things that you should know about suicide.
- It’s not always a cry for help. Even failed attempts – sometimes, that’s exactly what they are. Sometimes – blessedly – it doesn’t work. Just because someone is still here, it doesn’t mean that this is what they’ve always wanted. Invalidating someone’s past because of their present is an awful thing to do. Don’t ever tell someone that they didn’t feel as bad as they say they did just because they’re still here. If they made it through, whether it was against their will or not, then that is not something to ridicule or scoff at. You have no right to tell someone ‘well, you can’t have meant it if you didn’t succeed’. You have no ownership over their feelings or their illness. You are not entitled to this discussion.
- Sometimes it is a cry for help, and that doesn’t make it any less important. It’s not ‘attention seeking’ to say that you’ve had enough of doing it alone. It’s not pathetic or immature. The image of a suicide attempt as being the melodramatic efforts of a bored teenager who just wants attention – this needs to stop. Sometimes, attention is called for because it is needed.
Imagine you’ve broken your leg. You go to a doctor, who tells you it’s sprained and gives you painkillers that barely take the edge off. You get an appointment, which takes 3 weeks to happen, to go to another doctor. You tell them that you know your leg is broken, but the first doctor didn’t listen. They refer you to a leg specialist, because they’re not qualified to make the clinical decision. This referral takes 6 months. Your leg is getting worse. The leg specialist tells you that the pills the first doctor prescribed will work. You know that they won’t. The specialist refers you back to the first doctor to get a stronger prescription. This takes a month. By now, every step is agony. You know your leg is broken, and that the painkillers the doctor wants to prescribe you will not work, but they aren’t offering anything else. Your friends tell you to stop complaining; the doctor has prescribed you pills, so you’re just making a fuss over nothing. The doctor knows what he’s doing, they say. You go back to the first doctor. It’s been over 7 months since you broke your leg. You ask the doctor to refer you to hospital, where they can x-ray your leg and give you specialised painkillers. Your doctor tells you that it’s a sprain, and won’t refer you. He prescribes paracetamol. Your leg hurts so much that you can barely stand up and walk out of the appointment room. You know that the pills won’t work, but you’ve already exhausted all your options. You can’t go back to the second doctor, as they’ll just refer you to someone else. The specialist won’t see you again, and even if they will, it’ll take 6 months because the waiting list is so long. You think about 6 months of agony. You think about the agony not stopping. You think about the paracetamol, how it’s the only thing they’re going to give you, and how it won’t help.
What would you do? Would you take the paracetamol, or would you do anything in your power to make them take you seriously? What would you do to heal yourself?
- It’s not rare. In the UK alone, nearly 6,000 people ended their own lives in 2012. That statistic doesn’t take failed attempts into account. An estimated 1/10 people suffers from depression every year. 1/4 people will suffer from a mental illness in their lifetime. These are facts. Mental illness is not a small problem. It’s not something that people make up to get sympathy. It’s not something that happens to other people. It’s real, and it’s a big issue.
- We’re ignoring it. The stigma attached to mental illness is huge. For some reason, it’s still completely socially unacceptable to disclose a mental illness. People are worried to tell their employers about it in case they’re fired. I myself have been turned down from a job on the grounds of mental health – illegal under discrimination acts, but I was too ashamed to contest it. Society doesn’t want to know. Mental illness makes up 22.8% of the disease burden of the UK, yet receives only 11% of NHS funding. Less than a third of all people with mental health problems receive treatment for their illness. It’s hard to say which is the biggest factor in this disturbing statistic: is it the lack of funding to permit treatment, or is it the heavy social stigma that makes people reluctant to seek help?
- It’s not something to be ashamed of. Many people treat those who have attempted suicide or suffered from suicidal thoughts as though they’re lesser beings, somehow. Well, why are we? What is it about the illness I suffer that makes me any less worthy than the person sat next to me on the bus? I have a chemical imbalance in my brain. That brain of mine that lets me do so many things I love – well, sometimes it’s just a bit of a shit. Sometimes, it makes me stare at walls for hours on end and start crying in the street, and sometimes it makes me see faces where there are none. Most of the time I’m in control of it, but sometimes I’m not. I still hear people laughing at me when they’re talking on the phone, and I hear noises at night and it hurts to get out of bed and I’m afraid every time I feel sad – every single time – because what if this time is the time that being sad means something worse?
Living with a mental illness is absolutely exhausting. It can be a nightmare, and people don’t want to hear about it. People don’t want to hear about the 3 months I spent in a dull fog of emptiness, too devoid of emotion to even cry, unable to get out of bed except to use the toilet. People don’t want to know about the time I had a panic attack in a public toilet and made everyone think I must have eaten something really bad (and really, that’s one of my funnier tales of madness). People don’t want to hear about the time I couldn’t stop crying for 8 hours and I couldn’t see it ever ending and I missed the people I’d lost and I wondered if anything was infinite because this seemed like it might be and I thought that the one infinite thing I could cope with was an infinite end to these chemicals and the lies they were telling me that I believed and then I took my life in my hands and I made my heart stop and I woke up with my body in a hospital bed and my mind still whirring like it would never stop – people won’t let me talk about that. Sure, I can talk about how well I’m doing now, but if I try and frame it in the context of my illness? Well, I should just get over it, because clearly I’m coping. Even when I’m not coping, people assume that I am because I’m still here. People assume that I don’t need or want to talk. Well, sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t, but it would be nice to have the option.
People treat me like I’m alone in my experiences – and worse, like I deserve to be alone because of them. Well, I don’t, and I’m not. My feelings are valid – they were valid then, and they’re valid now. And if you’ve ever felt like I did then, then I want you to remember these five things. Your feelings are your own. Your feelings are valid. These feelings are rooted in an illness that won’t last forever. There is help out there, if you know where to look. You are not alone.
- You are not alone.
Samaritans: 08457 90 90 90