Suicide isn't something that regularly makes it into everyday conversation. It's that big taboo subject that everyone tends to shy away from, even the word is loaded with all sorts of meanings and negative images. But the fact is that it's something that needs to be spoken about. And it needs to be spoken about now. Suicide is the leading cause of death of men and women aged 20 to 34, overcoming heart disease, road accidents and cancer (Office for National Statistics, 2014). This statistic in itself should convince you that suicide awareness needs to be a public priority, up there with dangerous driving awareness and cancer research. In the run up to Christmas, there is a lot of happiness being shared, but there's also a lot of sadness and despair that goes on behind closed doors, especially at a time of year when happiness is so prominent. This post is about being aware of this and knowing what to do when things take a turn for the worse.
After the recent events at the University of Bristol and the general increase in suicide rates in the UK, it seems now is the time to get over the taboo of talking about suicide and tackle the issue head on. A lot of people simply can't understand how someone can get so low that they want out of this life, which is completely natural considering it goes against all of our human instincts. However, even though I've never come close to committing suicide, I have more than a bit of an insight into how a mental illness can make you so desperate that all you want to do is let go. During both of my episodes of depression, before I was diagnosed, I had no idea what was going on. I had the most overwhelming feeling of darkness and lack of hope that I really felt like there was no way forward. At my lowest points, I won't deny that suicide crossed my mind, but there was some form of logic still intact that made me able to pull myself out of that hole. Thinking about what I had to lose and the effect suicide would have on my loved ones snapped me out of what was only a very brief passing thought seriously quickly. But even just having a brief thought about the prospect has had a profound effect on me.
The desperation is far deeper for others, however, and there's no snapping out of it for them. I was pretty close to a guy who committed suicide when we were 18 and none of his friends or family saw it coming. We were left reeling from the loss, as well as the confusion that no one had spotted it. This was a massive lesson to me that we need to listen to each other more and notice when things aren't quite right. Whether it's a family member, a friend, an acquaintance or even a complete stranger that you get that gut feeling about that something's wrong, please, please act on that feeling. Saving yourself from potential embarrassment or getting it wrong is far less important than saving a life. We also need to teach each other that it's okay to talk about our feelings, it's okay to cry and it's okay not to be okay. In a world where we are constantly striving for success and happiness, it's often difficult to admit when we're struggling. Men find this particularly difficult, which is why the statistics are increasing, especially for older men with families who feel the weight of financial responsibility and keeping stability. This is important to bear in mind. Be aware of the men (and of course the women) in your lives and, again, act upon that gut feeling if you're not sure everything's okay.
If you're struggling with suicidal thoughts, please, please reach out to someone. There will always be someone there to help. There is a link to the Samaritans, whose phone lines are open 24/7 and some other suicide charities at the end of this entry, which will also help those who are worried about someone who may be at risk.
I once read some advice from a woman in her 30s, who spoke of being a depressed, suicidal 17 year old who had come close to the edge many times. She was writing the story sat on her sofa, from which she could hear her husband reading their 4 year old son a bedtime story; a life she says her 17 year old self couldn't even have dreamt of. Life is worth it and things will always get better with time and help. Suicide is never the answer. Choose life, you won't regret it.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Rethink Mental Illness advice and information service is open 9:30 - 4pm Monday - Friday - 0300 5000 927. They have over 100 factsheets with easy to understand information on a variety of issues related to mental health
- CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) is a registered charity, which exists to prevent male suicide in the UK. Call 0800 58 58 58 or visit thecalmzone.net
- The Mix is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41