THE BURDEN OF SUICIDE
Some parts of the world seem to be having a problem with increasing suicide rates. It seems to be occurring in mostly industrialised developed nations. North America’s average age expectancy is dropping, in spite of medical advances and technology, due in part to the amount of suicides.
It seems suicide is the hot topic, along with climate change and a few other issues currently. People are scrambling to understand the phenomenon, citing financial stress, relationship break-ups… but haven’t these always been issues? Why blame them now, is it that the issues are more prevalent? In times of relative financial stability - the global recession in 2008 was now a decade ago – why are we more stressed?
I wonder if it’s something else. Maybe sometimes, it’s about connecting the dots. People who live the longest live in ‘blue zones’ of the world. Researchers have discovered certain similarities within these blue zones, obviously diet and exercise helps, although a sense of community also seems to be key to a long healthy life too. Social connections seem to be just as important as diet and exercise.
As a suicide survivor, a family member said to me the other day had I ever considered what it was like for those closest to me as I attempted suicide? Had I thought about what it might be like, the stress, the time wasted, the grief they went through? It was a fair comment to make, just not to a suicide survivor who had just voiced that I had been feeling ‘a little emotional of late’.
Yes, I had thought about it, yes, I had felt guilty, adding to the personal guilt I felt as I betrayed my body and my own life, giving up and giving in. Her words were yet another ingredient added to the soup of emotions stewing in my head as I come to terms knowing I have ‘the trigger’ and will carry through with a suicide when I am most vulnerable.
I go back to my original point. Community. I know we are all different, we all have different reasons, different journeys, but I know for me, I felt I had no one I could talk to about my thoughts of ending my life. I didn’t want to burden someone, put that responsibility onto them. As a former youth phone counsellor, I could have ‘burdened’ a stranger at the end of a phone line, but at the end of the day, it’s a stranger and I would never feel comfortable telling someone I didn’t know I was suicidal. I also know the protocol, make the ‘suicide caller’ draw up a ‘contract’ stating they wouldn’t go through with it. And when all else fails, call the police.
The last time the police came around when someone suspected I was at risk of taking my life, I was asked ‘would I take my life?’ I responded, probably. After some deliberation and the realisation there was no ‘wheelchair accessible room’ in the psych emergency hospital ward, I was asked again by the police. Sensing their dilemma, I said no, and they left. I didn’t try that night, I took sedatives and slept for a few days instead.
I confided in a friend recently that I was about to go through something that would potentially put me in a ‘bad headspace’ and afterwards, felt incredible guilty. I had burdened them, they would be thinking, ‘ I have enough to deal with…’ and the sad fact is that they do… most people probably do.
It’s easy to say after the fact ‘if only I had known, I might have been able to stop them…’ but realistically, a suicidal friend is a problem, a big one and there’s not much support or knowledge about what to do with someone who is in a dark place, not suicidal but suicide is not often planned. I know for me, it’s usually a snap decision. I go from feeling down, to thinking, I need a way out... I need to stop.
So, what’s the solution? If I could give any advice, going on my experience and the experience of the people I spoke to when I was a counsellor myself, there’s a few things I’d say. I know I have a family history of suicide, so am potentially at risk as suicide might have a genetic component. I’d say we need to be kinder to everyone, even the person at the checkout, or the driver who doesn’t go straight away when the light goes green… I think we need to reassess what community means. We need to look after each other. The person who starts avoiding friends, staying home, take notice and go and see them. Visit people, especially people who might find it hard to visit you. A person who is feeling down might be feeling overwhelmed so home visits are easiest.
I’d love to change our priorities. Working so much leaves little emotional energy for anything, let alone others. Money doesn’t make someone happy, yes financial problems are a huge trigger for some, but I could have made the decision to stop working so hard and my life would have got easier, through sleeping more, and having time to invest in myself and others. I wanted the nice house but it came at a price and I nearly paid for it with my life. All I can say is that with hindsight, comes experience and wisdom.
The last thing I may feel like is being with people when I’m feeling down, yet that’s what I need. And if we feel like we can’t tell anyone how we are feeling for fear of burdening them… then there’s a problem. It may be my problem, but I’ve often seen people say ‘it’s too much to put on someone...’ And maybe for one person, it might be a lot, but if we felt more supported, perhaps it wouldn’t be a problem. #suicide #suicideawareness #mentalhealth #kindness