With Suicide Prevention Day behind us and Suicide Prevention Month coming to an end, you can already feel the conversation dwindling and disappearing. People have shared their ‘My inbox is always open’ posts and their hashtags, they acknowledged the day, but we have to do more. If we don’t, such awareness months, weeks, and days become pointless.
Suicide is a subject that is difficult to talk about for obvious reasons. Whether your life has been touched by suicide or not, it naturally brings some uncomfortable feelings to the surface. Those uncomfortable feelings can make anybody run and hide as far away as they can from the conversation, but that doesn’t help anyone. In the hopes of keeping the embers of suicide prevention month burning, here’s my two cents on the subject.
There are two main sides to the suicide conversation, those who have felt the crushing loss of a loved one through suicide, and those who have dealt with the pull of suicidal thoughts and ideations. Both of these sides are steeped with their own nuances and while every story is different, every story is equally valid.
As someone who has studied mental health and psychology for seven years, and as someone who has experienced both sides of the coin, I think I know what the main obstacle to improving awareness, understanding, and resources for suicide is: education.
Judging by the echo-chamber that is the people I choose to surround myself with, we have primarily moved away from the idea that suicide is attention seeking. Aside from a few outliers, I think the majority of people understand that no one would go to such extremes for attention, least of all because you cannot receive attention after the fact.
That isn’t to say that there isn’t still a lot of stigmas surrounding the actions that lead up to the final act and that is where improved education comes into it. The more we talk about suicidal thoughts, suicidal ideations, and what that really means for people, the less likely people are to jump to the conclusion that an individual is attention seeking.
Having experienced suicidal ideation in the past, I can tell you that it doesn’t mean that I wanted my life to end, I never did, but I wanted so desperately to escape from my own thoughts that the only solution I could think of was suicide. I know in my heart I never would have acted meaningfully on those ideations; I was never in immediate danger.
However, having been there myself I can say categorically that no one who discloses these kinds of thoughts to a friend, relative, teacher, medical professional, or anyone, is doing so to get attention. If someone is brave enough to tell you they are feeling suicidal or having thoughts about suicide, they are asking for help, they need support, they need love. It is OK if that level of support is above your capability but a signpost to a qualified professional is absolutely paramount, they could be in danger.
On the other side, experiencing the sudden loss of a loved one to suicide is complex, disturbing, and often throws up a lot of unexpected emotions in addition to normal grieving processes. As with any sudden death, there are lots of questions without any answers.
Regarding suicide, there are two extra questions which, left unanswered, can be devastating for those left behind. Why? And Did I miss the signs? These two questions will often run around and around in the minds of the loved ones of suicide victims. Moments will be relived time and time again, searching for signs, for changes of behaviour, things the person said or didn’t say, desperately searching for reasons, answers, and sometimes a way to apportion blame.
These searches are often in vain, and if they were fruitful the answers would only cause more pain. The truth is, there often are no real signs, no cries for help, no ‘attention seeking’. Because of the stigma surrounding suicide, people battle these feelings alone, often going to great lengths to disguise their physical symptoms and their feelings.
From my own experience the only way to make things better, to help those who have lost people to suicide, to help those struggling with suicidal thoughts, is to keep talking about it. We need people to share their stories, their experiences, their knowledge.
We need to talk to schools, workplaces, and communities about suicide, about mental health in general. It is difficult to have conversations about this topic, it is frightening to tell your own story, even to those who are closest to you, but it is so important.
If it could save even one life, doesn’t that make it worth it? Let’s keep talking about this. Let’s keep sharing our stories, our struggles, and our emotions. Let’s work to remove the stigma and shame surrounding suicide and change the world for the better!