New blog – Today I’m going to write about a very difficult subject, that of suicidal thoughts and the stigma around them. This blog may contain triggers so please be careful reading this. I’d also like to point out before I go any further that reading this blog will likely be distressing for friends and family members of mine reading this but I think it’s worthwhile sharing the benefit of some of my personal experiences with the world at large!
Suicidal thoughts (which it always amuses me that the NHS categorises as ‘thoughts of self-harm’!) is to my mind one of the worst symptoms of mental illness because it means you truly have hit rock bottom. People often think that means that your sense of self-worth and self-confidence has plummeted to a low but actually I think it’s different to that. To mean it means that the pain and suffering I’m experiencing and feeling is so much that I’m so desperate for it to end that the only way I can think of ending it is by taking my own life. It’s true that feeling a lack of self-worth and self-confidence may have triggered those feelings of pain and suffering but make no mistake it’s wanting it to end that is my trigger for suicidal thoughts. I’m perfectly capable of standing and delivering a fantastic presentation to a room full of people and appearing (and feeling) completely confident in doing so and yet perhaps only a few minutes later feeling like I want to die.
It’s a horrible phrase to write that one. Truly horrible. It’s not like I’ve got a terrible disease or cancer that’s eating at my bones and that euthanasia is, therefore, a viable alternative to spending months in agonising pain before dying. Physically I’m perfectly healthy. And yet there have been times in my life where the pain and suffering in my mind has been so much that I’ve literally wanted to die just for it to end. Let that sink in for a moment. In the UK several thousand people lose their lives to suicide every year. A few of those will no doubt be people who are in the situation where they’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness and so have chosen to end their life at a time of their choosing I’m sure. But the great majority of those suicides are people just like you and I who are physically healthy and capable but have reached the point where there suffering is so great that they’re just absolutely desperate for it to end in any way possible.
So let’s talk about the elephant in the room. There are a lot of stigma around mental health. And in my experience, some of the biggest stigmas revolve around people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts. I’ve suffered at the hands of that stigma myself. And I’m almost a 100% certain that anyone else who is reading this and has suffered with suicidal thoughts in the past, or is suffering with them now, is nodding their head in agreement as they too have also encountered the stigma around it. Let me get this clear here now. Stigmas are WRONG!! The stigma around suicide stop people who are feeling suicidal from speaking about their thoughts and seeking the help they need. Let me talk about some of the stigmas I’ve seen and experienced.
Stigma 1 – that threatening suicide is just a cry for help or looking for attention.
Well hell yeah. Someone’s suffering is so bad that they’re considering ending their life so you’re damn right that they need help and attention. However, what they absolutely don’t need is someone telling them that they’re just saying they’re suicidal because they want attention. What they need first off is someone to tell them that they care. And they’re going to do everything they can to help them. So let’s help that person open up about their thoughts and why they’re feeling like that. A conversation with friends or even a complete stranger can help anchor that person and distract them from their suicidal thoughts until they pass. Because they do pass. There are also trained volunteers at the Samaritans who can really, really, really help when somebody is experiencing suicidal thoughts. And don’t forget there are our friends in the NHS as well. I know they regularly get a slating for not funding mental health care properly or giving it enough priority. But believe me if you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts all they need to do is phone their GP and their GP will make sure to see them that day. If they can’t get to their GP for any reason than A and E will accept them and make sure they get appropriate support. So remember the NHS is your friend and there to help you in this position.
Stigma 2 – that People who are suicidal get sectioned.
Err no they don’t. I’ve been to my GP more than once because I’ve been experiencing suicidal thoughts. The worst that happened to me was having to spend an hour in a room with three very sympathetic and empathetic people from the NHS who were able to help calm me down. Being sectioned was not even a remote possibility for me and it won’t be for you or your friends either. But even if it did happen it’s actually a really GOOD thing! It means that you’ll get immediate access to the professional help that you need to help you feel better. Just because you’re spending a bit of time in a hospital working on improving your mental health (in the same way you would if you suffered a physical problem that required hospitalisation) does not mean that you’ve suddenly become less of a person as a result. You still count. You still matter. Nobody looks at a person who has gone into hospital to have a hernia removed any differently after they come out of a hospital (except perhaps when they want to see the cool scar!), so why oh why do people look at someone who’s been in a hospital for mental health reasons differently? To me, madness is looking at someone different because they’ve actually received some treatment for a something that’s been affecting them badly! Sanity comes in the form of that person admitting how badly they’ve been affected by their suffering and doing something about it. So anyway back to the point. There is no shame in being in the hospital because of mental illness. People worry that being hospitalised will affect their chances of getting a decent job or an education or even making friends. It won’t. It’s not legal for an employer to turn you down on mental health grounds unless they have legitimate grounds (i.e. medical opinion from a trained medical professional) that you would pose a danger to yourself or others if you were to take that job. The same goes for educational establishments. That government that we’re so keen to slate all the time really does care about making sure you can contribute to society in the best way possible (admittedly though that’s because they want you to pay as much tax as possible and so that’s at least partly why!). But not only that, employers and educational establishments actually value people who have battled with their mental health because the truth is that 1 in 4 adults will suffer from mental health problems during the course of their life and that figure is only going upwards. Which brings me to losing friends. It is a sad fact that mental illness does affect the people around you as well as yourself. There is a chance that you will lose friendships and relationships due to your illness. It’s really truly hard when that happens. And it can push you further into a spiral of depression. But you’ll also find that actually, you end up developing new friendships as well. Because you’ll find other people who are suffering in a similar way reaching out to you. And you’ll find that you form a deeper connection with those friends who stick with you because you know that they’re there for you no matter what. But yeah it still sucks and it’s going to hurt.
Stigma 3 – that we all have suicidal thoughts occasionally (we don’t!).
If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts people are going to try to empathise with what you’re going through. They’ll say stupid things like ‘everyone has suicidal thoughts occasionally’. Anyone who says that has no idea of what they’re talking about. They might say it with the best of intentions but they don’t realise the devastating effect it’s going to have on you. Because to your mind, they’ve just told you that you’re not special. That your troubles aren’t any worse than anyone else’s. But let me clear here. What you’re experiencing is unfortunately far worse than what most people go through. I know it’s really hard as well. Hard to admit that and harder to feel it. Yes it’s true people do occasionally have thoughts when they’re in a bit of a low mood where everything is going wrong with them and they think they’d be better off dead. Or they walk over a bridge and vaguely wonder what it’d be like to chuck themselves off. Neither of those things is the same as experiencing suicidal thoughts. Suicidal thoughts are all consuming at times. It literally feels like you’re being battered by a tsunami of emotion. It’s like you’re on the beach, tied to it and unable to move, with waves constantly crashing over your head and battering you. So to my readers who aren’t experiencing suicidal thoughts and haven’t to the extent I’ve just described but think it’d be a good idea to try and empathise with someone who is by saying everyone goes through it occasionally please don’t as, even though your intentions are good, what you’re actually doing is making that person feel worse and stigmatising their problems by downplaying them. Just ask them what they need instead. Offer them your help and support and maybe a hug.
Stigma 4 – the view that suicide is a selfish act.
Do you know if you put the phrase ‘suicide is a selfish act’ into google there’s actually some debates that come up around this? There is no debate. Suicide is NOT a selfish act. In fact for the person who’s being overwhelmed with suicidal thoughts, it can actually appear to be quite a selfless act. Don’t forget that in many regards that person views themselves as a failure. Not least because they’re experiencing suicidal thoughts in the first place! There’s a real chance that they’re beating themselves up quite badly for feeling suicidal and feel that they’re a real disappointment to themselves and everyone around them for having these thoughts. It can lead to that person thinking that actually, the world is better off without them. That person feels that because they’re unhappy they’re making everyone else around them unhappy as a result and people would be far happier if they weren’t around anymore. The truth is of course vastly different. Losing a friend or relative to suicide is absolutely devastating for that friend or relative. They’ll be replaying the events leading up to that suicide over and over again as they try and work out whether there was anything they could have said or done differently. But just because that person’s suicide has led to that devastation does NOT make the person who committed suicide. As I say that person who’s unfortunately committed suicide has a far more nobler goal in mind, i.e. that of ridding the world of their pain and suffering. But (and I’m speaking to people struggling with suicidal thoughts now) if you’re thinking there will be less pain and suffering without you around than believe there really won’t be. Your friends and family still want to see you and be with you even though you are suffering because they love you. And they know that you can and will feel better.
Stigma 5 – that talking about suicide or suicidal thoughts is easy (it isn’t!).
Which brings me to my final point. I’m not sure if this qualifies as a stigma or not but there are people who believe that talking about suicide or suicidal thoughts is easy. Some of them may be reading this blog now and thinking that seems very open and honest, he must feel quite comfortable talking about this subject. Let me be clear though. I don’t feel comfortable talking about it AT all. It is the single hardest subject for me to open up about (and there are loads, like hundreds! of subjects that are really uncomfortable for me). And I know it’s the same for other people who have experienced suicidal thoughts in the past or are doing so now. I wish I had the words to describe how hard it is. I want to say that it feels like talking about something that is really taboo but actually it’s far worse than that. So I just want my readers to take a moment here to recognise that, if someone is talking about feeling suicidal or having felt suicidal in the past, then you might just be witnessing the hardest (and bravest!) thing that person has ever done. Vice versa if you’re talking to someone who seems to talk about it non-stop as if it’s their only topic of conversation than actually, I can pretty much guarantee to you that it is also because it’s the hardest thing that person has ever had to face. One of the sad effects that anxiety can have is it can make you focus with a singular determination on one particular item or subject to the exclusion of everything else while you try and process and deal with it. So my advice would be to just let that person talk and process it in their own way. Just be there for them. Sooner or later they WILL come back to you 🙂
So there we have it. My little rant at the world! Although it’s probably not so little now! Haha. But honestly, if this can even help one person who is struggling to get the help that they need or make one person rethink how they treat someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts than I’ll feel like my rant has been worth it. And to all those people who are and have struggled with suicidal thoughts, I have one thing to say. You are my heroes! You really are. Do you know why? Because you’ve faced the Tsunami. You’ve been tied to the beach and seen the waves come over your head but yet you’re still here. And that makes you one of the strongest people I know. So believe in that. Because I do and I’m a hero too 🙂
If this blog has affected you and if you are struggling with suicidal thoughts you may find some of the following resources helpful:
The Samaritans website can be found by clicking here (they really are quite brilliant – trust me!)
The NHS website for suicide prevention can be found by clicking here (again the NHS are also brilliant so do please trust them).
If you feel reading this blog can help someone you know than please do share it far and wide. Whether that be with helping raise awareness of some of the stigmas I’ve highlighted above or to help someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts themselves to come to the realisation that there are others who have struggled in the same way and successfully beaten the suicidal thoughts I’d be very grateful. Let’s end the stigma together! And as always if you have comments or experiences you’d like to share you can leave comments by scrolling to the bottom of this page. Alternatively, if you’d prefer to talk in private you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The next blog will return to the subject of money and will be part 2 of my blog on starting an online business with a limited budget. You can find part 1 here if you’ve not had a chance to read it yet.