Yes, I’m late. World Suicide Prevention Day was last Monday, but I didn’t quite get there. My excuse? Well, the short version is a bad toothache followed by really bad fatigue. It doesn’t sound like much of an excuse on a particularly important awareness day, but it was at the time. It completely put me off track with my writing. My apologies to the organising committee for not getting it right this year. Better late than never!
But hang on. Don’t we need to be talking about suicide every day? I think we do. We need for it to become part of everyday conversation. (Although we can do without the graphic details thanks, MSM.)
At the moment we’re pretty good at writing (and maybe even verbalising) when there has been a so-called celebrity who has taken their own life. Then we start stirring the pot, but maybe a week later? It’s gone deathly (and I chose that word on purpose) quiet again.
In my country (New Zealand) it is only a few weeks since popular newsreader, Greg Boyed died by suicide. Perhaps because he was in the media and known to many writers, the country went wild on speaking about suicide. One writer even used the occasion to say that mental illness had gone mainstream. Personally, I’d refute that. Sure we might have John Kirwan speaking depression and anxiety, and for a week we spoke of depression and suicide, on account of Greg Boyed’s death, but there is no way that most of mental illness is mainstream.
But let me not get side-tracked. We are pretty good at speaking about suicide when a “celebrity suicide’ happens. But who is there to speak to an eighteen-year-old who is desperate and suicidal? Or the forty-year-old farmer? Or the thirty-year mother? Or anyone who is at the end of their tether and doesn’t know where to turn.
It is my opinion that we need to be speaking about suicide every day, and so while this Awareness Day is a very good thing, it doesn’t so much matter if I am a week late. What matters is that I speak of suicide today. And tomorrow. And the day after…
We all need to be speaking of suicide so that the people around us know they can speak about it with us.
I get worried though when I see media report on suicide and offer telephone numbers of helplines afterwards. It’s not that it’s not a good thing to be offering, but it’s no good if we think that those numbers are enough. Take an example of what I’m talking about, taken from a recent NewZealand article on suicide. This or similar is now, pretty routinely, tacked onto anything that mentions suicide. We need to do better.
If the content on this website is distressing or triggering, or, if you are worried about your or someone else’s mental health, we have provided in contact details below for you to speak with a professional. If you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call the police immediately on 111.
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor (available 24/7)
• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
•WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
It’s great that we put this information out there, but we can’t stop there and think we have done enough. We haven’t. We need to be out there talking to our friends and family. Maybe we need to be volunteering for those organisations. We have to do more than rely on the occasional article to put the merest information out.
There’s one more thing I think we need to be doing. For years, we have been telling people who are suicidal to reach out and ask for help. Actually, the rest of us need to reaching out and offer help. It’s time to stop expecting struggling people to ask for help… because I can tell you that they won’t.
I spent a lot of years struggling with chronic suicidality, including two suicide attempts. In that time I (mostly) didn’t ask for help when I needed it. I didn’t know who to ask and I feared the consequences if I asked the wrong person. The consequences could be anything from being punished and ostracized to being locked in a psychiatric hospital. I didn’t want any of these things and more. I simply needed someone to talk to, someone to trust with what was happening to me. Asking for help would more often than not, not give me what I needed.
Asking for help when you’re struggling with suicidal feelings is too much for us to expect. What is needed is for us to be willing to say “how can I help you?” What is needed is for us to reach out to those around us and ask “how are you?” “what can I do to help you?“.
I come from a place of experience on this one. Please don’t expect a suicidal person to ask for help. It’s too much for them. They simply won’t. They often can’t. They need you. It’s necessary to try to understand that living with suicidal feelings is quite unbearable.
Mostly it is likely that a person would have some type of mental illness, and it is quite an intolerable experience, particular alone. To expect them to ask for help on top of what they are experiencing is quite ridiculous. We must turn the tables and offer help.
“The pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances because its anguish can no longer be borne. The prevention of many suicides will continue to be hindered until there is a general awareness of the nature of this pain.”
— William Styron (Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness)
Thanks for reading