World Suicide Prevention Day 2018 (Late)

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)

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)

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Questions Of Suicide

TRIGGER WARNING: This post is a discussion that may be distressing to some people as it looks at suicide and suicidal thinking. There are no details of suicide and no discussion of methods. If you are distressed and don’t know where to access help, I recommend that you use the resource Befrienders Worldwide to find your local support agencies.


You’d have to be totally without wi-fi not to know that two American celebrities have died by suicide in this past week. I admit I hadn’t heard of one of them, but I still knew that it had happened.

I wonder how it is for their families to see, at least the western world, discussing the tragedies in so much detail. I wonder how it is for their personal friends also trying to grieve their loss with the media looking on so intently.

But also…

What about the families and friends of the other people who have died by suicide this past week? I haven’t sought out the statistics of how many people across the world die by suicide each week, but my guess is the number would be alarmingly high. How must it be for those friends and families to watch as the world focusses on only two deaths when every death by suicide is a tragedy for us all.

What about the people across our world who attempted to die by suicide in this past week? Again, that number is too high, whatever it is. While we talk of the celebrities who died by suicide this week, do we know who attempted suicide? Were either our friends or our families one of those who was suffering so much that they lost complete hope and tried to end their lives. That’s a really hard place to be. And what do we do about them?

What about the people we know who might have struggled to hold onto hope this week? Do we know if our family or friends are struggling that way? Do we know if those closest to us, might be thinking they can’t go on any longer? Maybe the struggle is too much and they’re thinking about ending it all. Dying by suicide. Do we know?

What about the people in our lives who live with depression? Do we know who they are? Have we considered reaching out to them, letting them know that they’re not alone? Or do they go on thinking it’s only the celebrities that matter?

What about the people who think they don’t matter? I suspect there are no statistics on this one, but I also suspect that the number would be higher than we might think.

What about the people who live with daily pain, disability and sickness? How do they feel seeing the world focused on two lives? What about them? Do they have enough hope to hold onto and keep fighting? Or have they had enough of their battle, and do they matter to you and me anyway.

There are a lot of questions that I have asked, with the sole purpose of thought. They are the questions I began to ask myself this morning. Where do I fit in amongst those questions, but also where are my friends and family in it? Do I know who in my world is struggling with life, and needs my support? Or do I just go on blithely living in my own world? It’s easier that way if I can ignore the fact that people around me are suffering. But should I? And could I do something to alleviate suffering?

What really worries me is how we get involved in discussing the tragedies of two celebrities who have died by suicide. We (particularly social media) will go on discussing it for maybe a couple more days and then we will be back to ‘normal’.

Back to ignoring the fact that too many people die by suicide every day. And too many people attempt suicide each day but don’t get any support to enable them to grab hold of life again. We ‘pump their stomach’ and send them on their way again. How will that help?

Are we ignoring the numbers of people suffering (and I mean suffering!) from mental illness. Stigma is a ‘great’ thing isn’t it if we can push those people into a corner and then forget about them. Are those people in your or my family? What are we doing to support them in life, or is it easier to let them lie hopelessly in that corner?

I hate that two celebrities died by suicide this week. I wish that we as a world could have reached out and helped them so that they didn’t see suicide as their only option. But we’ve been here before. Celebrities who die by suicide generate chat. But how would it be if we take this chat and turn the tables. Turn the conversation of a couple of days into the action of seeking out and supporting those of our circle who need our help. If we stop talking and reading our screens so avidly, for now, and ask the necessary questions of suicide. I believe we can do something of good.

“There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’
No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.”

— Dalai Lama XIV

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