I should stress at the outset that, by Suicide Survivor I mean a person who has had to survive the suicide of a loved one, not a person who has survived a suicide attempt.
September is Suicide Prevention Month. I am relieved that it is over. I have lost count of the amount of viral posts that I have seen that suggest that “being kind” and that a random chat with an acquaintance might somehow prevent a suicide.
In the vast majority of cases, suicide is the action of a person who is extremely unwell. Survival is written into our DNA and it goes against every human instinct to murder oneself. A chat with a stranger or acquaintance isn’t going to magically make a mentally ill person healthy. You can’t talk, reason or love someone out of mental illness, I have tried (after Karl’s death) and it just doesn’t work like that.
One of the biggest and most damaging fallacies about suicide is that a person who commits suicide didn’t have anyone who talk to about the way they were feeling. That the person who commits suicide is a lonely person, who wasn’t loved and didn’t have a support network.
This is exactly why with so many suicides nobody ever sees them coming because the suicide victim doesn’t remotely fit the stereotype of a suicidal person.
I have literally lost count of the number of suicide victims that I have seen who were good looking, with spouses/partners that loved them, had successful careers and on the surface seemed to have everything going for them.
My husband was so loved, not just by me, he had close friends who really loved him (and who have supported me so much since he died), he had an incredible career ahead of him. He spoke to his best friend the day before he died, he spoke to a close friend and his brother (who he adored) on the day he died. If he wanted to talk, he had so many people who would have listened, so many people who would have done anything to stop what was about to happen.
But he chose not to do that, he didn’t tell anyone what was really going on in his head. Because he was really sick (and I had no idea of it whatsoever) and even if he had told us what was going on his head, we would still have been powerless to prevent a suicide. Because he needed professional help.
My husband’s story is not unique. I have heard so many stories from suicide survivors and, more often than not, the suicide victim was the life and soul of every party, the person who was always smiling, the person who everyone loved – not a person without a friend in the world and in need of a stranger.
A suicidal person needs professional help. Usually medication and counselling, not a chat.
Since Karl died, I have spoken to suicidal people and my advice is always the same – please get professional help. It is 100% OK to not be OK but get help.
I know that a suicidal person doesn’t intend to hurt the people left behind but, irrespective of their intention, they leave behind an endless tidal wave of pain which affects all of the people that loved them. Suicide doesn’t end pain it just passes it on to the ones left behind who are left staring into an abyss of destruction. I refuse to sugar-coat it; it is a horrendous legacy to leave behind.
A part of my heart will always be broken because Karl died. A death isn’t anything like a breakup. Karl isn’t living a life happily with someone else. I grieve not only my loss but the fact that he lost everything. He was an amazing human being and he deserved better than that ending. Even if I live to 100, I will always feel that.
Karl never ever got help. I wish he had. I do not and will never ever think that suicide is brave but I think getting help is. My husband suffered various traumas in his childhood. I used to marvel at the fact that he was so undamaged, so smiley, so positive. But I realise now that it was a mask. Trauma needs to be dealt with. It cannot be hidden or ignored; it will always resurface until it is treated. There is and should be no shame in that.
Personally, I have decided that I am not going to dedicate my life to suicide prevention. I can’t. From a selfish perspective, the one suicide that I would have given anything to prevent, can no longer be prevented.
But most importantly, for me, suicide is something that I hate with every ounce of my being. Suicide destroyed a life that I loved and stole the person that I loved more than I loved myself. Suicide is something that came extremely close to destroying me until I fought back with every bit of energy that I possessed. Suicide is something that I have turned my back on, something that was never a part of me and something that I will never ever allow to define my life.
But mental illness, changing the way that society views mental illness and trying to encourage people who are facing a situation that feels un-survivable that they can make it, is something that I am passionate about.
We still live in a society where little boys are told not to cry, where men are taught that it is not masculine to talk about their feelings and that they should be strong all the time. Nothing could be more toxic and until we change that suicide is going to remain the biggest killer of men under 50, not cancer, not car accidents, not Covid-19 – suicide!
Society is finally changing but mental illness is still not being treated in the same way as physical illness. If a loved one came to us and told us they had serious symptoms of a terminal illness we wouldn’t imagine for one second that they could be “healed” by loving them or that their death could be prevented by having a chat with them. We would tell them to go to a doctor urgently. That is what we should be saying to anyone who tells us that they feel suicidal. In most cases, suicide is a symptom of an underlying mental disease (depression, bipolar, schizophrenia etc) which needs to be treated by doctors like any other disease.
The pandemic truly exposed the dichotomy between mental and physical illnesses. I lost count of the times that I saw posts on social media where anyone who complained about the effect of the lockdown on their mental health was basically told to stop being selfish, and/or childish and that the virus was killing people so they should suck it up and stay home… seemingly ignorant of the fact that the isolation of being in lockdown was genuinely making people suicidal. But somehow those deaths or the risk of death didn’t count because it was only in people’s heads… (therein lies the fundamental problem).
Society would be a much better place if people genuinely showed compassion and tried to put themselves in the shoes of people less fortunate than they are.
Please also spare a thought for those Suicide Survivors who have to constantly read posts throughout the month of September suggesting that all that a suicidal person needs is someone to listen to them, intensifying the guilt and blame that Suicide Survivors already feel. We were there, we listened, we loved with all our hearts and it still happened.
I am writing this for you – because I am one of you xxx