Sunday, 1 November 2015

The stigma of suicide

The topic of suicide sometimes rears its head in the media but, like mental health, there is a stigma attached to it. I must admit that I’ve wanted to write about the subject for quite some time now but haven’t known how to broach the subject efficiently. I guess it’s a difficult subject for anyone to talk about but it’s not something that we can ignore as it affects so many people who are left behind.

When I read accounts of families/friends who have lost loved ones to suicide, a frequent question asked is “Why did he/she do it?” It will always be impossible to know exactly why someone chose to end their life as there are lots of possible underlying reasons. However, it is worth noting that over 90% of people who die by suicide have a mental illness at the time of their death. 

Everyone goes through rocky patches in their lives but some people have been dealt a tougher hand when it comes to life circumstances. Vulnerability to suicide could be a result of: a history of sexual or physical abuse, mental health, misuse of drugs/alcohol, employment issues, relationships and genetics. 

I have previously attempted suicide on two occasions and I’m glad that I survived as I now cherish life. Some people were very supportive and tried to help me in my times of need but I also met a few insensitive people during those tough times who, unfortunately, made me feel worse about myself. Those people didn’t understand the complexity of my problems and the fact that what lead me to suicidal desires was not my fault in the first place. 

So, to answer the question: “Why did she do it?” In my case, it’s clear now that the core reason was the sexual abuse that I experienced, however, at the time I couldn’t see that as I was so depressed. I believe that the pain and suffering I was experiencing in my everyday life, as a result of my past, was what made me feel so suicidal and hopeless. 

Another question I have heard is: “Why didn’t she speak to us about how she was feeling?” In my situation, I felt ashamed and could see no option other than to try to end my life. I found it quite hard to open up to people and I believed that ending my life would be easier than having to confront my demons. So it’s easy for people to say “she should have spoken to me” but it’s actually not that easy at all. 

Depression is the most common reason people complete suicide. Sadly, depression can be masked as it is invisible and that is what makes it so hard to spot the signs before it is too late. On the other hand, psychosis is harder to mask than depression as schizophrenics may speak openly about voices in their head commanding them to kill themselves. Impulsive people, particularly those who rely on drugs and alcohol, might impulsively attempt to end their own lives.

Suicide is sometimes referred to as “a cry for help” and this was the reason for my suicide attempts. Deep down I didn’t want to die but I was desperately unhappy and, in a way, didn’t know what my true issues were. I believe that I wanted to alert those around me that something was seriously wrong and that I needed help. I guess, in a way, the inner pain was eating away at me so much that I was unable to express myself in words. Therefore, the act of attempting suicide was my non-verbal way of saying: 
“I don’t feel well and I am not strong enough to express myself and get better, please help me.”
A suicidal thought or attempt can often be a result of one event that pushes someone over the edge. The person might feel completely overwhelmed by their issues and that one event is enough to make them take action. In my experience, I felt like I had a bundle of problems weighing me down on my back and when one, seemingly minor one, was added to the bundle, I collapsed and hit rock bottom. I simply couldn’t handle all of the burdens I was carrying at the time and could see no other option.
“It is easy to tell the toiler
How best he can carry his pack
But no one can rate a burden’s weight
Until it has been on his back”
­­- Ella Wheeler Wilcox
In order to fully understand something, one has to feel or experience it and that’s what makes suicide so complex. The way that I felt when I hit rock bottom was as though I was living in a black tunnel and I could see no way out, there was no light at the end of it. Inside that black tunnel, I was surrounded by terrible memories, pain and suffering. I don’t think I really wanted to end my life but I wanted the pain and suffering to end.

I chose to write this article because the topic of suicide has come up a few times recently and I feel it should be addressed more. I thought that if I try to explain how I felt during my dark times, it might offer some insight to people who have been affected by suicide. It can be a little easier to deal with tragedy if we understand its motives. I only hope that anyone who has been affected by suicide might be able to relinquish guilt and find closure.