Today is World Suicide Prevention day. Every year I am torn about whether I should write about it as it is such a raw and delicate topic that is often overlooked when talking about mental health. I worry about how I will be perceived, that I will write something wrong and what horrible consequences could occur from opening up. When writing about mental illness you expose yourself in a vulnerable form that can so easily be targeted to the stigma and discrimination that so often surrounds mental illness. I’ve made no secret that I have Bipolar Disorder but I don’t really write about how it affects my life but I think I am done with hiding in the shadows. I took the plunge and decided to write a post this time last year for World Suicide Prevention Day 2015. I had butterflies in my stomach the evening prior to the post being live and all day as the post was read and shared. The tummy flutters eased as I realised that I wasn’t afraid to talk about suicide any more and that so many people had been in the same position as I have; that I wasn’t alone. Strangers shared their stories and heart breaking accounts of their experiences of being effected by suicide. I cried and smiled. And cried some more.
Awareness days are meant for getting the conversations started that then need to be carried on. So here is me, again, continuing my conversation.
The World Health Organization estimates that over 800,000 people die by suicide each year – that’s one person every 40 seconds. And the nature of the awful ripple effect that suicide has means that those that have attempted suicide are more likely to try to take their life again. The numbers are quite frankly terrifying but these don’t tend to take into account the people indirectly affected by suicide, the family and friends who have been bereaved by suicide or have been close to someone who has tried to take his or her own life. But all this doesn’t need to be the case. Suicide IS preventable but without awareness, understanding and support how can we possibly expect those statistics to change, how can we ever start to comprehend what it means and the difficulties in dealing with the trauma of suicide for those that have taken their own lives, or those who have survived suicide and those that support the survived and those that are bereaved. If we can’t talk without the fear of judgement that fear will grow and those affected by suicide will continue to feel isolated. I would never expect someone to truly understand what it feels like to be in such a dark place or those that watch their loved one arrive at that place, I don’t want people to know what it’s really like to feel utterly hopeless and scared, I don’t want anyone to feel that way, ever. What I do wish is that people can open up their hearts to empathy and compassion and to not be frightened to talk about the hard stuff.
This year the focus for World Suicide Prevention Day is Connect, Communicate and Care. So I please ask you to:
- Connect with those affected.
Whether it be survivors of suicide or those effected, by adopting close connections we are able to learn from those who really understand suicide and the complex feelings and emotions surrounding it. We are able to then recognise warning signs leading us to become a greater support network for those that really need it. But we also need to continue to support those that support others including the bereaved and to then follow up on supporting those who have attempted to end their life or those on the brink of trying. A big assumption often made is that because time passes dealing with the trauma of suicide must become easier for those involved but this is not often the case. Talking can be a big healer no matter how much time has passed.
- Communicate with loved ones.
So often we never know that our nearest and dearest are struggling with ill mental health. There is such a massive stigma around mental illness that even trying to broach those difficult conversations can fill someone with the most awful anxiety. We need to learn how to talk but also listen with empathy and love. By having open dialogue we can try to eliminate individuals feeling less isolated and allowing us to be able to talk to someone if we arrive at a dark depression.
- Care in the community.
It’s really important that we urge our governments and local mental health services to continue to improve their services and allow enough funding into research. We need for health professionals to be trained in mental health care and for patients, especially those in crisis, to be treated with dignity and respect. If there are community care teams, support groups, charities or even phone lines available these need to be readily accessible and advertised well within our towns and cities. I had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 7 years and had lived with ill mental health since my childhood but up until last summer I had no idea what to do or who to contact when the ideology of suicide revisited my mind.
Again I have butterflies in my stomach as I type this but I’m not afraid to talk any more not when the conversations need starting and continuing, not when I can give hope to those who need it because I fought against that bitter darkness, survived and walked out of the shadows again. I am proof that with the right awareness and support you can overcome anything.
Life is for living and I want everyone to feel that way no matter how difficult times can be.