Although suicide is an appaling fact of life that can strike any given day out of 365, it’s always worthy to set aside a specific date that will give the subject the focus it deserves.
Every one of us will know of somebody in our immediate social circle whose life has ended prematurely, and so needlessly. I lost a close member of my own family fairly recently. Aged 30.
According to the Office of National Statistics, “suicide is a significant national social issue in the UK. In 2018 there were 6,507 registered deaths by suicide in the UK, equating to an average of 18 suicides per day. Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the country.”
Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the country.
Too often, when someone takes their own life, the act comes completely out of the blue. Loved ones left behind are bereft, unable to grasp the magnitude of what has just happened. A key reason for this is that one of depression’s most insidious symptoms is denial, the putting on of a brave face. Why? There are any number of reasons. The human mind is so complex, and we try coping with stress, anxiety or depression in a myriad different ways. Too many end up feeling they're losing or have lost that battle. You would think simply divulging this to someone would be straightforward. But people are reluctant to admit to something that might be regarded as a failing. Mental health remains heavily stigmatised. Anyone experiencing psychiatric trauma might prefer silence to alarming their family. Many individuals are isolated or marginalised - the homeless, those coping with poverty and other social issues such as drug addiction, prisoners, and the mentally ill. And despite the prevalence of professional help available in 2020, actually reaching out for this can seem a huge step, especially to someone who is no longer able to think rationally.
Describing negative thoughts is never, ever straightforward. We’re all quick to articulate mood swings, either verbally or by our actions. But depressive illness is not a mood swing. One of the most overwhelming aspects of anyone having locked themselves into this mindset is the reluctance to look outwards at all.
One night in November 1987, when my own biopolar cycle was at its lowest ebb and my delusions were hurtling out of control, the ultimate poisonous thought did, fleetingly, seep into my head. I remember lying there in the grey dawn filtering through my bedroom curtains after long hours of insomnia and paranoia, and reaching for the glass of water by my bed, contemplating slicing into my wrists, then thrusting it against the wall.
Fortunately it was a half-pint tumbler made of sturdy glass and merely took a chunk out of the woodchip. If it had splintered, would I have lacerated my skin? The fact the deranged moment dissipated so quickly makes me think: no. The urge was delusional, just like the other time during my protracted breakdown when I was a passenger in my dad’s car and unbuckled my seatbelt, mesmerised at the tarmac careering past at 60 mph. The thought was noxious, but short-lived. In my own experience, my delusional mind was haywire, a jumble of crazed thoughts continually superseded by different, equally deranged fantasies. The hapless souls who climb the 287 steps of the Scott Monument in Edinburgh, there to be captured in the phone cameras of mouth-breathing spectators before the arrival of the police and negotiators, must have adopted an unfathomable resolve: as I’d thought of going through with my own impulses, I was snapped out of it when the glass made a dent in the wall, probably startling my next-door neighbours.
Psychiatrists will state, “Anything that can’t be spoken becomes a danger,” which is why communication is so important. You wouldn’t ignore a friend who was suddenly coughing up blood or had collapsed, so why wouldn’t you ask them if there were any issues when they seemed down? Again, it’s the horrible mental health stigmatisation that is at the crux of the issue.
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