I read this article about suicide recently and it really shocked, angered and saddened me https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/04/suicide-attempt-criminalised-unjust-dangerous The artwork for this post is by which I chose because her work speaks to deeply to this subject from her lived experience.
Having volunteered for Samaritans as a listener for about eight years, I have some experience of supporting those who are feeling suicidal. It has been a journey of learning for me. Despite the intense training to become a Samaritan volunteer, and my time there as a listener, leader and trainer, it was still a shock to me when I started my counselling training and heard Andrew Reeves talk about how we still use the term ‘commit’ in relation to suicide as if it is a crime. I had not noticed up until then how much the term is still used. And how I have also used it. I now try hard not to use it and correct myself when I hear myself say it. Sometimes with others I have been able to have a conversation about it too when they have used the term. I wish there was another verb that could easily fit with suicide to make it easier to describe someone who tried die by suicide in a way that doesn’t carry the judgement and the history that we used to regard suicide a crime. This way of speaking is still so prevalent in society.
The current that pushes against those who have suicidal thoughts and ideas feels deeply rooted in our society. In some religions, suicide carries with it the idea that it is a sin and this is reinforced through denying religious rituals such as funerals to those who die by suicide. I’ve heard it said at times that suicide is a selfish act, that it is a cry for attention. Whilst I have some understanding of why people say these things, every fibre of my being disagrees. I have listened to and sat with people who want to end their life. The pain someone is in that makes them want to die and completely contradict their instinct to survive is no small thing. Often, in my experience, they have spoken of wanting to stop being a burden for others, or have spoken of such feelings at the hand of other human beings who have caused great pain to them.
During dark times I have wanted my life to end too. Sometimes this has been thoughts and feelings of wanting emotional pain to stop and not knowing how else this could happen other than by dying. Sometimes it has been a destructive urge to do something. It is not easy to admit that life at times has been this dark for me.
So when I read this article about people who have tried to kill themselves and been prosecuted, it was a wake up call for me that although we are making some progress as a society, there is a long way to go. How is it possible that as a society we cannot see the suffering of someone who is wanting to end their life? It feels inhumane that we would not want to care for these people in the kindest way possible.
It makes sense then that it is still so hard for people to talk about suicide. I hear of people’s reactions within mental health support when they find out someone is feeling suicidal. It often seems to lead to so much fear. Life and death questions are not easy, and so without experience in this area, I can understand that any human being would be driven to do anything possible to save another human being’s life and keep them safe. At the same time, it can be a simple conversation to explore what those suicidal thoughts and feelings mean that can give permission for the person feeling suicidal to speak, and also provide great understanding for mental health professionals about what the risks are. Sometimes, by simply being heard in this way, someone who feels suicidal can find comfort and not feel so alone. It seems to me that having more conversations about suicide is part of the answer. There seems so many misconceptions about suicide, and I wonder if we worry as a society that talking about it might put the idea in a person’s head, when in fact it has been shown to provide relief for people.
I’d like to encourage you to be open to conversations about suicide. It is real and not talking about it makes it harder. Charities like Samaritans do a great job in supporting those who are suicidal, and those impacted by suicide and we can do so much more by reaching out to others and listening. How different a world it would be if we listened like lives depended on it.
There is a great resource on the Samaritans website dispelling some of the myths around suicide: https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/support-and-information/worried-about-someone-else/myths-about-suicide/
Samaritans can be contacted 24-7 in the UK for free on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org