Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.
Perhaps to some, this is just one more in a list of silly and/or worthy days set aside to raise awareness of a cause or an activity. Social media users will have come across a stray tweet, or status update, asking them to spare a minute of thought or prayer, visit a linked website to encourage politicians to act somehow, or just share the information – hopefully not with the classic “99% of you won’t…” encouragement/threat.
One such site I was invited to visit was To Write Love On Her Arms. They are asking people to tweet (using #WSPD12) why the issue of suicide prevention is important to them – it is both sobering and encouraging to read. One of the quotes struck me in particular:“I lost my younger brother to suicide three years ago. He was 28 years old, married, with 3 boys, ages 5, 3, and 7 weeks. It devastated them as well as me. I do not want anyone else to suffer the loss or the aftermath of suicide.”
The World Health Organisation (top link above) state that:“On average, almost 3000 people commit suicide daily. For every person who completes a suicide, 20 or more may attempt to end their lives”.
The Samaritans say that they are contacted more than once a minute by someone who has suicidal thoughts, and have a pdf with statistics from 2008-2010 which is alarming. Suicide is a beast which stalks both sexes and all ages, although the Samaritans research shows that males seem more susceptible:
- Over 2,000 males aged between 15 and 44 committed suicide in the UK in 2010 (over 1,500 of these were in England alone); around 600 females in the same age range also committed suicide.
- Perhaps surprisingly, the age group with the highest suicide rate per 100,000 for both men and women is 45-74 years.
This is all the more alarming when one considers the fact that almost twice as many women are treated for mental health issues than men, although of course not everyone who attempts suicide does so as a result of depression.
UK-wise, today saw the launch of a new Suicide Prevention Strategy published by the Department of Health, and this Friday (14th September 2012), sees the Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill debated in parliament - please encourage your MP to attend, You can find out if your MP is on Twitter by visiting Tweetminster.
I have lost one friend to suicide (that I know of), and walked with more than I would care to count who have trod the dark path towards that end. I could tell you stories where I have been on the end of a phone, trying to say something that will give my friend a moments’ hesitation, and worrying that either saying nothing or the wrong thing will tip them into the pit, never to return.
I have also wrestled with suicidal thoughts. During counselling at the moment, I have remembered times when as a teenager I wanted to self-harm (and did so often in socially acceptable ways such as high alcohol or drug consumption), and can now see that I wanted the world to stop. The fact that much of the pain I felt back then was, to an extent, typical teenage angst, should not minimise the reality that I spent a couple of years consuming what I knew to be dangerous amounts of alcohol, and took other risk-taking behaviour that was part trying to feel alive, and part trying to stop feeling altogether.
More recently, I have been in a dark place fairly often. This is due to a number of psychological, spiritual and circumstantial reasons. In no particular order of stress-inducement:
- I am suffering a mid-life crisis (but without the disposable income to make some of the more obvious consumer life-choices) to an extent, (I turned 40 last autumn, and genuinely didn’t think I would get past 25, and never really allowed myself to have any firm plans or expectations for the future).
- I am still being hit with ripples from my decision not to get ordained last summer (see here if you don’t know about that), and a number of questions I (& others) have about what ministry I may be called to, and in what context. This process is also forcing me to reassess the boundaries and expression of my faith to an extent.
- My personal circumstances are painful, my wife & I are presently separated and it is not looking hopeful, despite my prayers.
- linked to the two (possibly all 3) points above, I have come to realise that I have probably been affected by depression for many years, possibly since my early teens. When I discovered/admitted this fact, I was effectively hit by years of pent up or denied emotions, and almost drowned there & then.
There was a weekend at the beginning of June that I almost didn’t survive. On both the Friday and Sunday evenings, I found myself trying to figure out a quick and ‘easy’ way to end everything.
It was truly frightening that I wanted to die, and even more scary that I made decisions that made it more possible I would manage to succeed. On the Friday, a good friend had phoned me after work, knowing I wasn’t doing so great and that it had been a tough day for a number of reasons. He asked me if I needed company, but I lied to him and said I had plans to meet up with some other people. Instead, I went to the pub and drank quite a lot on my own, googling ways of ending it all, and later walked around places in town where I was rather more vulnerable than was wise. That evening I was saved simply by seeing a tweet from someone who was going to a pub, and the tiny part inside me that wanted to live forced me to go and sit with them for a while, and let the madness/absolute clarity pass. I am sure I was terrible company, but company at least.
On the Sunday evening, after a day of trying to conjour some kind of holy intervention from God, I found myself in a graveyard on the South Coast, screaming curses at God and life, throwing my mobile phone around and weeping more than I thought possible. I wanted God to do what I was unable to do myself. I was saved that night by a friend answering a frantic call I had made, who just let me rant and talk for a while, as the madness/absolute clarity passed. She no doubt felt useless, as I had when in her position with others, but she walked with me until I found some firmer ground again.
Why am I sharing this?
- Because I am still here to share it.
- Some others are not.
- Others still are locked in shame or denial and will or can not share their own story.
If you find yourself considering suicide, talk to someone you trust – call the Samaritans 08457 90 90 90 if you are scared of what your friends might say or think.
Read this site, (it comes up if you google “I want to die”) which will only take 5 minutes of your time, and brilliantly captures the horrid truth of suicide in the following words:
“Suicide is not chosen; it happens
when pain exceeds
resources for coping with pain.
That’s all it’s about. You are not a bad person, or crazy, or weak, or flawed, because you feel suicidal. It doesn’t even mean that you really want to die – it only means that you have more pain than you can cope with right now. If I start piling weights on your shoulders, you will eventually collapse if I add enough weights… no matter how much you want to remain standing. Willpower has nothing to do with it. Of course you would cheer yourself up, if you could“
This last paragraph is key. I have to acknowledge that I may be ‘back there’ again at some point. I hope not, as I am presently receiving medical and other professional help for my depression, but I cannot predict the future.
And having a faith does not make you immune. My own faith has both informed and relieved some of my depression. I look at the world and see that things are not as they should be, and feel at once compelled to fight for the good, and the temptation to be overwhelmed by the bad.
And having depression or suicidal thoughts does not make you a bad person, or a failure. The God I believe in, and cling to even as I shout at, is the one who wept as he stood outside the gates of the holy city and saw the pain of the world. Who even now reaches into our despair to haul us out (it just takes longer, and in different ways, sometimes, than we want it to). Even if I remain depressed all of my days, I am loved just as I am.
If you suffer from any mental health issues, be as brave as you can allow yourself to be, and talk about it. Even though a recent study suggests that almost a third of people “would not willingly accept someone with a mental health problem as a close friend“, that still leaves many who will remain a good friend in tough times – and my recent experience suggests that these friends are vital.
If you do not suffer yourself, please do everything in your power to be there for friends who do. They mostly don’t want clever answers from you, just to know that you are there for and with them. Pretty easy really. And almost impossibly hard.
Today I thought I’d shove it all, Pull the plug and say goodbye.
The pain I bore was much too strong, no tears left for me to cry.
I didn’t really want an end, Just a place to have a rest.
I couldn’t take another step, Convinced myself ’twas for the best.
A friendly face interrupted me, And spoke of love and peace.
And held my hand, and wiped my tears, And soothed ’til thoughts did cease.
Others have gone before me, and some have not returned.
And others still will not make it, despite all that we have learned.
Suicide isn’t painless, and it doesn’t solve a thing.
It leaves behind all sorts of scars, and banishes hope of spring.
And finally, have a quick look at the following video – an animated version of “I Have A Black Dog”, just over 4 minutes of your time will help you immensely if you either suffer from depression or related mental health issues, or love someone who does…