Content warning: this report talks about suicide
On 10th September it was World Suicide Prevention Day. I’ve written about my experiences of surviving suicide on many occasions – mainly trying to explain what it feels like trying to rebuild myself afterwards and my thoughts on language (don’t say “failed”, please never say “failed”).
This year I find myself thinking more about actual prevention: what could have prevented me from trying to end my life?
I’m going to split this into sections:
- What I could have done differently
- What I wish I’d known then
- What I do for others – this is what I do when people come to me when they feel like I did
In a previous draft I listed things which others could have done differently, including systemic changes which could have helped. Things like sorting out the mangled messy referral system into mental health care, having a mental health emergency number akin to 999, and having a decent GP service with ease of appointments where GP’s have time to listen and unravel what is presented to them. However, these things aren’t easy fixes. I had a therapist tell me that you can’t fix 30 odd years of trauma in 30 hours and it will take time to become healthy. I think it’s the same principle with anything systemic.
Before I start, I’d like to say that everyone has different experiences of suicide and of life. These lists are specific to what I experienced although I hope there is something others could learn which could help those who are experiencing similar in the future. In fact, my own experiences across the five times I tried to end my life were very different, and what could have helped at one point might have made things worse at another. There are no correct answers for any of this.
What I Could Have Done Differently
- Spoken up. Seems simple but would have been near impossible in practice. At the point where death was the only action which made sense to me, I didn’t want to be talked around. But telling someone could have given me room to breathe and that might have made a difference.
- Taken my medication as prescribed. It’s never a good idea to mess around with medication – withdrawal symptoms do not make it easy to think clearly.
- Made myself wait an hour before I acted. I get intense rapid mood swings and when my mood goes down, I can impulsively do whatever it takes to make those feelings go away. When I’m already in a headspace where I’m contemplating ending my life, that mood swing can be the push it takes to act. However, these intense moods never last more than an hour or two. In most of the cases, taking an hour would have been enough to level myself out.
- Cry. This is a big one. I wish I’d given myself permission to have a massive great big sob about how hard things were for me and not done everything I could to pretend things weren’t as bad as they seemed.
Things I Wish I’d Known Then
- It wasn’t my fault. I also wish others had reasserted this fact to me. It’s hard to say what I needed to know wasn’t my fault, but I needed to know just generally (and sometimes still need to know) is that it’s not my fault. Most of my poor mental health boils down to how much I dislike myself. The more depressed I feel, the greater the level of self-hatred. I wish I’d known that I wasn’t to blame and the situation I was in was not the same as the person I was.
- This too will pass. It’s hard, it hurts, and it sometimes gets worse before it gets better, but It Will Pass.
- Asking for help does not make you weak and people who claim benefits are not ‘scroungers’. I didn’t try to get help because I didn’t think I was deserving of it. I had grown up believing that people on benefits were ‘scroungers’. Put together, it placed me in an extraordinarily difficult situation. Asking for help takes more strength than I think anyone truly acknowledges and benefits are a type of help.
- Being sectioned is not like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Inpatient treatment for mental health is the same as inpatient treatment for physical health. If your body breaks, you may need a stay in hospital when you can’t look after yourself at home; if your mind breaks you may also need a stay in hospital. Disclaimer – it’s not exactly the same, and there is a LONG way to go before any kind of parity of esteem. But it’s not all forced treatment, psychopathic nurses, padded cells and electric-shock therapy. I wished I’d known that so I would have been able to ask for help without all the added fear created by how the media represents psychiatric facilities.
What I Do For Others
- Listen without trying to fix things. I needed someone to hear me and acknowledge what I was feeling and experiencing. I often felt like I was the problem that needed fixing. I wanted compassion not a solution. Unless someone asks for me to try and help, all I do is listen and ask what they would like me to do – often listening is enough.
- Only make promises I can keep. I’ve been told that I need to be more affirmative when I speak but I can’t know that I will do something – there are a million different things that could occur to prevent it – what I do know is that I will try.
- Be honest. I don’t know that it will get better (but there is a chance that it will), I don’t know that the referral will get help (but it might and there are always other options), I don’t know that I will be with you each step of the way (but you won’t be alone), it might be that the situation is hopeless (and although that situation is hopeless we can move to a new situation which does have hope), I do think you can get through this (no buts – everyone can get through it).
What I hope I’ve done by writing this is shown there are small changes that can have a big impact.
I hope you have found this useful.