To anyone who is having suicidal thoughts or ideations, please call Lifeline (13 11 14) or your primary mental health care provider NOW. We need to keep you alive until you get better.
To anyone who is currently mentally unwell (but not suicidal) – conserve your energy for getting better, and return to this article when you are recovering or better. To everyone else – read on…
There is a common misconception that suicide is borne of selfishness. Suicidal thoughts triggered by a mental illness are no more selfish than a cancer patient’s primary cancer metastasising to other organs. I have experienced suicidal ideations, and can confirm they are completely involuntary. They would overwhelm the rational, positive, optimistic core of me, desperately clinging on as my psychiatrist told me: ‘I will get you better. We just have to keep you alive until I do.’
And, with appropriate care, I have gotten better every time.
Often the mentally ill, suicidal patient is not only seeking release from the pain they are experiencing, but their illness distorts their reality so that they see themselves as inextricably linked to causing pain for their families, and they honestly believe the only way to stop the pain for their family is to put a stop to themselves.
Is it a false reality skewed by illness? ABSOLUTELY!
But it isn’t selfishness. It is illness, and needs appropriate care. Depending on the circumstances, appropriate care may look different for everyone, but it is important to take suicidal thoughts or ideations very seriously, because they are potentially fatal symptoms.
For me, appropriate care entailed private hospitalisation in a safe environment, and being in the care of an excellent psychiatrist until the medication balance was right and the psychological aspects of the illness had been addressed.
Unfortunately, the way in which suicide is reported in the media is partly responsible for perpetuating the stigma surrounding it, and mental illness in general. Very often the suicide is amputated from the mental illness.
Reporting someone with a mental illness has died by suicide is inaccurate, or at best, incomplete. The suicide may be a symptom of the illness, but the cause of death is the actual illness, (be it depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or others) and should be reported as such. Citing suicide as the cause of death in these cases is the equivalent of claiming Connie Johnson recently died of liver failure, not of cancer. Liver failure may have been the end stage symptom, but the disease causing it was cancer.
Yes, you can get suicide without an underlying mental illness, but it’s uncommon. Most of the time, where there is suicide there is either undiagnosed or poorly managed mental illness. If suicide is the tragic outcome of a mental illness, it is so important to remember that the patient didn’t take the easy way out. They didn’t set out to destroy their families. They just succumbed to a potentially fatal illness.
There does seem to be a fear that talking or writing about suicide is what triggers it. I disagree. Talk about it, drag it out into the open, and it shrinks. Silence keeps it strong. I believe this so deeply, I have already talked to my eleven-year-old in an age appropriate manner about what suicide is, why it happens, and how to prevent it – and when I sense it is the right time I will be doing the same with my younger child.
With appropriate care for any underlying mental illness, suicide is largely preventable. We just have to catch symptoms earlier and be much more open in our discussion of this most tragic clinical sign.
If you need to call Lifeline the number is 13 11 14.
(Written For QLD Mental Health Week 2017)
Other pieces and events from Qld Mental Health week 2017