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That’s How We Learn, By Talking | Considering Our Approach to Suicide

The article was written by someone I liked. By someone erudite and more importantly, compassionate.  Someone who understood mental illness. Who joked about it, but offered insight. And he wrote about suicide.  About the comfort it can offer someone. Not suicide, but the idea of it.

Comfort in the sense of it being a safety blanket of sorts. He found no solace in the thought of carrying out the act. Just comfort in it lurking, dormant, in the background. A backdrop that supported his ability to cope. And in speaking about it he opened up a hive of discourse. I could relate and so could his readers. And he was right.

But he was wrong.

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It can’t be a friend. Suicidal thoughts as a fallback is in itself, unhealthy. This is not a slight on the author of these ideas; for I bought into his ideology. But it was the wrong coping mechanism. Suicide is never a friend. In any guise. In it as an act or in it as a thought. But he was able to speak about it. That’s how we learn. By talking.[pullquote]Suicidal thoughts as a fallback is in itself, unhealthy. Suicide is never a friend. In any guise. In it as an act or in it as a thought.[/pullquote]

No one has the authority on any given subject and no one is ever an expert. In anything. You can always learn more in life. On any topic. When that stops being the case, when you see yourself as a prominent voice, then you’ve failed. We all learn, all the time. Talking about people taking their lives is no exception.

If an understanding of suicide is that it is a last resort, that may be the case. Or it may not. The element of panic in a suicide shouldn’t be dismissed. It can be a planned process, timed and organised. The place of death is generally out of immediate sight. There is no selfish motivation. It can be damage limitation. Even if it may not seem that way. Or it can be done in a haze of discontent, agitation; distress. This is vast. There are no consistent examples as there are variables in every situation. Split second decisions that change everything.  But can we help people before they get to such a juncture?[pullquote]There is no selfish motivation.[/pullquote]

When you hear of a suicide, it can break you. You can’t feel for everyone, about everything. But even tenuous links to someone can devastate you. Because you have stood in their very spot and made the final decision to walk away. And they didn’t.

You feel guilty that you survived and they did not. If you only had a moment to share with them you could bring them off the precipice. But life doesn’t work in such ways. So parents bury children, children bury parents.  These lives, gone. The pain will stay with the affected generation. Acceptance, maybe eventually. But always pain.

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But there is hope. There is hope that in your loss, you can open up minds. Not to be aware. We are there. We know. But to get it. And to prevent it. Prevention is better than cure. And sometimes prevention is the only option on the table. But how do you get people to speak? Equally, how do people who need to speak, do just that? It’s difficult and it’s as frightening as so many other aspects of suicidal thoughts.

Mental illness isn’t derided hugely. Not in this country and not in this century. It’s seen with less scepticism and sympathy. Ironicly, less sympathy? Maybe not. Treat the individual with sympathy, sure. Treat the societal problem with sober practicality, and progress can be made. But suicide is still difficult to speak about. When we do, we are considerate and tender in our application of support. From a distance. But when it’s in your face. Then it’s tough. It’s tough because it’s awkward. It’s awkward because it’s embarrassing. And it shouldn’t be embarrassing.[pullquote]But when it’s in your face. Then it’s tough. It’s tough because it’s awkward. It’s awkward because it’s embarrassing. And it shouldn’t be embarrassing.[/pullquote]

When I realised in my mid to late teens that I was dealing with depression as an omnipresence in my life, there was a massive reluctance to let go. I sat on a stone sign that labelled a housing estate as I smoked a silk cut purple. The friend was matter of fact. I told him about the ‘Aware’ meeting I had attended in Temple Bar. To the knowledge of no one. Clandestine and confidential. He dealt with it with pragmatism and even a little bit of indifference. That indifference meant everything. Get it sorted. That was the advice. It was the best advice.

When in my mid thirties I sat in Beaumont hospital, it was because the words couldn’t come out. Not to my wife. Not to my best friend. It wasn’t them and it wasn’t me. I just didn’t know how. Therein lies the problem. For so many. Not being able to let the words come out. “I want to kill myself.” It’s harrowing to think that suicide can be a better option to spitting out a fistfull of words.[pullquote]Get it sorted. That was the advice. It was the best advice.[/pullquote]

Unpeel that shyness. If you can’t, write it down on a scrap of paper. “I feel suicidal.” Push it across the table to someone you love. Push it across the desk to your doctor. Put it in an e-mail to Pieta House. Make it happen.  Step out of your comfort zone and save your own life.

I can do it now. I can say it. And it’s hard. Really hard. But it’s effective when it’s required.

We just need to learn to say it. And we need to learn to hear it.

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