Blue Monday. “The most depressing day of the year.” It’s when we’ll see an influx of pieces talking about suicide, reaching out to services, and supporting each other. It’s one of two bi-annual media focuses on mental health alongside World Mental Health Day.
In recent times we’ve seen an increase in mental illness coverage from various media outlets – encouraging people to talk about their problems and to avail of mental health services. At the moment Ireland ranks 4th in the world for suicides among young men, with 451 deaths by suicide recorded in 2015. This is horrific. This is 451 deaths that occurred due to people being let down by our health system.
I have personally experienced flippancy when it comes to suicide ideation from mental health services in this country. Last year, upon informing my local mental health services that I was extremely suicidal, I was asked if I could wait a week before seeing a psychiatrist. I was informed that if I was ‘really that bad’ I should just go to A&E. We all know what happens when a person goes to A&E feeling suicidal – they wait for hours and are sent home. A&E is not a place for suicidal people.
So why am I talking about this now? For two reasons. One, this is a topic that can never have enough coverage. Depression kills. Mental illness kills. These are facts. And two, despite mental illness becoming a hot topic of discussion, there has been an influx of publications – in Ireland and abroad – lamenting the ‘selfish’ side of suicide.[pullquote]The act of intending to take your own life defies all logic as seen by those who aren’t viewing life through the lens of depressive realism. It is a dark, hopeless place to be in.[/pullquote]
No matter how selfish you believe a person to be for wanting to take their own life, it does not even fractionally compare to how bad they must feel to want to die in the first place. The biological basis of human behaviour is to survive. Psychology theorists have demonstrated how human life has a basic set of needs all driven by an instinct that drives us to keep working, keep eating, and keep living. This instinct is still present when basic needs aren’t being met. But when that instinct becomes overridden by depressive realism, the fundamental need to continue surviving ceases to exist.
Depressive realism makes a person painfully, horribly aware of their limitations and their own mortality. They fail to see a future for themselves. The act of intending to take your own life defies all logic as seen by those who aren’t viewing life through the lens of depressive realism. It is a dark, hopeless place to be in.
Telling a person contemplating suicide that they are selfish does nothing but compound their depressive realism. They’ve already stopped seeing a point to everything else – loading ‘selfish’ on top of that is another layer they could do without. Any mental illness that results in a person wishing to take their own life is complex and requires compassion and understanding, not shaming. Calling a suicidal person selfish is exactly that. Shaming. Adding weight to the load already on their shoulders.[pullquote]A suicidal person has already stopped seeing a point to everything else – loading ‘selfish’ on top of that is another layer they could do without.[/pullquote]
The person is probably fully aware that someone has to find them, and that their family will never be the same again. But to even get to that point, a suicidal person has become completely detached from reality. They don’t believe anyone cares about them. They hope they won’t be found and will remain forgotten about. The outlook of a person defying all human instinct is not rational and has never been rational. It is one of those things that needs to be targeted with a different approach – like providing emergency access to mental health services that have nothing to do with A&E, or if they do, they have a separate place for people in crisis to go.
These are things that we have all been demanding. Every single story posted online about a person’s struggle with mental health issues is usually met with an outpouring of compassion and admiration. Seeing these people as selfish for getting to the lowest of the low points in their lives defeats the purpose of them coming forward. These are survivors. The people we’ve lost already were let down by a faulty system, and by a lack of understanding.
This country lacks adequate services. This is a fact. It’s something that we’ve talked about over and over on this site, and something that has been discussed over and over in the media, but for some reason we’re still talking about people who contemplate suicide as though they’re intentionally choosing to make life difficult for the people left behind. For some it begins to not feel like a choice at all, but the only option. This is what they’re up against.[pullquote]The people we’ve lost already were let down by a faulty system, and by a lack of understanding. [/pullquote]
This needs to stop. We need to push the government to make changes – big changes. Allowing blaming tactics to linger only gives them excuses. We don’t need more excuses. Too many lives have been lost. Blue Monday hasn’t happened yet. If you’re worried about loved ones, encourage them to contact Pieta House. Tell them to programme the number for Samaritans into their phones and encourage them to call it. Keep at the government for mental health reform. Donate to mental health services such as Aware or Jigsaw. Encourage others to look up low cost counselling services – some offer these on a sliding scale based on how much you can afford. It’s a completely imperfect solution to a systemic problem, but small steps to do what you can to help each other are far better than blaming someone for how they feel.
I can understand how hard it must be for the families left behind after a suicide. How devastating the loss of a loved one must be. But blaming them, and other victims of suicide, solves nothing. It is okay to be angry. It is okay to be lost and confused and wondering why – but it is not okay to condemn the problems of others as selfish when they saw it as the only way out. As a nation, we have a long way to go in terms of understanding and tackling mental health issues. Ranking fourth in the world for suicides by young males is testament to that. This is far from an acceptable situation, and the time has come to really do something about it before it’s too late.