All content contained within should be restricted to those over-age. Occasionally, suicide and self-harm are mentioned and readers should take care to ensure they are in a safe place - emotionally and physically - before reading. Comments are welcome.

Friday, November 4, 2011

So how SHOULD we talk about suicide?

On Twitter earlier today a rural psychologist wrote ... "My occupational hazard as a rural psych under Gillard gov cuts to #BetterAccess is a grotesque lottery of when & who- not if- suicides occur"

A couple of people on Twitter say this statement is irresponsible and sensationalist.

I say "right on sister!!!"

Damn straight it's sensational.  And so it should be.  We should be screaming this from every rooftop.  It should be plastered all over the news.  The people of this country should be uniting together and rallying around those who are suicidal.  We should be talking about it.  How it feels.  How it affects our lives.  How it affects our families and friends.  2200 deaths each year in this country from something that is essentially preventable?  65000 people who try each year to end their life?  And now the government has just drastically cut the support that these people get?

It's "irresponsible" to get this information out?  It's "irresponsible" to educate the public as to what the real cost of the Better Access cuts are?  It's "irresponsible" to tell the truth?  Really?  That is the sort of world you want to live in?

Do you really think that people are going to hurt themselves after reading something like that?  You really think that is triggering?  Let me tell you about triggers...

Triggers can happen any time, any place.  You remember the Harry Potter book and movie where he had to write lines on parchment and they ended up being engraved on his arm?  I was a part of a self-injury self-help, online forum back then, and boy, didn't it go off.  There are advertisements that are triggery.  There are books that are triggery.  And the first thing you learn when you find yourself being "triggered" is to go to a safe place until you're "safe" again.  Why?  Because the whole fucking world has the potential to be a trigger!

It would be great if we could put a disclaimer on the world, but we can't.  And I get why that scares some people.  I get why some people want to keep it all hushed up.  However, here is your reality check - Hushing it up hurts.  It does not help.

It does not help, because when you only talk about "good stories" of healing and shit, family and friends start to wonder why the hell YOU are not "healing and shit".  They see programs on television and read stories about people who had depression for a year or so and "got over it", they fail to realise that your PTSD isn't the same as their depression, and they get to thinking that the problem isn't the mental illness - the problem is YOU.  Because if SHE can "get over it" then surely YOU could if you really wanted to.  And they give up on you, and they go away.

The irony is that the organisations that are trying to eliminate the idea that you can "just get over it", are the same organisations that are perpetuating that belief by not being honest about what mental illness is like.

I have been a member of a few forums over the last decade, and in one particularly large one (so, good sample size) with people from all demographics, the thing that amazed me the most, was the general attitude that people had about mental illness.  They were generally stigma-free when it came to mental illness.  The problem was in how many of them thought that a) medication helped in ALL cases (SO not true); b) that help is available to every person who seeks it (SO not true); and c) that you CAN recover no matter what illness you have, or the severity of it (SO not true).

The flow on effect this has?  There are a few.  The first is that when someone first speaks of having depression (or any other mental illness), they are immediately advised to start medication because it will work.  Six months later, some of these people are back because it hasn't worked and they feel like failures.  They feel like it is their fault it hasn't worked.  They feel like they've done something wrong, or that they are in some way defective.  If they had been warned from the start that it may not work, then when it doesn't, they would be prepared.

The second effect is when people talk about how difficult is was to get help, they are told to try harder - help IS there, so they must not be trying too hard to find it.  The reality is that help is quite often either not there (particularly in rural areas, but also in low funded urban areas), or even if it is, it is not appropriate for the person's situation.

The third effect is that when some people do not see improvement within a certain time frame, again, they feel that it is their fault.  

Telling these people the truth isn't necessarily going to cause them to commit suicide or self-harm.  NOT telling them the truth, however, can lead to suicides, suicide attempts and self-harm, if it leads to them feeling like failures for not "getting better" the way they've been led to believe they should.

Maybe if there were more people telling the truth - that mental illness IS dirty, it IS dark and it IS fucking depressing - maybe these expectations wouldn't be put on us all to "just get over it".  People might start to understand what it's like to live with a mental illness, the term "worried well" would have been treated with the contempt it deserves, and we would be starting to actually find a real way to help the 65000 suicidal Australians.

These cuts are going to lead to suicides where suicides may not have happened if Better Access had been left alone.  That is the cold hard truth of it, people need to know, more than they need to be shielded from it, and if you think we don't need to be ramming that truth up the arse of every single Australian out there, then basically, you need to pull your head out of whatever sand dune it happens to be residing in.


  1. You're right about triggers. They're everywhere. Hearing about suicide is far less likely to trigger me than a billion and one things the media is happy to talk about.

    One great big fat trigger for me is hearing about rape. I'm guessing I'm not alone in that. But the media seems more than happy to talk about that one. Hollywood films sure don't mind putting it in every second film. And it's certainly never followed with any kind of disclaimer (like with suicide) such as 'if you've been raped you WILL be ok'. Instead the message is you'll never recover. Thanks world. So if I'm raped, like a lot of women are, I'll never recover. Men have the power to damage me forever. Since I'm so damn powerless I guess I might as well kill myself then... Hmmm... Yet no one gets blamed for being sensationalist when they talk about rape.

    As for talking about suicide, everyone is talking about how the media should be talking suicide, but what about talking about suicide attempts? There are a lot more of those than there are completed suicides, yet no one suggests we should talk about that. Yet the person who went through it is still actually alive and able to talk about it, and most importantly provide a lot more insight into why it happened and what to do about it. So why no campaign to start treating suicide attempters as normal? Even in suicidology people who have attempted suicide are not considered to be truly suicidal, but rather attention seekers etc etc. When I first read that I almost lost my shit. So those people who are crippled from jumping off bridges weren't really serious about suicide. Yeah, right!

    So instead there is A LOT of shame associated with a failed suicide attempt. For starters, you feel like a failure. I mean, you have, after all, failed. And then the judgements start (why would anyone want to do that? Or, you're just being manipulative...). Or the guilt trips (how could you have done this to me? Umm... I was doing it to me actually... maybe if everything wasn't always about you I wouldn't have such a problem...). I could go on. But I won't.

  2. But I will add this: And then people wonder why we don't want to talk about suicide. Doesn't take a genius to figure it out!

  3. Thank you for writing this. I am 1 of the 65000. I live with heavy, long term, mental health problems but oh, I hide it so well. I don't have the guts to tell the people closest to me that I would rather be dead - and I certainly don't have the guts to write what you have written here.

    I feel that I have been represented in your story.

    There is absolutely no doubt in my mind - the cuts to Better Access is going to cause people to KILL themselves.

    Read that again people. People like me will not be able to cope and they will suicide. Going from 18 sessions to 10 and having choices and services reduced is going to cause many suicides in this country.

    The new laws are so wrong, so vile, so opposite to what the community needs and wants. This is like leading lambs to a slaughter. The old working system needed expanding not contracting and being screwed around with.

  4. I have lived with the threat of suicide since i was 16, thirty years later for whatever reasons beyond my comprehension i am still here. 'Get over It", if I could I would. During the last thirty years i have lived with undiagnosed PTSD chronic which means that when i get upset or triggered i get phenomenal pain throughout my body and can't eat or sleep for days not to mention the emotional flash backs and still trying to live a 'normal' life. PTSD has the same impact on a persons life as becoming a paraplegic (Mental Health first aid book). I did not asked to be sexually abused by an adult male when i was four and continuing! I did not ask to be beaten most days of my life until i was old enough to escape! i did not ask for mental health issues. I can only deal with the impact that this horrendous treatment has had on my life. During this time i have donated my services to my community as a volunteer, continued studying and following my interests and helped many other people in my community, some less fortunate and some more fortunate and raised two beautiful boys with love, patience and respect. To these people who are ignorant enough to say 'get over it' i say this to you when you can contribute to life and the lives of others and deal with a severe mental health issue then and only then will i listen to their advice on how to deal with my life and its very complex issues. Until then i suggest that you keep your ignorant and uninformed opinions to yourself and for your own well being keep the hell away from decent people. Thank you Linda for your guts and straight forwardness, your a good read and a great advocate.

  5. Thank you all, for contributing to my blog with such great comments. I do apologise for taking so long to reply to you.

    I hope that you all find some peace and hope of some sort soon. And please know that if ever you need to talk to someone, you are free to e-mail me at lindamadhatter@gmail.com