This week is World Suicide Prevention Day and one of our Beingwell family members shares their vulnerable personal experience.
Trigger warning: This blog contains references to suicide and suicidal thoughts.
My nervous breakdown wasn’t spectacular, it wasn’t urgent, or explosive, nor full of frothy emotions. It was a gradual, terribly slow, falling over sidewards. So slow in fact that I barely registered it until I had a few dozen paracetamols in my hand and suicide in my thoughts.
Looking back now I’m not sure I actually wanted to die, I wanted to take enough pills to knock me into a chemically induced coma for a few months. I’d also been contemplating crashing my car to achieve the desired comatose state but was fearful of getting it wrong and ending up permanently disabled.
At the time I had a job I loved, a partner I adored, a (slightly annoying and definitely overweight) cat, money in the bank, a car, a house – all the makings of what I deemed to be a successful life. But I was suicidal.
Let’s rewind a little…
When I was in my early 20’s a close friend died by suicide. He hung himself in his granddad's shed. He was working at Tesco at the time. We’d been out for beers the weekend before. To say it was a shock would be an understatement. At his funeral we all clung to each other howling hysterically and afterwards we made a pact – to never, ever ‘commit’ suicide. At the time, I absolutely meant it.
But, before I continue my story, let me digress…
The language of suicide
Words are powerful and they have a sneaky, insidious way of shaping our beliefs.
“Committed a crime, committed a sin, committed suicide.”
Using the words ‘commit’ or ‘committed’ points a finger of blame and originates from the Middle Ages when suicide was classed as a criminal act. It also hints that there is a choice. If you’ve never had suicidal thoughts before let me clear this up once and for all – quite often, people in the throes of immense emotional pain are not entirely capable of making a rational decision. And often there seems to be no alternative.
What about ‘failed suicide attempt’ or ‘successful suicide’? This kind of language suggests that suicide is something to be accomplished, presenting suicide as the desired or successful outcome. Pretty grim, right? Every suicide death is a tragedy, not a success.
Instead, we should use terms like ‘died by suicide’, ‘lost their life to suicide’, ‘lived through a suicide attempt’ and ‘person living with suicidal thoughts or behaviours’.
Also, watch out for dramatising and using words like ‘epidemic’ and ‘skyrocketing’. When the topic of suicide is splashed all over the news, sensationalised media can increase the risk to people who are vulnerable to suicide. Words like ‘epidemic’ can spark panic, making suicide seem inevitable or more common than it actually is. By using less emotionally charged words like ‘rates’ or ‘statistics’, we can avoid instilling a sense of doom or hopelessness.
And whilst I’ve got a bee in my bonnet and I’m on a roll… suicide isn’t selfish!
In his book Myths about Suicide, Dr Thomas Joiner goes to great lengths to dispute this common myth of suicide as a selfish act. While it might appear that those who die of suicide are not taking into consideration the impact that their death will have on loved ones, there is a wealth of evidence to the contrary. The mind of a suicidal person is distorted and often holds the belief that they will be lessening their burden on loved ones by no longer being around. Absolutely avoid mislabelling suicide as ‘selfish’.
Back to my story
With a few dozen paracetamols in one hand and a bottle of vodka in the other, I paused. How many pills would be enough? I put down both and picked up my phone to do a quick Google search. What I learnt saved my life that day. Paracetamol overdose is one of the leading causes of acute liver failure in the UK. Death via paracetamol overdose isn’t quick or painless. I wouldn’t be quietly slipping into a coma and drifting off.
This was my tipping point, this is where some small semblance of rationality broke through the pain of my existence, I wanted to die but I didn’t want my family to watch me deteriorate over days or weeks.
I texted my partner, who was at work, saying simply “I’m suicidal. Can you come home please?”. It felt like the bravest thing I’d ever done in my life. My partner called immediately and said, “I’m coming home” and made me promise not to take an overdose. I was very matter of fact, breaking down into tears only after the phone call ended.
Within a day or two, I had an emergency assessment with the Mental Health Crisis Team. It didn’t feel like an emergency. I felt embarrassed and sheepish like I was wasting their time and they should be cracking on with helping other, less fortunate, souls.
I also went to see my GP who listened to me intently, gently asked me questions, and drew me a diagram of depression. It was a good diagram. He asked me “If you were diabetic, would you take insulin?” and went on to say that depression is no different.
“For one reason, or another your body isn’t producing enough serotonin to keep you functioning.” – my GP
I agreed to start taking antidepressants and was also referred for counselling.
Fast forward to today
I miss my friend, the lad I grew up with, and I often wonder what his life would be like now. Would we still be mucking about together in the pub? But I understand. I understand that he wasn’t selfish, it wasn’t anyone’s fault, he was ill and saw no alternative way out. I’m here to tell you that suicide isn’t the only option. It’s ok to ask for help, it’s ok to reach out and say ‘I’m thinking about suicide’, it’s ok to see a therapist, it’s ok to take anti-depressants, and it’s ok to not take them too. If you’re feeling like you want to die, wait. Decide not to do anything right now and talk to someone. Thoughts and feelings CAN change.
Today, I enjoy my life and care enough about myself to live. I also have a Safety Plan in case depression hits again. Prevent Suicide has a great one you can fill in here.
Where to go for help
Call your GP and ask for an emergency appointment
Papyrus is a dedicated service for people up to the age of 35 who are worried about how they’re feeling or anyone concerned about a young person. You can call the HOPElineUK on 0800 068 4141, text 07786 209697 or email email@example.com
Shout is the UK’s first free 24/7 text service for anyone in crisis anytime, anywhere. It’s a place to go if you’re struggling to cope and you need immediate help. Text Shout to 85258.
NHS Choices: 24-hour national helpline providing health advice and information. Call them free on 111.
SOS Silence of Suicide support everyone affected by suicide, whether bereaved, having thoughts of suicide, or have attempted suicide. For support call: 0300 1020 505 (midday to midnight daily). Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Maytree Suicide Respite Centre offers free stays for people in suicidal crisis. Call 020 7263 7070.
SANE offers emotional support and information for anyone affected by mental health problems.
Worried about someone else?
Be honest – tell the person why you’re worried about them, maybe you’ve noticed changes in their behaviour, and ask about suicidal thoughts. Tell them you want to know how they really are, and that it’s ok to talk about suicide.
Listen – don’t try to minimise or fix someone’s feelings. Holding space for someone and listening without judgement is one of the most helpful things you can do. Try not to give advice.
Get them some help – it’s ok if you don’t know how; the ideas in this blog can get you started.
Take care of yourself – you might find it helpful to chat about your feelings with another friend, or one of the services above.
There’s a brilliant free resource here too.
Final thoughts: Anyone can experience a mental health crisis, even when they look like they have their life together. Suicidal thoughts are often the result of a build-up of emotional, mental, or physical pain (or a combo). The thoughts can develop over time, or appear suddenly, and are absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Suicidal thoughts don’t need to lead to suicide.
This blog is dedicated to Dane. To the life he didn’t get to lead because of mental illness. May we keep on living.