Online Diary: Suicide: Selfish? Cowardly? A price worth paying?

Earlier in the month Tyra Sanchez, Series 2 winner of the popular TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race tweeted this:We all have a part to play in changing the culture around suicide. However Tyra is a public figure in the LGBT community, which has particularly high suicide rates, and so she has even more of a responsibility not to post things that could make suicidal people feel worse. I knew I wanted to write something about the post but I needed to calm down first. My impulse response was anger and I wanted to write a logical, reasoned argument that might make people with these views change their minds. Because Tyra isn’t alone. I’ve had this exact opinion expressed to me by friend and colleages before.

This tweet makes a common and hugely damaging mistake; it assumes that people who are suicidal are thinking rationally. I know from experience that this is not the case. People who are suicidal need help and supervision whilst they try to get back into a rational mode of thinking. They don’t need to read a tweet from a celebrity that they admire, reinforcing their irrational ideas that they are in some way less than everyone else. ‘Coward’ is a strong term. It implies that you are weaker than other people.

It also implies that people who are suicidal are selfish. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that they are, but with the extremely important caveat that being selfish is sometimes necessary and not always a bad thing.

I have been there when someone found out a loved one had died from suicide. The first question asked was, ‘Why would they do that to us?

Take a moment to imagine being in a situation where the selfish option available to you is to give up all your hopes and dreams, loved ones, treasured memories and potential. Imagine the situation and the pain you would have to be in for that to be the option you saw as in your best interests. It is too overwhelming for a lot of people to imagine.

Let’s go back to the irrational thinking argument. People who are suicidal can often think that they are a burden or harmful to the people around them. It’s not that they don’t care how their suicide will impact on the people they love, it’s that they think they are doing what’s best for those people because they are in an irrational state. Again, if given the help to get back into a rational state of mind they will hopefully be able to realise they are wanted and not harming anyone.

This post feels all the more important to me as I have been feeling less stable since my last therapy session. The route I have to go down in order to get better is difficult. There is no magic fix, I can’t just take some tablets and be fine. I have to really explore my feelings and behaviours. I need to lower all my defences and re-live horrible memories and feelings that I have pushed down for my whole life. In short, while I am going through this process I will be vulnerable and need support. Posts like Tyra’s affect people like me because people who are suicidal aren’t just people who have given up. They can also be people who are vulnerable whilst seeking positive changes in their lives.

All of this reasoning shows that what we say, even if we think as one person we can’t make a difference, can seriously affect someone’s life. Tyra’s views aren’t uncommon and many people will agree with her. We currently have a government who are so cavalier about suicide that they are expecting the low paid call centre workers in their Department for Work and Pensions to deal with suicidal claimants whose benefits have been cut. They are expecting suicide to be a result of their policies and are carrying on regardless. The message I am getting from our society is, if you commit suicide, that’s your own fault.

We all need to do something to change this whether it is challenging people if you hear them say something ignorant about suicide or writing to your MP about the DWP’s policies.

And if you ever feel suicidal know this: It is not your fault you feel like this and you deserve help.

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Community Mental Health Hero: Emma, Fitness Superwoman!

A couple of weeks ago I got a message from my friend Emma asking me to Skype. As much as I miss her since we both left university and could meet up for a coffee whenever the whim took us, I had to make myself do it. Talking face to face, on the phone or Skype can be really difficult when I’ve been struggling. Depression can make me tired so conversations are a real effort and my anxiety means I am then constantly worrying about whether my tiredness is coming across as rudeness. Even when I am feeling a bit better, I am out of the habit of socialising with people which makes it seem scary and I have to force myself back into it.

I am really glad I forced myself to go and talk to Emma. The two of us have been providing moral support through each other’s darker periods for a few years now and even though the last time I had spoken with her she had been going through just such a period, she was as always very funny.

Emma has a gift and strength I’m not always sure she sees. In the last couple of years, which haven’t always been easy for her, this strength has been focused on Cross Training. When Emma sets her sights on something, it better beware! That girl has grit. It wasn’t long before Emma was competing and placing in regional competitions. When I am depressed I feel proud of myself for getting out of the flat and walking to the shops to buy milk (as well I should be!) Somehow though, Emma managed to use her determination to succeed to get out every day and train. As she talked about it I had to tell her how amazing that is!

I am a hopeless athlete. I have weak arms, I can’t run more than eighty metres without puffing and I have such a short attention span I couldn’t focus on training for more than five minutes. However Emma did inspire me. She inspired me to get back into doing something that meant enough to me that I might just be able to drag myself out of the house on the awful days. So last night I auditioned to become part of a musical theatre company. I have always found an escape in performing but just like being out of practice at talking on the phone, it took a lot of cajoling myself to go to somewhere I have never been before and interact with people. Emma helped me to take a really important step just by being her wonderful self.

Blogs for other websites

Here is a quick couple of links to some blogs I wrote for other sites.

This is my Time to Change blog about giving my family time to deal with my mental illness:

https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/blog/letter-my-mum-journey-depression

This is my Mind blog about what it is like to have suicidal feelings:

http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/your-stories/edinburgh-festival-suicidal-feelings-and-minds-info/#.VdMSubJViko

Hopefully there will be another one coming up soon for Patient Info.

Online Diary 7th August: Recovery, the boring, hard slog

Recovery is a word I’ve picked up over time from the mental health community. In the last few months I have attended the Southdown Mental Health Recovery College in Brighton which teaches people skills to help them stay well. I found the Resilience course I completed extremely helpful in giving me some practical tips to work on my self esteem which is an issue I really struggle with.

No doctor has ever told me I’m in recovery though. This seems to be because services seem to be really stretched and from my five years experience medical professionals are not involved with my care unless I am what they call, ‘emotionally unstable’ or ‘in crisis’. No one monitors my progress, my medication is decided by one professional and prescribed by another, I have had three different sets of therapy less than ten weeks long and have only just found a therapist in a low income clinic who will provide ongoing treatment.

The mental health system is not set up to support people from diagnosis to full health. This leads me to believe that if things stay the way that they are, so called ‘recovery’ is the time when people with a mental health condition need their friends, family and community to support them the most. To help them get out of bed and do their mundane chores on days when they aren’t feeling as well. To encourage them to seek help at the first sign that things are going downhill. To learn the resilience skills with them and put them into practice together. It’s a boring, hard slog but it’s the real hurdle to getting better and it’s easier if you don’t do it alone.

Community Mental Health Hero: Brighton LGBT Community

Brighton Pride with Grassroots Suicide Prevention

This Saturday I experienced my first Brighton Pride. I’ve been looking forward to it ever since I moved as I’ve heard from lots of people how fun it is. Brighton is heralded as such a supportive place. Since the election it has been known as the People’s Republic of Brighton and Hove; one Labour and one Green constituency surrounded by a sea of blue.

I decided to walk in the parade with a charity I volunteer with, Grassroots Suicide Prevention. You can find out more about the work they do on the reference page. We were walking to highlight the high rates of LGBT, and in particular transgender, suicide and let everyone know that there is help out there for people having suicidal thoughts.

I don’t think I was really prepared for the experience. There were streets and corners that were packed with people, four to six rows deep. Although they were cheering, celebrating and dancing as we approached there was a collective change in the mood as people saw who we were and what we were there for. A few people cried, maybe remembering their own experiences or someone they had lost, some came up and hugged us, some thanked us for being there, gave us thumbs up, a lot clapped harder and cheered that little bit more ferociously.

It was hard not to be moved by it. You could catch the eye of someone you had never met and share a moment knowing you had shared not just a similar experience, but one that often made people feel so utterly isolated. It was something I will remember whenever things get tough; a community of people standing together and acknowledging that suicide is an issue and that we can all help each other to face it and deal with it.