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.