Suicide is one of the most confusing, tragic and painful of human losses. The survivors, be they family members, partners, parents, children and/or community members are left with multiple questions and an agony that can never be fully resolved. The only solace, if one can move beyond commonly held religious beliefs, is that perhaps the suffering of that individual has now ended. One of the more confronting dilemmas of suicide is the shame that silences and estranges the survivors with many questions of “should I have known and done something…. Am I to blame?” leaving those left behind vulnerable to the conditions of the tragedy which took the loved one away in the first place (yes that could mean you, losing a loved one to suicide increases your risk substantially)
What we do know is that none of us are completely immune to the occurrence of such darkness. Depression occurs in one in four individuals at some stage within their lifetime. It is not always psychologically driven and sometimes has symptoms that are not readily associated like: constipation and physical fatigue; sleep disturbances both too much and not enough which can be a symptom and a cause; hormone imbalances; lack of appropriate gut flora and the list goes on. It is possibly more prevalent than what is known because of undiagnosed or brief episodes. Depression is behind many a suicide - however it is not the only factor. Individuals may be driven to this act by extreme absence of self-value and feel that emptiness acutely when life’s disappointments hit them hard. Other factors such as terminal illness and impulsive reactivity to intense loss or grief or an inability to adjust to losing one or more loved ones may also figure. Sadly it is often a cry for help that goes too far and is actually an accident - this may be the case especially in teens.
I believe that getting to establish friendships, be they family members, children or grandchildren, colleagues, or people in the community (just because we are related doesn’t mean we are relating!) in an authentic and connected way of engagement, is one of the primary ways this outcome may be minimised. So often we are afraid to risk asking the uncomfortable questions. We already perceive the potential discomfort of the other, so we tell ourselves “ “it is really none of my business” and stay silent, at least about that niggling concern. I think that this fear of reaching toward is actually what leaves us locked out of each other’s lives in ways that could be, in fact, lifesaving. Lifeline 131114 , where I volunteer weekly, without question saves lives. “An Australia free of suicide” is the vision of Lifeline, it will require many legs and much courage all around be realised.
It takes a lot of courage to reach out in despair and sometimes people don't know of Lifeline nor do they feel they can reach out. Sometimes individuals don't feel worthy of such reaching. What we can do as people in the community is reach out and ask those uncomfortable questions! If we know there has been a loss, disappointment, cutting off or a breach of some kind and ask, sensitively and in the appropriate environment, then following up. The individual may be awkward with our enquiry, but to trust our gut and ask, could open the door before it becomes too late. Research and my experience show that once some people decide to end their life they experience a mood lift and seem to get on with things again. This is actually a danger sign and if someone who has had a hard time for a while has a mood lift, is happier than you have seen them in ages and especially if they are gifting some of their belongings…it is an important time to ask if they have made any big decisions about their life, if they say yes they have, then a direct question “does this include suicide?” could be the beginning of an interruption to the relief the individual is experiencing by having made a decision to end their life. This paradox is sadly why so many left behind are bewildered and guilty. There is no blame here. It is a tough moral choice…who is to say?...but I think the more we understand and discuss it, the more it helps even ourselves to stay on the path of our life, regardless of the challenges.
Sometimes we become invisible to ourselves and that darkness just sneaks up on us. I thought that it would be useful to give five points to look out for within yourself.
1. If you think about it, when was the last time you had a good laugh?
2. Are your thoughts often consumed in comparing yourself to the outcomes and successes of others in a way that leaves you wanting and disappointed?
3. Are the things that you most enjoyed in your life starting to feel boring or repetitive or lack the lustre that they once did?
4. Do you get unprompted thoughts about a fatal accident or mishap that kills you and that possibility feels a relief?
5. Have you ceased imagining and pursuing goals, opportunities, plans or ambitions for yourself?
If any of these five things are actually happening for you, then it is a warning that you need to take stock of your life. Sitting down and writing yourself a letter, a good old fashioned ramble, uncensored, to see where it takes you, is one starting point. Should you finish that letter feeling concerned, confused or discontented, then a chat to a good friend or a trusted professional is the next step.
I wish you happiness, health and wellbeing.