Truth be known, the following words have rummaged around in my brain for some decades. But as we continue to watch the rise of Mental Health, as we continue to see the numbers of completed suicides go off the scale, I am wondering if we can take a step back to the point before those numbers and question our understanding and terminology.
In an article published in the BMJ in November 2020 by Ann John, the Professor of Public Health and Psychiatry looking at the trends in suicide during the Covid-19 pandemic, John states;
“Widely reported studies modelling the effect of the covid-19 pandemic on suicide rates predicted increases ranging from 1% to 145%”Ann John, 2020.
This isn’t something that is going away. Even with the huge amounts of change and understanding surrounding Mental Health, we still have some leaps in which we all need to take when it comes to supporting and helping those in need.
But one area in which I want to discuss today is the language surrounding those that have suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide.
Some 25 years ago, sat in my bedroom completing my Geography homework, I started to take the numerous tablets that I had collected over the weeks from the medicine cabinet. I was 14, and the mental torture of suicidal thoughts were with me from morning until night and then on repeat like a bad record of Wigfield’s “Saturday Night”. Noone knew, not until years later. The hours of vomiting and sleepiness consumed me for the next 48 hours. But it was the start of what most people would call a “Cry For Help”.
Fast forward 4 years and the medication turned to crashing my car into a tree. Fast forward another 2 years and the collection of medication prescribed by my then psychiatrist led to my first trip in the back of a police car, escorted in handcuffs to a high secure mental health ward.
Fast forward another year and I sit with my Mum at a dining room table as we await the ambulance and she tells me “I understand if you do this – I just don’t want you to be in pain anymore”.
Fast forward another 10 years to buying ropes from the local BnQ and ending my 30th birthday with Jack Daniels and a cocktail of prescription medication.
This cycle, it continued. If truth be told it continued until about 3 years ago. For 99% of my brain, I am high functioning, high achieving, highly intelligent, successful, loved, supported individual. But the 1% took over many years of life. And through all of that time of anguish, the one thing I would hear constantly was “It was a cry for help”.
These very words, for me, and many who I have spoken to who have struggled with the pain of mental torture, comes down to one word….
Firstly, I assure you, the people that feel this way are not crying. They are screaming beyond a pitch that you could never even hear. But when we think of those words “cry for help”, in the generalised terms of society, we can relate it to a small child, or a baby needing nurture and feeding.
A “cry for help” in so many ways undermines the sheer level of strength and resilience and warrior like attitude people are trying to muster up for survival. Robbie Williams in his song “Feel” writes:
“I don’t wanna die, but I’m not keen on living either”Robbie Williams “Feel”
That is the conflict that many people are in, the space and void of darkness between living and dying where the walls are turning in and the inner screams are deafening.
When it comes to talking about Suicide, we try to sweep it under the carpet. It’s too uncomfortable. It’s too alien, thankfully, to many to begin to go to that level. It is overwritten with the “cry for help” or “pull yourself together” or “you have so much to live for”.
We have seen this in recent weeks as the questioning of Meghan Markle was raised on every social media platform following the Oprah interview. How can someone with “that life” feel that way? Is it for “attention”? Is she “lying”?
To those people – seriously have a word with yourself. Regardless of who ANY person is, regardless of ANY background, we have to LISTEN, to HEAR, to BE THERE for people – no judgements, no questions – to see the STRENGTH it takes to ask for help and STRENGTH it takes to share their truth and pain.
For some of these people, they honestly know that they have “so much to live for”. In fact, knowing that is often making it worse in their minds because they see that they “should” be happy and cannot find a light or way through. That EVEN THEN, they consider the world would be better without them, than with them.
So I want to raise this conversation. Because, in part, the “cry for help” is adding to the stigma that we know all too well comes with Mental Health. As we move towards a world where rates of Mental Health and suicide are on the increase, from children to the elderly, we have to start leaning into that discomfort of conversation, to take it out from under the rug, and instead sit on it with those that are experiencing these very problems and say “I’m here.”
With the stigma, there is still so much shame. Shame being “I have done something bad”, carried like a cloak as they walk through life feeling like they are headed to the stocks. If it isn’t enough to carry the torture and pain of this illness, they are further weighted down with this cloak of shame too.
Shame in the words “It was a cry for help”.
It is asking for help, it is a scream. But these are not people who are babies or children not getting their way, wanting food or a change of nappy.
We need to change the language. Right now, I am not even sure what that language is. But we all have a responsibility to start shifting this language and a little of that shame and stigma. We all have a part to play.
How different would it be to that person if we acknowledge them with “you’ve been a warrior, fighting for too long, but we can help you now”. How different would it be if we changed the language.
So, I am intrigued by your thoughts on how we can help, on how we can shift the language, on whether it needs to be named or cited at all.
Let me know and thank you for being open to reading this, leaning into some discomfort and joining in the conversation.