We need to rethink the way we talk about suicide
THIS week the NT News and Sunday Territorian kicked off our suicide prevention and awareness campaign, called Speak Up. So in the spirit of speaking up, I share with you the story of my friend.
She was in her late 20s when someone very close to her died suddenly. It was a loss that changed her life. We could all see she was struggling - she stopped eating, she barely spoke, her face was constantly tear-streaked and she was more interested in spending time alone than with us.
Though sometimes we could distract her for short spurts and we’d share a smile or a laugh with her, none of us could take her despair away. None of us could reverse what had happened.
In a recent confession she told me she’d considered her method, made a plan, even written a note. And had one small thing - anything - pushed just a little bit harder at those negative thoughts in her head, she would not be alive now.
She told me she would fall asleep crying and wake up crying. Cry while she dressed, while she drove to work. Dry her eyes and wait until her lunch break when she could go and cry in a toilet cubicle. Dry her eyes again, wait until knockoff, and cry all the way home in her car.
She said she felt so lost and isolated. She genuinely thought no one could understand what she was going through. She just wanted the pain to stop.
A few times she said she tried to reach out to people - once it was even to a counsellor - and it failed, and it drove her even deeper into depression. For quite some time after this, she kept everything inside.
Those of us in her life dealt with this change in our friend individually.
Some friends didn’t know what to say, didn’t want to say the wrong thing, so they said nothing. They disappeared and left her feeling even more isolated.
Some became impatient with this extended period of sorrow that she couldn’t seem to shake, that they couldn’t understand.
Those of us who did stick around are the reason she’s still here. We encouraged doctors, recommended trying a different counsellor, did our best to distract her from her despair and get her out of her own head.
Even after witnessing her anguish up close, I was surprised to learn she had contemplated suicide.
She is my friend and I had no clue just how close this situation was to a life’s conclusion.
And I am the only person she’s ever told. And now I’ve told you. And now I should finally admit that my friend is me.
Suicide is not a nice topic. It makes people feel squeamish. It makes them avert their eyes.
But we can’t do this any more. In the Territory in particular it’s gotten out of control. We have to start talking about it. Start noticing people and what’s going on in their lives.
I started working on the Speak Up campaign after a friend of a friend I met at the pub told me she felt strongly that the media should report suicide.
Initially I shuddered at the thought. It’s such a personal thing. The path of depression I went down is one I don’t even like to reflect on within the confines of my own mind. It’s painful. And it’s certainly not one I have discussed openly prior to this. Even now I feel anxious about what my friends, family, colleagues and readers might think of me after having read this.
But that is exactly the problem.
If suicide were less taboo, people with thoughts of it would feel more comfortable confiding in someone. They’d know where to go for help. They’d be presented with much better options.
Friends and family would also be more aware of how to support someone going through this.
After this discussion at the pub I started becoming more aware of suicide stories in the media - and with the Senate Committee on Youth Suicides in the NT under way at the time, there were plenty of them.
And I realised this person who suggested the media take a more active role was absolutely right. If we bring the subject out into the open, we can start to make a difference. Keeping it quiet is clearly not working.
The statistics are upsetting to anyone who has heard them. But we need to remember, these are not just figures. They are people. They are our brothers, our sisters, our neighbours, our parents, our cousins, our mates. They are us.
Thankfully, when I was at the beginning of what could have been the end, I gave it one last shot - and found the support that saved my life.
Now I can’t even imagine that I felt so low that I would have contemplated such a final decision.
I think of all the things I would have missed - my friends’ weddings, the births of their children. I think of all the places I’ve visited since then that I’d have never seen and the people I’ve met in the past four years that I’d never have known.
Although I still suffer bouts of doubt, anxiety and depression, and tears still can come easily, I have the experience to realise it will eventually pass. I am a different person now to who I was then.
So in a way I did end a life - a life of pain and depression where I felt like I couldn’t get out of my own head - by reaching out to supportive people and letting them help me regain control of my life.
A life I am now ever so thankful to have.
If you need help, call Lifeline’s 24hr crisis telephone line on 13 11 14 or try the website to find more services available to you
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