I had my first suicidal thought when I was 5.
I remember it with startling clarity, over twenty years later. I felt left out of a game, sad and a little unwanted. And then this thought flashed through my mind:
“I want to die… But hang on, it’s nearly half term, so I think I’ll do it after that.”
It only struck me this year how horrifying this flash of thought was for a five year old.
I have had those thoughts and variations of them for most of my life. Sometimes they have been as fleeting as the one I described above; at other times they have been persistent and tortuous. The broken record that slowly broke my spirit.
I am all too aware that I am not alone.
Suicide is the most common cause of death for 20-34 year olds.
In 2015 over 6,000 people lost their lives to suicide.
For everyone who died by suicide, a further twenty-five are estimated to have attempted suicide.
And yet we don’t talk about it, or if we do we use language that judges and condemns.
Suicide is no longer a crime. It remains a tragedy.
And tragedies are to be grieved, but they can also spur us onto make a difference, both in the way we think and the way we act.
We probably all have our own views on the morality of suicide; but that’s not the point.
The point is the people. Friends, family, colleague.
One of my favourite writers on mental illness captured the essence of the struggle with suicidal thoughts heartbreakingly.
“When people are suicidal, their thinking is paralysed, their options appear spare or non-existent, their mood is despairing, and hopeless permeates their entire mental domain.”
The story doesn’t need to end here, however. There is hope and light to be found even in the despair and darkness of suicidal feelings.
So, how can we help?
GET HELP: You don’t need to deal with it alone. Get support for you and the person you’re trying to support by visiting the doctor, a pastor or counsellor.
LISTEN: Don’t assume you know how they’re feeling or what they need. As hard as it might be for you to hear, let them speak about their suicidal thoughts. Contrary to popular belief, speaking about suicidal thoughts decreases the risk of suicide.
Change the way you talk about suicide. Language matters:
- Committed suicide/successful suicide – Died by suicide/ended his (or her) life
- Unsuccessful suicide/ Failed suicide attempt – Attempt to end his/her life
We don’t need to avoid speaking of suicide.
We need to speak up and speak differently.