So I have been doing a lot of thinking about suicide prevention of late and the overwhelming frustration of the continuing philosophy “Don’t talk about suicide, or people will suicide.” I wrote an article on this and submitted it to The Drum. It didn’t get picked up and I am cool with that because that means I can publish it myself. The following is the article I submitted with amendments as it’s my blog I can say what I like. YAY!!!
Last year, there was an alarming number of suicides particularly among young people in our regional areas. Not that you would know, given the current guidelines for the reporting of suicide in the news media. What an outrage that the media cannot talk about the young people who have died because of the pressure of Year 12. It was reported on ABC 774 Melbourne and I tried to get a transcript but with no success. Who does this help? Why we can’t break the taboo of suicide the way we have with depression, by talking about it? I was told the research shows that when a suicide is reported in the media there is spate of ‘copycat’ suicides. While I do agree that this occurs, my argument is that ‘correlation doesn’t equal causation’. Meaning that just because a suicide is reported and other suicides follow, doesn’t mean that all of those suicides were actually copycats, some (most?) may be a tragic coincidence. I often wonder about what was really going on for the copycat. A person just doesn’t commit suicide; it ‘s counter-intuitive. A person reading an article about a suicide would already have to be in suicidal ideation or planning.
By not reporting suicide, it helps keep the stigma alive. Perpetuating the idea that it is shameful and wrong. It doesn’t validate anyone’s experience. Not the survivors, their families, or friends. It actually detracts from people seeking help. Real people, with real feeling. People who survive their attempt are often struck down with an even greater sense of worthlessness and self-loathing, the line “I can’t even kill myself properly” springs to mind.
I have severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder/ Major Depressive Disorder/ Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and am not ashamed to tell people either. If they are ‘uncomfortable’ with my mental illness, to be honest, I don’t really care. Maybe they need to feel a little uncomfortable, so that they can understand and hopefully change their attitudes towards mental illness. I get told to not be so ‘open’ that people don’t like to hear about the ‘strange’ things I do, no matter how funny I think it is (more on that later). I have also been told that I play the ‘blame game’ and that I want someone else to be responsible for my mental health. While this is so far from the truth for me, I imagine what it would be like for someone who isn’t as strong as I am, to hear that. It could devalue their experience and discouraging them from seeking help. I am lucky; I have a great support network of friends and family, but what happens to those who don’t? They get crushed in a confusing and expensive psychiatric system that will only support them if they can afford it, or if they fit nicely into a box.
Mental illness is deadly, as deadly as cancer; it’s just not socially acceptable. Would we as a society deny a diabetic insulin? Would we deny a cancer patient chemo? No we wouldn’t, that would be a disgrace. So why is it okay to deny a person who has a mental illness adequate and comprehensive care? Is it because most of the time people with mental illness are unemployed and therefore cannot afford to see the people who are trained to help them? Is it because they are not seen as sick, but as slacking off the system?
Now before I am accused of wanting to report the actual methodology of suicide, clearly that is stupid and vulgar. What I am talking about is talking about the issues surrounding suicide. Why people would contemplate it and that yes it does happen. Good people kill themselves. We have have to try to minimise. We can’t stop all suicides, it’s hard fact to accept, but we should at least try, not only because we value life but also because we value the lives of the families and all those left behind to try and make sense of it. The families and friends of the suicide victim’s are left with an unanswerable question of Why? These are the people who need a voice.
I would love to tell you dear reader, that this stigmatising attitude belongs to that of the ignorant few. But alas, I cannot. An article written by Nordt, Kossler and Lauber (2006) found that psychiatrists have more negative stereotypes than the general population. Psychologists didn’t fair much better as 3 times more health care workers accepted the idea of restrictions place on people living with a mental illness.
What has to happen to make people see that early intervention offers the best outcomes for patients and the community? I’m sure we don’t need someone with a mental illness going on a killing rampage?
The criticism I receive about my jokes and flippant comments about my OCD says more to me about the people commenting than myself. How my mental illnesses can possibly affect them too much, I do not know and I am sure if I did know, I would either be outraged or bored. I am proud of who I am and where I have come from. I do think some of my behaviours ARE hilarious, you just have to read most of my twitter feed. Apparently I shouldn’t find it funny. According to most of my doctor’s cracking one-liners is deflection. I call it coping through honestly. Eating food by colour and size order IS funny…
*Steps off soap box*
If you or someone you know is affected by mental illness and needs urgent help, please dial 000. If you need someone to talk to please call LifeLine on 13 11 14 of access the chat support centre by following this link.