This question has been raised by people and the media since the news of Robin Williams’s untimely Death on Monday and it’s one that should be addressed carefully and with huge consideration – not in the way some have been on air and in print these last couple of days. I want to make it clear that I do not set out to offend anyone with anything I write here – I’m purely exploring the different ideas and arguments people hold on the subject. My own opinion will be expressed and it is just that – an opinion based on nothing but my own experiences and feelings. I’ve known a few people that have either taken their lives or attempted to do so including a close family member. With my own experience of depression I have also had those darker thoughts in my own mind and have a slight insight into what some people might be faced with.
Firstly the facts. According to the Samaritans website around 6000 people each year take their own lives and we know that each one leaves behind friends and family who will have questions that will never be answered. This is where the idea that it is selfish comes from – that the individual who takes their own life never considers those left behind. And there is a selfishness in there but you cannot make it a simple black and white issue. There is no fixed example of what a potential suicide victim looks like, which gender, age, emotional state, mental health. While there are certain groups statistically more likely to commit suicide – male 25 – 45 – it doesn’t follow that a sixty year old female won’t. There is no poster person that epitomises someone spiralling towards such an action against themselves.
Those who have self harmed in the past or have attempted suicide are at a higher risk to do so again. Mental health is obviously in the spotlight because Robin’s publicist talked about his battle with severe depression and the Samaritans make the point that half of those who take their own lives have no contact with healthcare professionals in the lead up to their death. But that also means we have half that do. There isn’t a tidy box we can put everyone in here and that is where the fear and anger comes from. “Why Him?” “She seemed to have it all.” “He was rich so I don’t see why he would do that.” “She always came across as a happy person.” “He could have stopped himself” The truth is that there are limited answers.
My opinion is that there is an element of being selfish involved – you want the pain/voices/darkness/heartbreak/problem to go away and you become so blinded by these you decide that it is the only sensible option left. To that end it is selfish, but not in a nasty way as some have said in the last couple of days. I have never attempted suicide but I understand the feeling that others would be better off without me and in my opinion that is the opposite of being selfish. While not thinking straight you can see the logic of the thought process – that I’ve become a burden, a problem that can be removed. Unless you’ve been at that point yourself you can’t really see things the way they do.
Can we help? Can we spot the signs? Yes is the short answer. We need to be aware of those around us and their behaviours changing. In teenagers (or adults) self harming is an obvious sign which should never be dismissed as an “attention seeking action” if someone is compelled to physically harm themselves you should get them help. It’s not a cry for help it’s a sign that something is seriously wrong. If someone says something – even in passing – about killing themselves consider whether they have been down of late and speak to them. Opening up the channels of dialogue can help to stop them acting upon it. And don’t be worried about offending them because they might be saying to get a reaction.
Suicide is a complex thing both for the victim of it and for those left behind. I’ve seen the wake left behind by it and wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Don’t judge those who take their own lives – instead use it as reminder to look out for those round about you. The best way to help prevent people taking their own lives is to help and support them, guide them to get professional help.
Here are a few websites that are worth looking at about suicide and mental health:
http://www.samaritans.org – a great place to start to get the basics on support for both you and anyone you have worries about.
http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/ – a fantastic Australian website that explains all types of mental illness and has guides to what each type involves. 90% of suicide victims have either diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issues
http://www.mind.org.uk/ – A UK charity that deals with mental health issues.
Ultimately I would say this about suicide: if you feel at all that you want to end it all speak to someone – professional or otherwise – because you’ll discover very quickly that you are not alone in this experience. We all have down periods but if you feel it’s more than that go and see a GP and if you’re not happy with the response go for a second opinion. There is help out there to get you back on the right track through medication, therapy or just talking – there is always another option available no matter how dark and impossible the world seems to you someone will be able to help you.