ONE IN FOUR of us will suffer a mental health problem at some stage of our lives. The demands, pressures and expectations of modern life can increase levels of anxiety and depression, and this is felt even more intensely at times of recession. Suicide has affected too many families and communities across the country, and yet a level of denial persists about this real and serious public health issue. The stigma and lack of understanding around mental health problems must be overcome.
There are many misconceptions surrounding incidents of suicide. One of the harshest realities for the bereaved family left behind is the admission that a loved one found life too painful and came to the conclusion that suicide was the only way out. But there should be no denying about the fact of the death. We need to call it what it is; a suicide.
It can be of great help to others if the bereaved speak candidly about the death of a loved one by suicide. I can fully understand the wish to protect a dearly departed family member. But we must educate society about issues surrounding mental, psychological and emotional ill-health. The longer misconceptions about suicide are allowed to persist, the longer we will all struggle to really address the problem.
People often say when someone dies of cancer or heart disease that they really wanted to live, but their disease got the better of them. And yet they wrongly say that someone who dies by suicide wanted to die. Nothing could be further from the truth. People who complete suicide want to live as much as anyone else, but living becomes too painful. Those who take their lives do not want to die, but they just can’t bear to live in the incredible pain that their illness is causing them. It is very important for people to hear that message. Suicide is not a cop out on life. People who complete suicide have reached the end of their tolerance.
There is nothing shameful about someone who dies of suicide. They have fought the valiant battle and they have lost the battle to their illness. Society’s attitude to suicide means it is easier to explain death from cancer or a road accident. Suicide is a different type of death, but it does result from an illness and that illness is mental, psychological and emotional.
The bereaved often ask; if there had been an intervention, could the suicide have been prevented? This is a very difficult question to answer. The intricacy of human chemistry means finding the right balance of medication can be very difficult to achieve. There is usually a lot of trial and error involved in getting the right combination to bring the mind and the psyche into balance.
Often, the sufferer lacks the patience to get this balance right, because they feel that their cause is a lost cause. These hurting souls find it next to impossible to take the time and effort to share their pain. There is no way of knowing if one more intervention may have been the successful one. Much of the world of suicide is cloaked in mystery; something the bereaved are forced to wrestle with. The only thing that the bereaved can know is that at the time of the suicide the pain had become too much to bear and their loved one could no longer continue the journey of life.
Those bereaved need to have a realistic outlook on what life will be like after suicide. The death of a loved one from suicide is a pivotal event; nothing is ever the same again. But this doesn’t mean there will be no happiness. Bereaved family members can be happy again, but happiness will not come about automatically. They must work hard on resolving their grief. But through a lot of time, pain and tears, they can return to happiness.
We must change our attitude to suicide. Mental illness is like any other illness. Professional help must be sought at an early stage and the State must provide the services required to help those with this illness to recover.
Dan Neville is the Fine Gael TD for Limerick and the president of the Irish Association for Suicidology. Byline photo James Horan/Photocall Ireland.
For information or support on mental health and suicide, contact the following organisations:
- Samaritans 1850 60 90 900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634
- Console 1800 201 890
- Aware 1890 303 302
- Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email email@example.com