This is what suicide looks like

JULY 26 — It’s tragic that it takes a celebrity suicide to get some people to notice that suicide is a serious problem. Right now, one person commits suicide every 40 seconds; by 2020 the World Health Organisation expects it to go up to 20 seconds.

Here’s the thing about suicide — there’s a lot people don’t understand. As the saying goes, you really have to have been there. There being the place where suicide seems the only feasible option.

For people on the outside, looking in, suicidal people are hard to comprehend. Especially in the wake of celebrity suicides. Here are people with fame, money, adulation and yet it wasn’t enough for them not to want to die.

Here’s the thing: the driving force behind suicidal tendencies is pain. It is a pain beyond understanding to people who have not directly experienced it. It is a pain that debilitates, a pain so all-encompassing that your mind, in a twisted need to save itself from that pain, decides to do anything to stop the pain forever. 

And of course, it latches onto that guaranteed end which is death.

In the book How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me: One Person’s Guide to Suicide Prevention, Susan Rose Blauner described suicide as a permanent answer to a temporary problem.

Some say it is callous to describe suicide thus but as someone diagnosed with major depression, I can honestly say it’s a fitting description. 

It is a fallacy that suicides are often premeditated; that those compelled towards it will do those Hollywood cliches such as leaving behind suicide notes. Yes, there are some who quietly plan their suicides, and yet there are those who openly telegraph their pain, stating their desire to die and of the latter, some do go on to kill themselves and at least make the attempt. 

One thing for sure though is that those who bring attention to their pain are accused of just being attention seekers.

As someone diagnosed with clinical depression as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) I know, intimately, that space where your mind and everything around you feels as though a prison, with death looking like the best key.

When is that second, that instant where you make that decision to end it all? It is when your pain peaks. There is a flow and ebb to the pain. Some days it is bad, some days you can deal with it, and some days there is nothing you can do to block it out. 

For some, that pain makes it impossible to sleep — why do you think so many of the depressed die from overdoses, whether intentional or not? Because for some, one pill, two pills just doesn’t do it. 

Robin Williams had apparently attempted first to slash his wrists but when that didn’t work, decided to hang himself instead. 

When I first tried to kill myself, I was 16 and hadn’t been diagnosed yet. I had reached that “peak” where the pain drowns out everything but the need to make it stop and so, I went to the kitchen and grabbed a knife. 

Like Williams, I tried, and failed, to slash my wrists. The knife was blunt. Unlike Williams, I was, at the time, severely ill and too weak to try again. So, I went to bed. 

That is the place where suicide happens. Sometimes all it takes for the act to stop is for the person to stop, to breathe, to call a friend, to post on social media maybe. Take a breath. Change your mind.

When you have dealt with mental illness long enough, you learn the signs. You try your best to avoid the triggers; you learn to manage yourself health-wise, give yourself reason and reminders, have a plan. 

Yet sometimes, it takes that one second. The second between you and a knife, you and jumping off a building, you and pulling the trigger. That second where the pain gets so bad you cannot think of anything else.

Like cancer, or traffic accidents, you can’t choose not to be afflicted with mental illness. There does need to be more awareness that injuries to the mind need as much help as anything done to the body. 

No one accuses you of being selfish and ungrateful for having cancer, so why do people ascribe those traits to the suicidal?

What needs to be done is to get people to understand that being suicidal is not a choice. Suicide is a decision, yes, but it is really one made at the point where a person’s sanity fails and if we accept that temporary insanity is an acceptable defence for some crimes, we should forgive those who, in a moment of not knowing better, kill themselves. 

Suicide shouldn’t be a crime; what is a crime is that people don’t understand that it shouldn’t be. And until then, one more soul will be gone in the next 40 seconds.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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