(Content Warning: suicide)
Suicide is something that does not discriminate. It is something I know too well – from all sides of its ugly coin. I have sat beside friends in hospital beds, trying to brighten the mood as much as possible after such an awful event; they have told me both their gratitude of still being here and their disdain for survival. I have woken up to the text nobody wants to receive and that nobody can truly prepare for. I have seen no alternative and, almost a year ago, made an attempt I couldn’t make sense of at the time, but in hindsight, it was clear as day.
There are many reasons that drive people to suicide. It is not a condition or illness, per se: it can be a consequence of social inequality, environment, physical or mental illness. There is not always a note left behind, offering answers for those surviving. For as many people there are who have died by, or sought to die by suicide, there are as many complex reasons and stories to explain why. I can only talk for myself – for me, it was the only sense of control I could grasp while everything else was out of control. I didn’t even think of it as suicide – it was the only thing that made sense.
The language around suicide arguably doesn’t help its perception, either. ‘Attempted’ and ‘committed’ as verbs to describe death by suicide date back to suicide being a crime – while never criminalised in Scotland, survivors in England and Wales before 1961 used to face prosecution, and families of the deceased could too in cases of death. The religious implications of suicide are equally complicated, and we see them again in arguments around euthanasia. Should a person be able to play God? Some will view suicide as such an action – this, however, ignores the mental state someone considering suicide may be in.
Furthermore, journalists play a role in its image. Descriptions of methods can be upsetting or triggering to a reader, and the Samaritans advocate responsible reporting of suicide to avoid ‘copycat’ incidents or sensationalist reporting of a tragic death. It’s not just the news, either – film and television must be responsible in their storylines. Suicide is not a punch line in a comedy or the crux in a character’s development. There is no responsibility in a show, for example, suggesting that a bully will refute their actions, or a partner will love someone again, should the person die. It’s not responsible nor is it reality.
But while it’s important to not romanticize suicide, there is still difficulty in just plainly talking about it. I have seen people’s reactions change as I mention my friend died, and that they died by suicide. There is often an assumption that those left behind have failed in some way – they didn’t do enough, act quickly, that they could have changed the outcome. This isn’t always the case. I don’t want to paint suicide as inevitable – it is far from it. But I must tell you that there is no guilt in surviving. You are just as much of a person as the person who has died, and you are your own universe as much as they are (or were). You do not owe anything to anybody.
If you have come across this article while you are struggling to cope, I don’t want to bombard you with clichés and anecdotes. I won’t tell you that life gets better – but that life is a river. Sometimes it ebbs gently, carrying you along with it comfortably. Sometimes it feels like you’re treading along – but only just, your head just above water, just able to breathe. Sometimes you’re drowning, point blank, and you don’t know what to do. You’ve tried fighting back but the current is too strong for you to battle with. You can’t fight with the river, but you can reach out. There is always someone ready – a trusted friend or a healthcare professional; an anonymous volunteer from an advice line that you’ve never met before. Sometimes that person is you.
I know what it’s like to read positive affirmations while feeling low as anything – but there is hope. There is a future beyond suicide. Of course, life is not always perfect. Who said it was? But it’s out there – for all of us, despite our mistakes or wrongdoings done towards ourselves. Grab that imperfect future and do what you can. I promise – from someone who has been there – that you can do it.