I feel the need to write this blog post, although I’m not sure why. I think on some level I feel the need to try to make sense of something, which I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make sense of.
From a literary point of view, I don’t think that’s even phrased the way that makes the most sense, but I don’t think I’m in the best mind frame to be thinking about that.
I’ve had a lot of experience in mental health – in many aspects. Mental health patient, supporter of friends with mental health problems,mental health support group faciliator, mental health trainer…
Similarly, a lot of experience with suicide – I’ve been suicidal, attempted suicide, supported people who’ve been suicidal, known people who’ve attempted suicide, others who’ve died by suicide, and I also deliver suicide awareness and prevention training.
Just 3 days ago, I underwent ‘Training for trainers’ to deliver my latest suicide prevention training course. I’m very passionate about educating people about mental health and suicide.
Yet, something happened recently that I’m having such difficulty processing on so many levels, and is just so wrong.
Some mental health professionals appear to have gotten their response to a person in distress very, very wrong and now somebody is dead.
That someone is K, a girl I knew through the mental health community on twitter.
I knew K and she was a really lovely person. I didn’t know her well though and never had the pleasure of meeting her, although she did also live in Scotland.
K struggled with mental health issues – although from what I saw she seemed to have come a long way over the years. Beyond that, it’s not my place to tell her story.
But on Friday - less than two days ago – she was suicidal. Here is a tweet she tweeted on Friday night:
“Been detained for assessment by police twice today, twice the hospital have said I’m being manipulative and send me home”.
Hours later she was dead, had taken her own life.
After that tweet, she did reply to a friend to say ‘tried to jump off bridge then when I went back after hospital police were patrolling it’….
So the result being that:
- a lady in distress tried to jump off a bridge on Friday;
- she was brought to the hospital by the police to be assessed – twice;
- Twice she was sent home from the hospital, where staff had said she was being manipulative;
- Later that night, she took her own life.
Those tweets were in her own words. Now she is no longer here to tell us more and that is so wrong.
Although that is only a limited amount of information relating to one individual case, it is enough to absolutely shock me. I’ve lots of experience with the subject of suicide, but this death I have found to be devastating and heartbreaking in many ways.
As a friend of K:
I would say that I was a friend of K’s, although not a close friend. Twitter is a big community, and I know that many others were closer to K than I was. But I knew K as a friend, and she was a truly lovely person.
She had survived a lot. She had a son who meant the world to her. She was a really caring person, who I witnessed do lovely things for other people. She supported others through rough times.
She was a fighter. But now she has lost that fight. She should be here now. It feels so wrong that she’s gone. That she was only here 2 days ago, and now she’s gone forever. And it shouldn’t be that way.
As part of an online community which has lost a friend:
It’s hard to watch so many others struggling with K’s death. Many others who struggle with suicidal thoughts themselves, now having lost a friend through suicide. It’s heartbreaking. There are almost no words to describe it. I just don’t know.
As a person who experienced similar treatment to K:
I’ve been in a similar place to where K was. I was long-term suicidal. I attempted suicide. But even more so, I was being discharged from psychiatric hospital, and extremely distressed, I planned to take my own life that night. (Many reasons, including the fact that I thought I was beyond help because I was being discharged from hospital more unwell than when I was admitted).
In my distressed state, I was open with a nurse about the fact that I planned to kill myself that night. She didn’t actually call me a manipulator (like K was called), but I can see how she thought that, as she was convinced I was just saying it to get to stay in hospital. She did say ‘if it means that much to you, you can stay another night’, when I said that no, I would be killing myself that night, so had to leave she told me that that was my choice, and that I had been discharged so there was nothing she could do about that .
Rationally, she must have presumed that I was attention-seeking, manipulating, as if I was serious about it why would I be telling her? But I wasn’t thinking rationally, and suicide isn’t as black and white as that… Yes, I didn’t end my own life that night… but only because I exhausted myself crying, and the next morning my CPN gave me back some of my fight, telling me that it wasn’t right that I had been treated like that…
That type of treatment by professionals gave me a fight to keep going, although I was very unwell for a long period after that…
It also gave me the desire to make a difference in the world of mental health – and two years later I set up a mental health training business… wanting to educate people, and to have a positive impact….
That night when I was treated that way by that nurse, I remember wondering how many others had been let leave hospital while saying they intended to take their own life…
I realise that if I had taken my own life that night nobody may have ever known the way I’d been treated… in Scotland each year there are almost 800 recorded deaths by suicide. How many of those were people who had been turned away from mental health services, presumed to be attention seeking, manipulating, whatever….?
I was almost one… I lived to tell the tale… K sadly didn’t….
As a person who hates the terms manipulator / attention seeker:
When delivering training I always try to dedicate a section to these terms. Considering what we mean by these terms…. How we use them…
It saddens me so much the way they are used… in such a wrong way… in a way that looks at a person’s external actions and judges them, instead of seeing beyond their actions and looking at the reasons, seeing the pain and distress that lie behind those actions…
People see actions, judge them as attention seeking / manipulating.. when the reality is that, yeah, maybe they’re attention seeking, maybe that’s because they need attention…
There’s always some reason behind everything, and the question always needs to be asked: ‘what reason lies behind these actions?’
In training, most trainees seem to have a similar thinking to that. We agree that attention-seeker and manipulator are not helpful terms. ‘Why is the person seeking your attention?’ ‘Why is a person acting in a way that you think is manipulative?’ are the questions that need to be asked.
Less judgement. More compassion and understanding.
But what saddens me most of all is the fact that while I’ve trained hundreds who’ve gotten this quite easily, in this case, health professionals got it so, so wrong, and now a person has died as a result of it.
As a person supporting others who are / have been suicidal:
I’ve supported many who are or have been suicidal. Partially through some networks I’m involved in. Partially through the fact that in my personal life, because I’m open about my own current and past issues,it’s seemed that friends are more likely, as a result, to tell me of their own struggles.
There’s one person in particular who’s been quite unwell the past couple of years. A good friend. Let’s call them S.
S has been in and out of hospital – mainly the same hospital where I received very poor treatment, and unfortunately he received a similar lack of care.
It’s always hard supporting someone who’s considering suicide, who can see no other way to escape their pain. I try to focus on the small progress I see the person making, the hope that is there, the belief that things can get better.
While supporting others who are suicidal, it is hard to witness someone else die by suicide. To see first hand the impact of a person’s suicide. To feel that. To see the loss. The devastation. The despair.
As a person who desperately wants mental health to be treated in the same way as physical health is treated.
Because I support others who are suicidal, I tried to give some pre-thought to how I would feel if one did take their own life. Obviously I hoped it would never come to that, and of course it’s hard to even think about. But I figured it may be better to give this some thought to when I’m more rational i.e. before it ever happens…
I have one way that I look at it, that may be different from how others view it, but it is one outlook that I hoped that would help me if I was ever faced with that situation…
‘Not every case where a person takes their own life is because they are mentally ill. But often it is.
Sometimes when a person is physically ill, they die as a result of it.
It’s the same with mental health. Sometimes when a person is mentally ill, they die as a result of it.’
But this is a painful reminder that, although that is an outlook that I hope would help me a little if faced with that situation, mental health is very far from being treated like physical health. Suicide is very far from being treated similarly to a person dying by a physical illness.
For starters, if a person is dying as a result of a physical illness, and come into contact with health professionals, professionals will almost certainly fight to try to save that person from dying as a result of their physical illness.
Whereas, telling a health professional you’re suicidal… you may get a compassionate, caring response from a health professional who tries to help… But it is not almost as certain as that response had you been dying from a physical illness.
Being mentally ill and telling a health professional you are suicidal and therefore your life is at risk, is no different really, for me, from a professional becoming aware that a person may be dying from a physical illness.
They can see the physical illness. They can’t psychically see the mental illness. But they can ask about it, listen, care, empathise… see it through listening to it, hearing the person’s pain.
Yet we seem to have so far to go before we get anywhere near this point.
And yes, because the health professional can’t physically see the mental pain, they may say that a person is attention-seeking or manipulative… maybe that their life isn’t really at risk…
But we go back here to the importance of asking ourselves what reason lies behind this behaviour… but hey, if a person is indicating they are suicidal there is clearly some level of distress… and another thing… if they’re not serious, if they are attention-seeking / manipulating in the sense that people all too commonly seem to mean it… can we ever really take that chance with a person’s life?
As a mental health trainer
There’s so much I could say on this note.
But the most saddening thing is that I’m putting a lot of emphasis on training the general public in the skills to help a person with a mental health problem, and in suicide prevention… yet here the mental health professionals themselves get it so wrong….
Health professionals will have had a lot of training. The training that I give would likely be considered too basic for many… yet it is the basic stuff that makes a difference most often. Empathy. Listening. Compassion. True care…
And I’m left with an alarming feeling that I am training so many more people with the skills to make a difference… but in many cases they may then need to signpost to professional help, yet that professional help may practice skills which are the exact opposite of what I teach… and may get it so wrong.
And while I know that the work I do does make a difference, that is so disheartening. and quite concerning…
As a person who’s glad to still be here today.
Today I feel low. I feel disheartened. I feel so sad by the loss of life. I feel angry. I feel confused. I feel so many other negative emotions.
But given that I could have so easily lost my life 3 years ago in a similar way to K did on Friday, on some level deep down I realise I’m still glad to be living my life today.
I’m glad that I didn’t take my own life.
I’m grateful to my CPN who helped give me back some of my fight the next day, who believed in me, and held on to hope when I didn’t have any, and played a big part in me still being here today. Who didn’t just see me as attention seeking or manipulative – when quite frankly that was exactly what I was at times… because I needed attention, I needed help… I can remember exact times I could have easily been called attention seeking or maniulative, but even more vividly I can remember the distress and pain that lay behind that.
K’s death has been a reminder, on many levels, of just how precious life is. And I’m glad that I didn’t die.
As a person who works in mental health in Scotland
I have worked full-time in the Scottish mental health sector for 13 months now.
Overall, I’m proud to be part of the Scottish mental health sector. There is a lot that is good about it. There is a lot of great work being done. There are many dedicated, truly life-changing individuals working in mental health in Scotland.
But there is a lot that is not so good about it too.
There may be many reasons behind these not so good things – lack of resources, lack of funding, professionals who get bogged down by workload, procedures, policy, etc… and lose sight of the person, what this is truly about…
Yes there many be reasons, but they’re never good enough… not when people like I, K, my friend S and others receive such appalling treatment, and not when people like K die as a result of it…. that is never good enough.
It’s a painful reminder that while there is a lot good about mental health in Scotland, there is a lot that does need to improve, and we do have a long way to go…
As all of the above and as simply as a human being
So many thoughts as a result of K’s death. So much for so many people to think about, following a tragic loss of a young life.
But one thing I do know that, no matter what happens, we need to make sure that K’s death is not in vain. Lessons need to be learned. Changes need to happen. Things need to change.
Nobody who presents as suicidal should ever be told that they are manipulating and sent home. Nobody should be dismissed in that way. K should not have been treated like that, put in that position… and neither should anyone else.
This is about K. But not just about K. There’s such a bigger picture, and we have to do everything we can to reduce the chances of this happening again.
And to any Scottish mental health colleagues, so many who I know are do amazing life-changing work, please work with me on this, please let’s do all we can together to ensure that K’s death has not been in vain.
Authors note to all affected by K’s death:
The above are all my own thoughts following a tragic event. They are varied thoughts, but there is not meant to be anything insensitive in them… and I hope that nothing in them will be taken that way.
I know that many will be struggling as a result of K’s death.
If you knew K online, but no in person, your grief is a real as had you known her in person – she was still a friend, whether online or otherwise.
If you are struggling, please take care of you.
Remember, these services and reach out if necessary:
- Samaritans provide confidential non-judgemental emotional support, 24 hours a day, for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair. You can contact them on 08457 90 90 90 or text 077 25 90 90 90. You can find more information about Samaritans at http://www.samaritans.org.
- Breathing Space offers free and confidential advice for people experiencing low mood, depression or anxiety, whatever the cause. This service can be contacted on 0800 83 85 87, 6pm to 2am Monday to Thursday; and 6pm Friday through the weekend to am Monday. Calls to Breathing Space are free from landlines and from most mobile networks. http://www.breathingspacescotland.co.uk provides a wide range of useful information and advice about coping with low mood, depression and anxiety.
And to K herself:
You deserved so, so much better.
We’ll do what we can to make sure that your death isn’t in vain.
But it’ll never be good enough. You shouldn’t have died. But I’m hanging on to the thought that you are not suffering now like you had been.
This is for you. Rest in peace: