Suicide trigger warning
This is a blog post that has been overdue for at least a few months. I remember exactly why a few months ago I realised a need for me to write a blog post explaining why, for me, suicide is far from a black and white subject. Several instances since re-inforced this for me. But, to be honest, I haven’t been quite sure where to start.
This weekend’s M42 incident gave me more than a good starting point.
A quick synopsis:
- The M42 motorway in England was closed for over 24 hours while police talked down a man on the bridge who was threatening suicide;
- While the M42 motorway was closed this caused a severe backlog of traffic, with many trapped on the motorway in their vehicles for several hours;
- The police commander for the area, Supt Kevin Purcell, confirmed that there was a ‘significant danger’ to the man;
- The man was safely brought down after more than 24 hours, and was detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act;
- My thoughts are with the man, his family, and all involved in the incident;
- A particular thank you from me to all the emergency responders involved in the incident;
- While I, of course, wasn’t directly involved, I was involved in social media response.
- The social media response was truly eye-opening, and not in a good way. It was a stark and painful definition of just what a lack of understanding there is about suicide and mental health in the general public;
- Here are just a sample of the appalling things which were tweeted:
“Whoever is threatening to jump off a bridge can you hurry up and jump I want to get home”
“To the man threatening to harm himself and closing the M42 ALL DAY… you selfish, cowardly bastard!!! Police should have let him do it.”
“To anyone saying the jumper has family etc. if I was his brother,father etc I’d be ashamed I didn’t help him before he thought bout jumping”
“Not being funny, but 9 hours on a bridge, he would of jumped by now if he wanted to. Put a bouncy castle under bridge and push him off.”
“This cunt needs to get off the bridge so the traffic can start moving again. People are missing Casualty”
“Love all the “Bleeding Heart” comments about this bloke. He is a selfish moron wasting time and resources.”
“At times I’ve wanted to die so I know how that feels but at no time would I want to bring attention to myself and shut a motorway. I just cant deal with attention seeking behaviour. If he really wanted to die he’d do it where he couldn’t be stopped”
“Wake up FEELING suicidal, need help? Ask for help/hang on a bridge indefinitely? Suicidal people commit suicide, this is for attention”
“If he was suicidal then he would have commit suicide. He is a man that wants attention if he needed help he could have got some (I did). Regardless if where it’s done suicide IS SELFISH. What about family and friends, the person that finds you dead, it affects more than you.”
“the shit he’s caused me I’m well within my right to be pissed off.. We all depressed but we don’t do that”
Despite including those, please note that this blog post itself is not related to the M42 incident. Rather, it is a general post on why suicide cannot be looked at in a black and white manner.
The main reason I have included a selection of the tweets above is as a reminder of the things that people do actually think and believe. But anything below this point is general and not specific to the M42 incident.
Some of the most ignorant things I have ever heard people say in relation to suicide seem to be looking it in a black and white manner. Suicide is not a black and white subject. It never has been and I doubt it ever will be.
And here are some reasons why:
Most people who are suicidal do not actually want to die
Most people who are suicidal do not actually want to die. They just want to stop the pain and difficulties they are experiencing.
Lack of awareness of this fact is often at the foundation of many ignorant and judgmental remarks about suicide.
People judge those who are suicidal for wanting to put others through their death, to impact that pain on others. Those who are suicidal may feel horrific guilt for what they are putting others through. People judge those who are suicidal for wanting an ‘easy way out’. People judge those who are suicidal, or who complete suicide, for being selfish.
Nobody chooses to feel suicidal, and it is rarely the case that a suicidal person wants to put people through the pain of their death.
If someone is suicidal, please don’t assume that they actually want to be dead. Consider that, instead, they can’t bear to continue experiencing what they are experiencing in their head.
It is NOT true that if a person tells someone their plans for suicide this means they are not serious about it.
Many people think that if a person tells someone their plans for suicide that this means the person isn’t serious about it, and isn’t likely to go through with it.
That is not true.
Yet, even in the past week, when I’ve had to do a suicide intervention for a close friend after he told me his immediate plans to take his own life, both the police and the doctor told him that if he had really planned to go through with it he wouldn’t have told me his plans.
It’s logical, perhaps, to think this. After all, the person who they tell is likely to stop them. But suicidal thoughts are not logical.
Or it’s maybe logical to think that when presuming that a suicidal person does want to die.
There can be many reasons why a person who is thinking about suicide tells someone about their plans. But one common reason is that the person doesn’t want to die, they instead so badly want their pain to stop. They are perhaps tormented by their thoughts of suicide and find themselves making plans, yet at the same time, so badly want someone to help them.
Hence telling someone. Sharing it. Perhaps as a way to ease the pain. Perhaps as a way to get help. But this doesn’t mean that they are not serious about those plans and don’t intend to carry them out.
If someone tells you their plans for suicide, please never assume that means they aren’t serious about it, or that they aren’t likely to go through with those plans.
No two person’s experiences of feeling suicidal will be the same
Many more people will experience suicidal thoughts than will ever act on them. Many more people will experience suicidal thoughts than we could ever imagine. So many people all around us, including you possibly, have experienced suicidal thoughts. And many people have attempted suicide, without dying as a result of it.
I could bore you with statistics etc (which would likely be just a tip of an iceberg, in any case), but long story short… so many people have been there and know what it is like to consider suicide or to attempt suicide.
This can give a lot of insight into suicide, but I am not sure that it can ever give full insight. After all, can we ever have full insight into how it is for another person?
It felt a certain way for me. I thought a certain way. I’m not sure that it will be the exact same for any other person.
And just because at times I had good help available to me, doesn’t mean it will be the same for others. I had amazing help from three wonderful professionals. But I saw, first hand, quite how bad ‘care provision’ can be.
Every person’s pain is different. Every person’s experiences are different. Every person’s situation is different. Every person’s desperation is different.
If you have ever been suicidal, or have ever attempted suicide, please don’t presume that it will feel the same way for any other person feeling that way, or that their experiences will be similar.
We can’t ever know what it is like in another person’s head
This is similar to the last point, yet different.
Each one of us has our own beliefs, our own experiences, our own situations. We each have experienced our own lives. We each have reacted in our own ways to the circumstances that we have faced.
So we, quite naturally, often make assumptions about other people’s lives. Judgements even. How we would react to whatever they are facing in their lives. How we would feel in their shoes.
Maybe we would react a certain way. Maybe we would feel a certain way.
But we are not that person. No matter what we have experienced and how we have reacted, it will be different for them.
And it’s not even necessarily about what they have experienced – it’s about what it feels like in their head. And we can’t ever know what it feels like in another person’s head.
Please never assume that you know what it feels like in another person’s head.
Talking about being suicidal, or attempting suicide, is never ‘just attention seeking’.
The terms ‘attention seeking’ and ‘suicide’ often come together.
I think that talk of feeling suicidal or attempting suicide can be attention seeking. But in a factual and necessary way!
What is ‘attention seeking’? It means that someone is seeking attention. Why are they seeking attention? Because they need attention.
It’s normal and natural for people to seek attention. Everyone does it almost every day. I’m even seeking attention from you if I’ve asked you to read this blog post.
But… I am very aware that this is not what people usually mean by the term ‘attention seeking’. It is a term used by society which trivialises a person’s pain and suffering. Particularly if it is preceded by the word ‘just’.
When I heard the terms ‘attention seeking’ and ‘suicide’ together, I often get a sense that the person describing the suicidal behaviour as ‘attention seeking’ is treating the situation as if the suicidal person is basically just acting out, just for the sake of it. That the person is perhaps choosing to act in a way that brings them the most attention, and that perhaps they are reveling in it.
That is rarely ever what it is about. And let’s say a person was just seeking out attention just for the sake of it… if all was right for them, would they be doing that?
The M42 incident this weekend was one example of an act of suicide being branded as ‘attention seeking’. Not in a factual way, but in a very judgmental way. One example being people deciding that he must have been ‘attention seeking’ by doing it in such a public way. And judging him for that.
Maybe this man was seeking attention through what he did. Maybe he was in such emotional pain that he needed that attention. Maybe, based on where he was at in his head at that time, this was the only way he could communicate the distress he was experiencing. Maybe he was that desperate it was all he could do.
If that was true, either in that case or any other case, I don’t see that as something to judge the person for. I see that as something sad and quite heartbreaking.
Never assume that someone’s actions are ‘just attention seeking’ and always take any talk of suicide or act of suicide seriously.
People who are suicidal do often think of those who would be left behind and care about them a lot. They do often feel guilty for what their death would put others through.
It is a common belief that someone who takes their own life did not give much or any thought to those who they would leave behind.
Or that those who are suicidal are focused only on themselves and aren’t thinking about others.
The opposite is often the case.
Many people who are suicidal belief that they would be doing others a favour by taking their own life. That they are a burden, a nuisance, that they don’t belong, etc. And, in their mind, it may actually be quite the opposite of a selfish act.
On the other hand, many who feel suicidal may actually be tormented by the guilt of what they are considering putting others through.This was certainly the case for me. I had never known that ‘most people who are suicidal do not actually want to die, they just want to stop the difficulties and pain they are experiencing’. I believed that I did want to die. I felt like a terribly bad person for what I was considering putting others through. I actually spent a long time researching suicide methods that could look an accident, as it would hurt my family, friends and colleagues less to think that I had died in an accident, rather than through suicide.
Now, if I had taken my own life, would anyone ever have known how much guilt I had felt beforehand? How much I had wanted to avoid putting people through that pain?
And we can’t ever know what goes on in another person’s head. If someone has died by suicide, we can’t ever know what went through their mind beforehand. Even with a suicide note it can be hard to fully know or understand.
If someone is suicidal, or has died by suicide, please don’t assume that they aren’t / haven’t thought about those left behind.
Suicide is rarely about ‘choosing’ to be selfish
‘Selfish’ is another word that I quite often hear associated with suicide.
Just to be clear on what we mean by the world ‘selfish’ the Oxford Dictionary defines it as follows: ‘ lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure:’
If you haven’t already done so, please read the point prior to this, which explains how there are many cases where someone who is considering suicide is clearly considering other people, and therefore being anything but selfish.
There are many other scenarios.
A person considering suicide may be very aware of the effect that their death would have on others, yet are so consumed by the intense emotional pain that they are feeling. This emotional pain can become so unbearable, that while knowing the impact that their death will likely have on others, they just can’t bear that pain anymore.
On the other hand, a person can be so consumed by that emotional pain that, in some cases, they can’t see beyond it, and they are actually only focused on themselves and that pain. But they are rarely choosing to be that way.
That is a key factor. Choice. Or lack of.
When a person says that suicide is selfish, they often mean this in a judgemental way, that the person is choosing to disregard the impact that their death will have on others.
It is much more complex than that.
Please never assume that a person who attempts or completes suicide is choosing to be selfish.
Inconvenience versus a human life
There are times when a person’s suicide attempt (or complete suicide) inconveniences others. Be it, closed bridges, delayed trains, or any other instance…
That is inconvenient. No doubt about that.
But there is a much bigger picture and I hope that some of what I have already said above will have given a perspective on that bigger picture. This is a person’s life and a person’s distress we are talking of.
And for me, if you were ever to give me the choice of being inconvenienced by a person’s act of suicide, or of being in the place of a person being so desperate to resort to the act of suicide, I would always choose to be the person inconvenienced by another person’s act.
No matter how long how long a person is in distress it doesn’t make them any less likely to act on their suicide plan.
‘If the person was serious they’d have done it by now’, is a common phrase quoted in situations such as the M42 incident at the weekend.
Again, logical thinking, perhaps.
But not so logical when remembering that most people who are suicidal do not actually want to die. They want to end the difficulties they are experiencing.
The person does not usually want to be dead. Hence, a situation where a person is on a bridge for over 24 hours without jumping is understandable from my point of view. (Or any other similar situation, remembering that this post is not specifically about the M42 incident).
The confusion. The not being able to bear feeling what you’re feeling anymore, yet not wanting to put people through your death. The wanting to do it, yet not wanting to do it at the same time. The ‘just wanting to feel ok’, but not knowing how you can achieve this. The not being able to bear another moment of feeling this way, but not being able to do it cos that is so painful in itself. Or not wanting to actually be dead. Or simply not being able to gather the courage to carry out the act, as trust me, it is a very scary and difficult thing to do. Not black and white.
I spent almost a year severely suicidal yet am still here. If I was really serious, wouldn’t I have done it? That question is not just about a man on a bridge. It could apply to many situations where a person is actively suicidal. For me, I was really serious about being in unbearable pain and so badly wanting to end that pain. Yet I so badly wanted to live at the same time.
No matter how long a person is in distress, never assume they are not serious.
How can we ever assume anything?
You may have noticed my thoughts on ‘not assuming’ at the end of each point above.
That is perhaps a key to understanding suicide. Suicide is not a black and white subject, it is much more complex subject than that. And one of my best pieces of advice is perhaps to never make any assumptions about any aspect of it.
I have tried to give as balanced a view as I can here. I am not a mental health professional, although I do work in mental health. I work as a mental health trainer and I also faciliate two peer support groups for depression and anxiety. But although I have undergone some training, quite a lot of my knowledge, both for this blog post, and what I do professionally, comes from the insight I have gained through my own lived experience of mental health problems.
This post is aiming to offer just some other viewpoints on why suicide is not a black and white subject. There are many other examples and many other viewpoints. Some will even disagree on some of the above, based on their own experiences. That is good and normal. That is part of the point of this post. Complex subject = many different opinions.
Note to anyone feeling suicidal
To anyone reading this who feels suicidal at the moment, please reach out for help. Be it talking to the Samaritans , your GP, a friend, family member, whoever you feel best able to tell. People are best able to help when they know what you are feeling.
And from someone who has been long-term suicidal, has attempted suicide, and who still experiences suicidal thoughts sometimes, I promise you that there is hope, and that things can get better.
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