And how we can stop sucking at it.
Written by Lauren Bannister
September is suicide awareness month. The cycle begins: tweets telling us that we’re not alone, followed by a list of helplines and, if we’re lucky another list of statistics: “women are more likely than men to have common mental health problems,” “one in five women had CMD symptoms, compared to one in eight men”, “but more than three quarters (4,590) were male suicides in the UK 2012.” We retweet, without taking the time to read what’s been said.
It’ll trend for a week – if that – and celebrities’ tweets will be screenshotted, framed and mounted onto the walls of “Celebrities: They’re Just Like Us!” by end of the week we’ll be talking about Big Brother, Strictly Come Dancing and Freshers week. We’ll carry on with our lives, leaving behind the men and women who do not need a month to be reminded that suicide exists. It is living inside of then; a presence, all too consuming. It wears them down, until they haven’t the strength to carry on.
Men and women who are told can to “message me anytime!” are left forgotten beneath the mountain of DMs, forwarding the same meme. They fade into the background – another pixelated face, another name, among the many, another statistic. Another cycle begins: a new tragedy arises, and we all turn our attention to it. Their voices are lost in the background. We await for another excuse to look elsewhere. Our attention is limited to 280 characters. We are like children, always reaching for the newest, shiniest toy – or in this case, the biggest tragedies to sent out our thoughts and our prayers to. We are a generation that want to see results, and that is brave of us to want. This is achievable, but only I am afraid, if we are patient. Change is a process. It is slow and demanding.
I know you want a change, that’s why you’re reading this. You’re looking for answers. What if I told you that all of the answers you need are inside of you? You don’t need me to tell you that how we deal with mental health is an issue. You don’t need me to tell you that mental illness isn’t a choice, or that suicide isn’t instant. It is a process – the last, terminal stage of an often unrelated mental illness. You don’t need me to tell you that we need be more aware of the different types of mental illnesses there are and that we have to share our stories, for the simple fact that someone, somewhere, can begin to understand that they are not alone. You are not alone. None of us are alone. Everyone is in the middle of a process of their own. We have to learn to be patient with ourselves, and with others. We are all still learning. We shouldn’t pretend otherwise. Be honest. If you don’t know how to help, then say so, instead of replying with, “aw. That sucks. Have you tried yoga?” and leaving a link below to a dessert in a mug recipe for the “bad days.” What happens when those bad days stretch on to weeks, to months, to years? How much time has to go by, until we listen? Until it’s too late, and we tell ourselves that we “never saw it coming”. The signs are there. Only, some of us have been shamed to silence. Some of us have had to learn the art of hiding. Some of us have had to learn how to fake a smile to draw away attention. We should not be made to feel ashamed of our illness. Why must I, or anyone for that matter, feel the need to justify my illness? Why must my triumphs be downplayed, because I feel like a fraud? Why must my growth be interrupted by your accusing stares? I have fought to be here, as much as you have. This is not a competition. I know I am privileged. I know I have a family that loves me when few can say the same. I know I have a best friend that I can call at 3 in the morning when I can’t sleep, and the world feels like it’s caving in. I know this. But my illness does not; it does not see me for my gender, or ethnicity or sexuality. It sees a brain that is chemically unbalanced; it sees me. And I deserve a world that will offer me, and people like me the help and support that we need.
For a month we acknowledge suicide’s presence. We invite it into our homes. We seat it at our dinner tables, we talk to it. We face it. September ends, and so does our willingness to be made aware of suicide, and it’s many counterparts. We avoid it. We act as if it’s a single act when, in reality, it’s years in the makings.
If we want to make a difference, to truly make a change then we have to take control of the narrative; in the words for Mister Rogers, “if only we can make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we would’ve done a great service for mental health.”. Start with a conversation. Start with a “how are you?” and intend to listen. Intend to understand.
If you feel like you need to talk with anyone about any of the issues raised in this article, there are several places you can turn for help.
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – for men
Call 0800 58 58 58 – 5pm to midnight every day
Papyrus – for people under 35
Call 0800 068 41 41 – Monday to Friday 10am to 10pm, weekends 2pm to 10pm, bank holidays 2pm to 5pm. Text 07786 209697 or Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Childline – for children and young people under 19
Call 0800 1111 – the number won’t show up on your phone bill
All helpline information taken from the NHS website