September 10th is world suicide prevention day. What follows is a piece written by a colleague who wishes to remain anonymous. Here is her story.
Back in 2009, I tried to end my life. I don’t say ‘commit suicide’ because that implies a crime; that it was doing something naughty. People commit crimes – robbery, murder. Suicide is not that.
Many may argue. Once a crime, suicide is seen by many as the ultimate selfish act. My perspective differs and, whilst everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I hope that sharing my window on the world at the time may help challenge such assumptions.
I was 30. I had two pre-school children. Previously completely well, I’d had a period of postnatal depression after my first and was in a mother and baby unit for 6 weeks. I was thrown by this challenge to my identity – mental ill health was not something I knew personally. As so many do, I considered myself mentally strong. I was one of three in my year to get a double distinction at medical school, had come through 100+ hour weeks as a junior doctor no more unscathed than the next person, and had coped fine as the sole doctor in A&E in an inner city department overnight. I thought I was rock solid.
Putting the first postnatal period down as a ‘shock to the system’, I didn’t expect to find myself where 2009 took me.
Admitted just after my 30th birthday, where I’d organised a ‘goodbye’ party, disguised as a birthday celebration, I was in & out of hospital for about 9 months.This challenged my identity even more. I didn’t know who I was, and why I was like it.
I believed that everyone would be better off without me. The children deserved a functioning mother who could love them and meet their needs. I was evil. Bad things were happening because of my existence. I wasn’t sure exactly who ‘He’ was, but I knew he was after me and was threatening me. I saw myself cut into pieces and hanging from a tree like decorations, and could hear him laughing. If I didn’t make steps towards sacrificing myself, then he would go after the people I loved.
I didn’t want to die, but I felt I had no choice but to go. Clearly I deserved punishment. I loved my family, children and friends so much that I felt I had to make the ultimate sacrifice of ending my life in order to protect them. Only by doing that would ‘He’ be happy and leave them alone and in safety. This may sound crazy, but to me, it was reality. When people have a mental illness, the thing (the mind) responsible for rational decisions is the very thing that is broken. In judging these people, you are doing so using the values of a world that they simply aren’t living in. To anyone on the outside, suicide may seem like an irrational, selfish or cowardly decision. To someone trapped in a mind where suicide is the only option, it may seem quite the opposite.
The single biggest thing anyone can do to prevent suicide is to ask about it. By doing so, you will not put the idea into their mind. Asking can open the gate to them getting the help they need, even if they don’t see it as such at the time.
25% of the population suffer a mental health problem. This 25% includes some of the people you may least expect. This is because it’s an illness. They have no more control over it than someone with heart disease or cancer. Feeling this way is not a choice. Throughout my years as a doctor, I’ve never met anyone who said they wanted to feel like this. If they could have ‘snapped out of it’ they would. Of course all of us can do things to help ourselves in terms of our overall health, but mental ill health is no more of a culprit here than others.
World suicide prevention day is on Sept 10th. Disclosing my past is scary, but I urge everyone to take it as a reminder for the need for compassion and for understanding. None of us are immune to mental illness and suicide is not a selfish inevitably.