There is nothing selfish about suicide

Better minds better living with Dr. Yansie Rolston Monday, July 3 2017

FOLLOWING the recent spate of suicides in Trinidad and Tobago, Juliette has asked that I share her story. Let me start by saying that there is nothing selfish about suicide, it is a complex human tragedy that has the potential to happen to anyone.

World Health Organization (WHO) data places suicide as the second leading cause of death of young people between the ages of 15 – 29, and the number one cause in young men under the age of 45. Even more worrying, is that for every person who dies from suicide there are 20 more, like Juliette who attempted.

Clearly it is a serious problem, and instead of apportioning guilt, blame and shame that energy would be better spent focussing on decreasing the loss of life by campaigning for a public health evidence-based approach to its prevention.

Juliette had been living and thriving with depression for many years, but a recent work-related incident impacted on her ability to cope – she could not shake off the lack of energy, diminished self-esteem, and feelings of despair and because she no longer felt able to socialise she became unintentionally isolated from friends, colleagues and family.

Turning instead to food, snacks and her faith for comfort.

Most of her time was spent in bed ruminating that she was letting down her children because she was no longer the happy, bubbly mother they used to enjoy. It became evident that her dark feelings were beginning to affect those around her which exacerbated her sense of helplessness, hopelessness, and desperation.

She said: “I was desperate for the mental and emotional turmoil to stop. I just wanted the pain to go away because it is the worse pain I ever felt. Mental pain is the worse thing anybody could have in life.” Juliette wants people to know that “when I attempted suicide it’s not that I wanted to die. I was not being selfish, it’s just that I was desperate for that mental pain to stop and I would have done anything to make it stop. It was torment and I didn’t know if it would ever go away.” Prior to attempting suicide, Juliette was struggling day to day with the debilitating effects of depression and suicidal ideation, but she kept it a secret because of the stigma of mental illness and the taboo around suicide. For the most part, it was the stigma – the fear of rejection and of being judged which prevented her from opening up, telling others and seeking additional treatment for what she was experiencing.

She said: “I know what I had was a mental condition but I didn’t want my family or the people in my church or the ladies at work to think I was a ‘mental case, a nutter’. I just want people to know that I didn’t do it because I was selfish, I just didn’t know how to get the help that I needed.” That is Juliette’s reality, and in permitting me to share it publicly her desire is that it will raise awareness and hopefully make a small difference in reducing the societal stigmatisation and discrimination that people with mental illness, suicide survivors, and the families of those who have suicided endure. Think about it, how often have you heard a smoker who has died of lung cancer, or a diabetic who succumbed because they did not monitor their sugar intake being described as selfish? Yet the word is used repeatedly for people who suicide even though its complexity is enmeshed with social, psychological, cultural, environmental, economic and other factors.

Suicide is a serious public health issue but it is preventable.

However, it is the taboo, stigma, misconceptions, judgments, and adverse comments which hamper people from seeking help, and that is what kills people – not selfishness. With the implementation of an effective, evidence-based suicide prevention strategy many lives would be saved. So, the next time you hear of someone who has suicided or attempted suicide don’t be judgmental, instead express empathy and spare a thought for the grieving family who endures the hurtful negative comments and snide remarks about their loved ones.

Dr Yansie Rolston FRSA is a UK-based disability and mental health specialist advisor. She is a social strategist and trainer who works internationally at various levels of government, business and civil society. Contact her at yr@efficacyeva.com

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One thought on “There is nothing selfish about suicide”

  1. Unless you experienced that feeling of deep pain, helplessness, hoplessness(and yes you can loose all sense of faith the in God at times) fear, open punishment, shame, guilt because of a condition you were predisposed to , taking the lower road, you will be lablelled.
    We need to see the role we play in building and breaking each other. We are to look at our actions and the part we play in every situation.
    We have to learn as a society to truly care

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