Many of you will recognise these words as being from the theme tune to the TV series, M*A*S*H.
“...suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please...’
But of course nobody who is reading this can validate or disprove the statement that ‘suicide is painless’. In my experience of talking to people who have come close to it, the tragic probability is that most people who take their own lives don’t actually want to die. They just want the pain to go away.
“The sword of time will pierce our skins
It doesn't hurt when it begins
But as it works its way on in
The pain grows stronger...watch it grin.”
The latest available key facts, as produced by Samaritans (who are the only organisation to collate suicide statistics for the UK and the Republic of Ireland), are:
In 2017 there were 6,213 suicides in the UK and Republic of Ireland
In the UK, men are three times as likely to take their own lives than women
In the Republic of Ireland, men are four times more likely to take their own lives than women.
In the UK, the highest suicide rate was for men aged 45-49.
In the Republic of Ireland, the highest suicide rate was for men aged 25–34 (with an almost identical rate for men aged 45–54).
In Northern Ireland, suicide rates for both men and women are higher than other UK nations – however rates are not necessarily directly comparable.
Have you ever thought about ending your life?
I have. And I suspect that a great many people reading this will have, at some time – even if just for a fleeting moment - considered the possibility. And it’s absolutely OK to have felt like that – it doesn’t make you a lesser person, or ‘damaged goods’. Life can be incredibly hard. The good news is that you are still here. Perhaps you found support in your family or friends, or you were brave enough to seek professional help.
Unfortunately there are an awful lot of people who don’t have that support, or courage, and who feel totally alone and desperate.
What can we do about it?
I think we can all be much more aware. If we open our eyes and our ears (and take time to look up from our smart phones and tablets), we might just be able to pick up on something that doesn’t feel right. Check-in with someone if you think they are struggling, even if it’s just by sending them a simple text message. Let them know you’re there for them. And remember that people who talk openly about suicide are not seeking attention – they are crying out for help to relieve their pain.
Mental health can be as debilitating as a physical ailment, even more so. If someone had a broken leg, you wouldn’t expect them to limp along and just wait until it healed itself. Often that’s the attitude towards mental health issues. If you, or anyone you know, is in mental distress, please don’t suffer in silence. A problem shared, IS a problem halved. Talking to someone about your problems doesn’t necessarily fix everything, but it certainly makes them seem a lot more bearable and helps to take the pain away. We often can’t change the challenging facts in our lives, but we do have the option to change our perspective about our situation – and we can encourage others to do the same.
Imagine what a difference we could make
if we all improved our awareness - not only of the people in our own lives, but of people beyond that circle. Perhaps noticing someone standing alone on a station platform, but repeatedly not getting on a train. Or someone leaning over the railings of a bridge. Or someone standing on a beach looking out to sea.
Kindness can have a dramatic ripple effect and, in some cases, it can literally be life-changing. The great Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, spoke about the need for empathy and understanding:
“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don't blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.”
So perhaps we all need to be more conscientious ‘Gardeners’, for our sake and for the sake of others, in our lives and beyond. Nurture your personal ‘allotment’ and watch as it flourishes and encourages the neighbouring ‘allotments’ to do the same.
The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. It is only greener where we choose to water it.
If you are struggling and need support please contact me