From the perspective of a mental health nurse. Trigger warning: the content of this post may be upsetting to some.
Over the years I have heard many concerning opinions about suicide, and I want to give you the inside story. I can't speak on behalf of other mental health professionals, but this is the truth as I see it.
Sometimes death by suicide should be viewed in the same light as death by cancer. Bear with me. Depression/cancer is diagnosed after a lengthy and insidious battle within a person. Treatment is given but it is unsuccessful. There is a common misconception that if someone 'gets help' for a mental health condition then they are going to come out the other end unscathed, that's absolutely not the case. Sometimes the tumour is too advanced, the cancer too aggressive and the depression too deeply embedded. And the person dies.
It may seem that in the case of suicide the person actively makes a choice to end their life. Yes, that is technically true. But I wish to paint you a picture of a suicidal person's mind. I apologise in advance, this will be unpleasant.
Imagine your worst nightmare. Really focus on what 'worst nightmare' means to you. Your whole life seems to be slipping through your fingers like sand. You feel powerless. Every day you're exhausted but you cannot sleep. You have the worst emotional pain you can possibly imagine yet you are also unbearably numb; so numb that you wonder whether you are human anymore. You have a sense of impending doom that makes you want to pull your hair out. Nothing in your life turned out the way you thought it would. You had dreams that now seem like a distant memory. Your self-worth and confidence have never been lower. You hate yourself. You are convinced that everyone in your life hates you. You feel like a burden. You are sure your loved ones are lying to you. Every morning you hope that you don't wake up and every morning you are tortured by the fact that you do. You feel you've been robbed. Robbed of opportunity, happiness and joy.
The worst part is that you feel hopeless. So hopeless, in fact, that you are 100% sure this is how you will feel for the rest of your life. People encourage you to 'get help' but you are convinced they're only interested in lengthening your life rather than improving it, because you know that nothing will ever change. You are convinced that your circumstances are permanent. And to make matters so much more tragic - you are sure that your loved ones will be better off without you. This is your existence day after day. Month after month. Year after year.
Some people describe suicide as a selfish act. I don't think so.
I worked with a young man who said to me "when it comes to happiness, people tell you to be selfish; to prioritise yourself and do what makes you happy. But when it comes to the most intense pain and suffering you've ever experienced, people tell you to consider others, to put your family and friends first". Can you really ask a person to do that? I know I couldn't. This young man made me re-consider my opinion of suicide, and the opinion of some of my colleagues. Staring into the face of someone so wise yet so young, expressing that he didn't want to live anymore was one of the hardest things I have ever done professionally. And my response to him was something along the lines of 'fair enough'. He was so convincing and rational and miserable. How could you ask him to go on? Luckily he did. I can't tell you exactly how it happened, because I don't know. I kept in contact with him and the date he'd chosen to die came and went. He lived.
But sometimes a person finds themselves in a black pit of despair that is so deep even with the best will in the world they cannot be helped out. Yes, you would hope someone who feels like this would be fortunate enough to access the right help at the right time and things would improve. But sometimes this doesn't happen. To assume mental illness and consequences resulting from mental illness are a choice is to assume that mental health is far less serious and significant than physical health. It is hugely insulting to anyone who has ever experienced this type of suffering.
People still use the phrase 'commit suicide'. Not only is this outdated and incorrect, it is also insensitive. Killing yourself used to be illegal. After an existence of suffering, pain and misery someone would make the decision to end their life (a right I feel everyone has); they would be placed in an unmarked grave away from their families, with other criminals also in unmarked graves. Does that seem fair to you? To me it is wildly unjust. Yet language like 'commit suicide' is still used (never in the mental health profession) and I think it's because mental health is viewed as being trivial to its physical counterpart. This has to change. Yes, things are improving but not nearly fast enough. You might think I'm being sensitive but I will continue speaking up for mental health, conversation is how we break the stigma.
People make the assumption that suicide is a person's wish to be dead. In my experience it's a person's wish to no longer live a life of intense unhappiness. I have never met another mental health professional who thinks suicide is selfish (if you're out there, let me know!). As a mental health nurse I have been exposed to unbelievable suffering and I actually mean unbelievable, I don't think you would believe me if I told you. I also can't because of confidentiality. There are so many untold stories and so much unseen hurt. So before you voice your opinion, give a thought for the suicidal, their loved ones and the people trying to help them. It is a complicated world.
If you'd like someone to talk to:
Samaritans: https://www.samaritans.org/ call: 116 123
NHS 24 - call: 111
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) - for men: https://www.thecalmzone.net/help/webchat/
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