Blog » Suicide — what is it telling us?
TRIGGER WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS CONTENT WHICH MAY BE DISTRESSING. This week someone I know killed themselves. I didn't know them well and I had no idea they were struggling with mental illness, so I am really quite shaken by it. Looking back, it explains some of their behaviour, but I didn't put one and two together. I hope I'll learn to recognise it in the future.
In a rather unusual text conversation, a friend and I were discussing suicide. I know, not a conversation you'd expect to have by text but hey, the upside is, I've got a record of it to paste into this post.
My friend: "It's hard to imagine how people get to that point without alerting other people."
Me: "I get why people don’t alert others — there’s so much shame and guilt and stigma around it. I’ve always had a flirtation with suicide — I still do, to be honest. I’m too interested in the experience of living to seriously consider it. But if I ever did, I’m not sure I’d share it because most would try to stop me. Don’t worry, I’m not suicidal!!!!!"
My friend: "Philip! What you're saying is that if you were going to do it you wouldn't tell me or anyone! Don't worry — I believe that you're not seriously considering it. I think for me I'd like the chance to talk someone out of it because I'd assume they were unhappy — which is why they want to end. I'd always like the chance to learn why people are unhappy and offer my perspective on how they might get happy again. But I do think that some pain is probably not fixable, physical or otherwise."
Me: "There are aspects of the world and my life that I love and those that I despise. The balance shifts. I trust and work hard to make sure the positive outweighs the negative. But I can’t always expect to control that. There’s a conversation I think society needs to be having publicly."
I think there is a need for a new conversation about suicide, particularly in western society. People are killing themselves with increasing frequency and this isn't just a weird phenomenon. There's a reason for it; a cause.
I suggested to another friend that people don't want to be in the world. My friend reframed it as, "People don't know how to be in the world."
I like that reframe. I don't know how to be in the world at the moment. Everything feels almost upside down and back to front. We pay people pittances for jobs that are essential for our survival — nurses, teachers, cleaners — and high level executives, politicians, actors — people who do very little that is necessary — get paid fortunes.
We put people in prisons and punish them for things that cause no harm to others — for taking drugs, for being young and confused, for making mistakes because they are poor and hungry. Yet we reward people with Queen's Honours and such-like for making ridiculous amounts of money, which causes the poverty that we punish and incarcerate people for.
We continue to condone industries that are destroying our planet; denying people housing and food because they can't afford it; allowing children to be abused and neglected.
How can we be in a world like this?
I began this post talking about mental illness but — having experienced acute anxiety in the past myself, by which I am still affected in a less intense way — I think this way of thinking is not serving us anymore, if it ever did in the first place.
I want to hear a new conversation about the world we have created — about poverty, crime, violence, corruption, consumerism, isolation, lack of belonging...I can go on. People aren't mentally ill. They're hurting, scared, addicted, helpless, hopeless, lonely, confused — and feeling it.
While we keep individualising mental illness and suicide — and perpetuate the shame and stigma surrounding them — we ignore the true malaise of our world. Suicide is telling us the world needs to change — when will we start listening?
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