Thursday, 19 May 2016

We need to talk about the 'S' word

Shit! It turns out there are a lot of 'S' words that we really don't need to talk about, a few we do and a lot we don't like to talk about like shame, stress and struggle. We like to keep quiet about sex, generally, unless we're in a gaggle of girls where we review it in minute detail. We really shouldn't ever mention sleep to new parents and never, ever complain about sleep to them. No one should say soccer BECAUSE THE GAME IS CALLED BLOODY FOOTBALL YOU IDIOT. If you absolutely must then sure, add an English or British or European in front of football but under no circumstances is it called Soccer. Please don't say software unless you want to induce sleep in your audience, and you really don't want to say software around some poor sleep deprived parents because they are already battling to stay awake. And for everyone's sake let's just leave spiritual out of all of this shall we? I mean we know we all believe something even if it's simply evolution but let's not bang on about it to anyone else. Let's just agree we all have a right to believe or not believe whatever we like when it comes to the Great Spirit in the sky. Good.

As I searched for a list of words beginning with ‘S’ there was a word that was glaring by it's absence, mainly because it is a word we really, really don't like to say and that word is suicide. However as it is mental health awareness week this week, we really do need to talk about it.

It is a difficult subject to address because at all times the needs of those who might be vulnerable to suicidal thoughts must be considered. It is important that I stress here that suicide is always a tragic waste of life and that if you have suicidal thoughts you should seek help immediately, you can find out more about how to find help here. Everyone reading this and everyone around you wants you to live, unless of course you happen to live near a psychopath, because they might actually not want you to live but they probably don’t want any of us to live, so that doesn’t count.

For many reasons it is a really hard subject to talk about but does not talking about it help? We know so much more about mental health and mental illness today but we still don't really understand that at it's worst it can be and is a killer. In fact it is the largest killer of young men. Think about that; a huge number of people, who have presumably been wired the same way as you and I, with an instinct for survival, have taken action to not survive. 

Depression robs you of logical thought and the ability to process information whilst at the same time telling you all your nightmares, over and over and over until you believe you live inside them, until you believe you will never escape them and depression tells you that this is hopeless, life can never be good again. Depression lies and it lies very convincingly, it is a better liar than Tony Blair but maybe a little less smug. Depression wants to destroy you the same way a cancer cell wants to. The difference is depression is happening inside your thoughts instead of inside your cells; where cancer eats at your organs, depression eats at your conscience, your very sense of self. Which is why it is so important that we understand suicide is not something to be ashamed about. It is a symptom of an illness that wants to destroy the mind.

Last week I felt that the death of Sally Brampton was announced with a subdued quietness that might not have heralded her death had she died of cancer and that left me feeling deeply sad and worried for all those who had sought comfort from her words. Perhaps it is just me but I felt a sense of “being buried outside the cemetery” about it. Sally herself once tweeted that when questioned in interviews about a previous suicide attempt the question was always asked in a whisper.

It is unusual for someone like Sally, who had an incredible career in media, despite her debilitating depression, to be mourned so quietly. Many of those reporting her death will have known her personally, which must have been deeply traumatic. As a well-known writer Sally didn’t enjoy the fame of Robin Williams whose death by suicide was reported extensively. However she was a voice well known by the vulnerable people I am sure the media were trying to protect, I just wonder if the quietness around her death could inadvertently have a negative impact.

Are we afraid to talk about suicide because we fear it, because we don’t understand it or because we fear encouraging it? Suicide, for most of us is thankfully impossible to imagine, it goes against our very instinct to survive. But suicide has very little to do with wanting to die, it is about escape, it is the moment the heat of the burning building feels too hot, it is the moment before the firemen break down the doors to rescue you. It is the moment that no one wants to happen.

Suicide is avoidable and preventable but surely that starts with being open, with sharing our grief, with lamenting that anyone ever feels that help will never come, when help is always there. It might be around the corner but it is always there when we ask for it. Perhaps it is time we let those who are vulnerable know just how much we value their lives by mourning loudly for the people we have lost to mental illness, by speaking the word suicide with sadness but without shame, by letting them know that we really want them to live.

If you are worried about yourself or someone you know then please contact the Samaritans who offer support for anyone who needs it.


  1. Fairplay Hannah - have had suicide in my family as I'm sure quite a lot of people have and thought that was very well written. Sometimes just talking to someone about it could save someone's life.

    1. Hey Andy, I'm sorry to hear that you've been through it but glad the post resonating. Thank you for taking the time to comment, it means a lot.