This is obviously an extremely uncomfortable topic for many and it is equally tricky to write about however the need for us to be having this conversation far out ways any feelings of it being a "taboo" thing to write about, that alone talk about. Enough is enough.
We as a culture over thousands of years have made talking about Suicide something that is not for public consumption, in fact in many religious cultures the very idea of taking one's own life means eternal damnation . It is by only talking that we have a chance at reducing the stigma that is so powerful and so intrinsically embedded in our psyche and our society in general. The roll on effect of starting a conversation is that it could and can save lives and lead to change.
Before we begin the conversation and I share my personal experience with Suicide attempts and Ideology I will present some facts for both Australia and the United States.
Over 65,000 Australians make a suicide attempt
More than 3,000 Australians died by suicide in 2017
Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians between 15 and 44 years of age
Young Australians are more likely to take their own life than die in motor vehicle accidents
In 2017, about 75% of people who died by suicide were males and 25% were females
In 2017, the suicide rate among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was approximately twice that of non-Indigenous Australians
For every death by suicide, it is estimated that as many as 30 people attempt to end their lives
That is approximately 65,300 suicide attempts each year
In Australia, compared to the general population, LGBTI people are more likely to attempt suicide in their lifetime, specifically:
LGBTI young people aged 16 to 27 are five times more likely.
Transgender people aged 18 and over are nearly eleven times more likely.
People with an Intersex variation aged 16 and over are nearly six times more likely.
LGBT young people who experience abuse and harassment are even more likely to attempt suicide.
The United States
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US for all ages
Every day, approximately 123 Americans die by suicide.
There is one death by suicide in the US every 12 minutes.
Depression affects 20-25% of Americans ages 18+ in a given year.
Suicide takes the lives of over 44,965 Americans every year.
The highest suicide rates in the US are among Whites, American Indians and Alaska Natives.
An estimated quarter million people each year become suicide survivors
There is one suicide for every estimated 25 suicide attempts.
There is one suicide for every estimated 4 suicide attempts in the elderly.
And Finally - Global Statistics (as taken from the World Health Organization)
Nearly 800,000 people die by suicide in the world each year, which is roughly one death every 40 seconds.
Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in the world for those aged 15-24 years.
Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.
Sobering to read, isn't it? I think anyone would agree those statistics are disturbing, to say the least. Let me ask you a question, how many ads on TV have you seen around speeding or drink driving? How many stories do we hear about car accidents, natural disasters? How many parents talk to their kids about drugs, alcohol and general safety? I could go on but I think you would be getting the point by now.
So let me give you some unfortunate facts as it pertains to my own situation;
1. Approximately 9% of patients diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder complete suicide, which is 50 times more than the average population.
2. I am a gay man, aged 38 years old, so I fall into both categories of age and sexual orientation.
3. I also suffer from Major Depressive Disorder and complex PTSD which increases the rate of suicide attempts dramatically.
4. I have attempted and self-harmed more times than I can count, which I am being honest about. The amount of Hospital admissions I have had over the past 10 years has been substantial, to say the least.
I can feel confident in speaking to the topic given my circumstances and the facts and figures I have shared with you. The first thing I want to clear up is the significant difference between being "suicidal" and experiencing "suicide ideology". The main point of difference is that actually feeling suicidal can lead to planning and an attempt to take one's life. Feeling thoughts of suicide can be something more like this - " I can't take this anymore I just wish it would stop". To me, it is more an expression of the distress I am feeling compared to going into planning mode to make a serious suicide attempt. Most of my stays in Hospital have come from not being able to tolerate the distress level and doing something to mitigate it, like taking too many pills, cutting myself or both. Apart from the complexities of this in general, there is a lot of medication that actually lowers one's inhibitions (like benzodiazepines which are commonly prescribed for significant mental health issues). So the very pills I am taking to run from the excruciating pain I am feeling, make me more prone to go further and do something that I will regret. Add in alcohol and it is a sure recipe for disaster.
One of the most important things to discuss is the idea that has existed for so long that suicide is selfish. I suppose without knowing anything about Mental Health or the daily battles that people face, one could make that assumption, after all, the person is leaving behind loved ones and family that feel the devastating impact of suicide and there is no sugarcoating that fact.
I would like to explain it to you from my point of view at a time where I did attempt to take my own life. At the time I was undiagnosed or treated for Borderline Personality Disorder, nor did I understand at all why I was feeling the way I was and why things escalated so quickly. I knew I had depression and anxiety and trauma from a Sexual Assault when I was 16, but knew little else about my illness that alone how to manage it. BPD is such a complex illness and presents differently in every sufferer which coupled with major depression and anxiety was quite simply the perfect storm that came together like an enormous tidal wave of emotions and feelings I simply couldn't control. In fact, the feeling of having no control at all is what led me down a darker and darker path. Each day that passed my distress levels become more intolerable, my thinking more frantic and impossible to calm down. I had night after night of no sleep, a constant feeling of extreme panic and the complete inability to self soothe or control my emotions in any way. I started to feel more and more desperate to escape them, it just was not sustainable for me to go on like that. I vividly remember when I decided to do something about it, in the days leading up I had already cut my legs for the first time in a horrific bid to "feel" something other than the emotional pain and torment in my mind. I couldn't think straight or concentrate on anything but the level of distress and pain I was feeling.
So the day came quite quickly where I decided I needed it to stop, I would do anything and I mean anything to escape how I was feeling and because it was so chaotic and turbulent inside my mind I didn't know how to reach out for help. As I mentioned, the entire feeling of having no control became too much and as I began planning what I was going to do a strange sense of calm came over me. I was regaining control in the unhealthiest way possible, but it was enough for me to know what I had to do. I very robotically walked to the bottle shop and got some vodka, I remember the walk home was with purpose. I shut myself inside my room and started drinking, then took as many tablets as I could, which included Seroquel, Xanax, Diazepam and anything else I could get my hands on. It was at this moment that there was no possible way I could think logically. Of course, I knew I had a mother and sister who would be destroyed and my circle of friends that I had at the time as well. But to me, at that moment I thought "they wouldn't want me to feel like this, they would understand if they knew how much pain I am in". So any logic had already walked out the door long ago.
My plan failed, traumatised my roommate and best friend who took me to the Hospital and landed me in the Psych Ward where my Mum who means the absolute world to me had to come and see me like that. I had wanted it to be over, to not have to fight anymore and I didn't think I should have to. I was only let out on the proviso that I went home with Mum for Christmas. I felt shattered and then the inevitable shame kicked in. I had let everyone down and it almost pushed me back towards the edge. It was only that I had a great friend and family and finally a Doctor who was committed to really helping me get the right help that I was able to move past the "crisis" stage and back into a calmer and more rational headspace. It didn't take away the pain, but it scared me so much that I came so close to actually taking my own life.
So when people say suicide is selfish, I can tell you first hand that there are no moments of a healthy thought process, only an inexplicable need to escape the pain and suffering that I had been through for so long. If I had been thinking of the impact on my family and friends, of course, I wouldn't have done what I did. But in those moments, and there have been many since it is a pure panic driven need to escape the emotional pain I am feeling.
So the reason why we need to talk about suicide and not make it this topic that is off limits or taboo is that it could possibly save someone's life who otherwise wouldn't know how or where to turn to for help. Too long we have associated a level of shame to suicide and that just isn't fair, nor is it helpful in the world we live in today. I read an article this week about a 10-year-old who suicided (notice I do not use the word "committed') after being bullied so badly at school he could not see any other way out.
This just is not good enough, more than the stigma of Borderline Personality Disorder, the stigma of Suicide needs to be broken down and smashed. We as a community owe it to the millions of lives at risk every day to open up a dialogue and potentially save so many lives. So I ask one thing of you, read this with an open mind. Leave judgement at the door and try to see things from the perspective of someone who has stood on the edge of the cliff many times and thankfully for the support I received, I am still here.