Last month I sat and chatted with my Mam about her friend’s daughter who took her own life after a month-long stay in a mental health facility. Yesterday, I got a text from a friend about a pal of hers taking his own life ahead of what should have been a joyous occasion in his life. This morning I opened the paper to read a story about this young man, Martin Strain, who took his own life half-way through a self-help course he was put on by the NHS. The distance and coldness of how his depression was dealt with was what finally pushed me to sit down and type out these thoughts.
The last man I mentioned above, Martin, had spent the last 2 years of his life “bounced from professional to professional” during a round of “telephone assessments and failed telephone contacts” and “rarely seen in person” [by a healthcare professional], said his father. He attempted suicide in 2007, had been on and off anti-depressants and despite telling health workers that he had considered suicide 6 times in 2 weeks, was judged “not to be at immediate risk of killing himself”.
One quote in particular from this article broke my heart: “[Martin] said in the call, he did not want to let down his wife and four younger siblings. He wanted to “break the cycle” of how he felt.”
The thought of how frustrated and lost he must have felt, and yet still somewhere he had the presence of mind and absolute strength of character to consciously want to climb out of the depression that threatened to overwhelm him – and eventually did – makes his story all the more tragic. He wanted to help himself. He tried for 2 years to help himself, and yet he was given a questionnaire and a few tick-the-box services and left to his own devices.
It’s not enough. I know that our health services are struggling to the point of snapping, and I appreciate endlessly the work that doctors and nurses have done for my family and friends in the past, but when mental health diagnoses and care become neglected, that’s something that we can all start opening our eyes to and helping out with. If you get sick with cancer or diabetes, chances are I won’t be the one to spot it, but if someone close to me is struggling with depression or anxiety or an overwhelming mental health challenge of any kind, I can ask questions, spot signs and offer support where the health service can’t. I can be there every day. I can pick up a phone or send a text. I can be the missing link of humanity in that split-second where somebody has a wave of feeling that nothing is worth it anymore.
I’m not trivialising depression of any kind, or saying that it can be helped without medical intervention. I’m just saying that kindness, awareness, support, love and openness are all key treatments in helping those who are carrying a weight in their heart and soul, and we all have those treatments at hand at any time.
If you’ve been out drinking with mates this weekend, don’t just leave it at that. Think about any of them who might be having a tough time at the moment: job issues or relationship issues or perhaps a less noticeable change in circumstances. Just because they were out having a rake of pints with you last night doesn’t mean they’re not wracked with worry the rest of the time. Send them a message. Plan a dinner. Arrange a midweek viewing of Jurassic Park (yes I know that’s my solution to everything, but whatever…)
Love each other. Someone’s annoyance or irritability might be coming from a place of anxiety and stress and worry. Don’t ignore it. Ask people about themselves and give people a safe, calm place where they can openly lose their inhibitions and cry and wail and release all the messed up shit that’s currently going on in their life. As Martin’s story tells us, not everyone gets that space in a professional mental health environment, so maybe we can make more of an effort to be each other’s sounding boards in times of woe.
We all have low moments. We don’t all emerge back out of them. Let’s keep an eye on each other today. You never know who you might be helping, or who might be helping you.
And if you’re feeling weighed down today, or most days, know that there are friends you can talk to. There are people who will listen openly. Not everyone, some people are not good at that stuff and that’s ok too. But you are loved and you are treasured and there are ears that will open and hearts that will open and good people who will just listen and help you to get the support that you need. I am glad you are still here to read this and that you have another day on the Earth, and will hopefully have many more.
“If you believe suicide will bring you peace, or at the very least just an end to everything you hate- you are displaying self-caring behavior. You are still able to actively seek solutions to your problems. You are willing to go to great lengths to provide what you believe will be soothing to yourself.
This strikes me as optimistic.” – Augusten Burroughs