Out of the Shadows, into the Light: Suicide Prevention Day, 10 September 2012Posted: August 8, 2012
In early August 2004, barely into his twenties, a friend of mine – and mad Elliott Smith fan – took his own life. He had struggled with mental health issues, rooted in a childhood marked by poverty, deprivation of love, and instability. As devastating as his suicide was, his untimely death came as a shock to no one – he was born into a house and body of pain, which he tried to numb with alcohol and drug use. Unable to connect in a healthy way with the world, the inner isolation drove him over the brink. Towards the end of the following year, another good man, who had made my high school experience much less repugnant over coffee, outsider wit and Daria, died in similar circumstances, at the age of 21. As he and I had lost contact over the years, I did not find out about his passing until about five months after the fact.
At the time I found out, I was an in-patient at a spinal rehabilitation hospital, waiting for modifications on my parents’ newly mortgaged house to be completed, so I could bust out. Whilst out for the day, I ran into a high school friend at Flinders Street Station and, still in a world of grief herself, she abruptly broke the news to me. A week or so later, through several hours of de-briefing with her, I found out more about his life. A sensitive and intelligent young man, he had become involved in community activism to support LGB youth, but privately struggled with his own turmoil. I realised that we had faced similar trials during that previous year, 2005: relationship break-downs. Extreme anxiety. Depression. Fear. Loneliness. Untenable bottling of emotions. Self-medicating. At the very time he passed away, I was contemplating doing the same.
I am thankful that I didn’t take that final action, as I have witnessed the pain and suffering of those who are left behind. The emotions they are burdened with run the gamut from grief to anger, confusion, guilt, and even shame. Coming to terms with the hole that is left, and the unanswered questions, is part of the unending process of dealing with such an enormous loss. Those left behind can resent the person who committed suicide for the “selfishness” of the act; view them as inconsiderate of those that cared about them. However, whilst the circumstance surrounding every death is different, suicide usually occurs when a person’s pain exceeds their resources and ability to cope. The friend who left in August was not selfish – at the same time, in his own mind, he was completely alone. His life was undeniably harder than his peers. From the writing he left behind, it was clear he could not feel anything but pain by the end – not even the love of those around him.
This is ILLNESS, after all. It is a particular kind of pain that is impossible to understand if you have never been inside of it, inside that mental state. I hope you never are. Nonetheless, thousands of Australians will experience it. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under the age of 44 and women under 34. The ABS, Causes of Death 2009 report showed deaths due to suicide numbering at 2,132 – which equates to 6 deaths by suicide a day, or one every four hours (and these are just the suicides that are reported). It showed that more people die from suicide in Australia than from skin cancer, and that Indigenous people are FOUR TIMES more likely to die by suicide than non-indigenous people. And for every completed suicide, it is estimated that as many as 30 people attempt to do so.
BUT THERE IS HOPE. There is hope in taking positive action, in arming yourself with knowledge on how to support both others and yourself in times of dire need. Knowledge on what to do and where to turn to, to find appropriate assistance, and to nourish your own mental well being.
THE 10th OF SEPTEMBER IS WORLD SUICIDE PREVENTION DAY (WSPD). On this day, numerous events, conferences, campaigns and local activities call to public attention what is one of the world’s largest causes of premature and unnecessary death. Essentially, it’s about getting information out, and connecting people to the support, services and resources that could prevent them, or someone they know, from taking such a drastic action. Everyone is invited to get involved by participating in or hosting an event as part of WSPD. To do so, check out the official WSPD Australia website HERE. The website also contains a ‘Help‘ page HERE with links to hotlines and organisations that assist people in need, and a great ‘Resources‘ page with links to information on suicide and mental illnesses. Check it out HERE.
As part of World Suicide Prevention Day, an organsation that has been of personal assistance to me, LIFELINE AUSTRALIA, is organising ‘Out of the Shadows and into the Light’ Walks, to mark the occasion and raise awareness about suicide prevention. To join an Out of the Shadows walk (or register your own), go to the website HERE. Lifeline provides various services for people in crisis and those that care for them, and has published Suicide Prevention Resources and Information – you can download and read through them HERE.
And if you or someone you know is suicidal (and you live in Australia) you can call Lifeline 24/7 on 13 11 14 (call 000 if in immediate danger).
Post script: As I worked on my writing projects over the past week, I ended up thinking a lot about how comedy and tragedy can be intimately related – two sides of the same coin.
And then I finally watched THIS (strictly for fans of American comedy): Talking Funny HBO Special (2011), featuring shop talk between comedians Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock and Louis CK (how I wish Dave Chappelle was in on this. That guy has delivered me through many a dark night, I can tell you):
I like comedy in general, but for some reason I have watched a lot of Louis CK this year. I couldn’t quite pinpoint the reason behind my weird attraction to his comedy, as he can be so base and gross (and I am still a lady, after all). But when I saw this, I figured out precisely what it is I am connecting to in his schtick: part of the motivation for Louis’ comedy is to purposely explore places that he is afraid of, and then to find laughs – light – in those dark places.
When it comes to ‘art’ (if I can be so high falutin) I think that is what I connect to more than anything – people who “go there”, confront some real shit, and create something funny or poetic or beautiful in the process. And I realised, simply because of the way I think over things (an habitual pattern of reflectiveness I sometimes consider a weakness), that I’m actually doing the same thing – confronting fears and taking the sting out of pain – in my own creative writing. This realisation made me radiantly happy, in a week marked by some pretty extreme emotions 🙂
HERE’S TO COMEDY/TRAGEDY, AND WORKING THROUGH IT ALL.