Grief is the most shocking and visceral experience. I was standing in the hallway of my parents’ house. I felt like someone had forced their arm down my throat and grabbed my heart in their fist and twisted. It was excruciating. Just when I thought the pain was too much to bear, they squeezed harder…..My brother had just committed suicide. He was 32 and this was his first attempt. At his funeral, hundreds gathered from across the country to pay their respects. How could he not see how much he was loved by them? By his kids? By me?
I now believe, after many years, that I know the answer. He had simply lost hope.
When looking at suicide, relationship issues, mental health problems, alcohol and substance abuse, financial pressures are usually at the top of people’s lists of probable causes. But hopelessness and helplessness are the main emotions felt by those attempting suicide according to published research. Without hope, what are we?
One of the inspirational clinical staff in my organisation, John Walsh, quotes Viktor Frankl’s work on the power of hope, as set out in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning”. The original title may be more relevant here – “Saying Yes to Life, Despite Everything”. Frankl survived Auschwitz and lost most of his loved ones in the holocaust. He looked at why people survived the holocaust and the concentration camps. He concluded they were able to find hope in something bigger than themselves – whether religion, family, purpose, love. In brutal conditions in Aushwitz, he discovered:
“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which Man can aspire…..I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved…..”
There are now many charities and organisations working how to address or mitigate suicidal risks. These often trade on this idea of building hope or finding meaning. You probably know someone affected – since 13% of 16 year olds have self harmed and suicide remains the biggest killer of young males. If you or someone you know needs help, get in touch with your GP who can signpost to some brilliant NHS services – trawl on NHS Choices too.
I would also point you in the direction of the fantastic Campaign Against Living Miserably which is aimed primarily at men
“All men, at times of need, may not know where to turn or go. CALM gives this freedom to know there is always someone to listen and more importantly help. Suicide is preventable”
And UCanCope a partnership between Connecting with People, the Samaritans and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The latter has fantastic free resources aimed at:
‘Suicide mitigation: a compassionate approach to suicide prevention’ – the desire that health professionals and those people in a therapeutic relationship with someone who has self-harmed realise that ‘every encounter with a suicidal person is an opportunity to intervene to reduce their distress and, potentially, to save a life.
This short film says a little more http://vimeo.com/48721158
Today, on Phil’s birthday, this blog is a thank you to those people and organisations who work in this arena.
It is also part of my commitment to the pledge I made to the Time to Change campaign about stigma and mental health – that I would talk more about how I have been affected.
Perhaps if that stigma didn’t exist and if more time was spent talking about mental health and whether young men are OK, I could be wishing him a happy 43rd birthday. Instead, I will feel the fist around my heart, squeezing ever more gently as time goes by.