Depression, Suicide and Stigma

by Sarah Myles

The apparent suicide of a public figure, while incredibly sad, brings mental health stigma into sharp focus.

The media exploded with speculation and debate about mental health issues and suicide at the weekend. The immediate, emotional reactions to the subject - raw, without the application of the usual politically correct filter - gave a brief snapshot of true attitudes toward mental illness. And it was quite shocking.

"What have you got to be depressed about? You have a great life!"

You may as well be saying to an asthmatic, "What do you mean you can't breathe? There's lots of air in here!"

But so many people still do not understand that.

It's right there, in the negative language. Referring to someone as having "committed" suicide - although it is not a crime in the UK. That someone has "left behind" a family - implying guilt and selfishness. That it is "a waste" - suggesting that something has been selfishly discarded without a second thought.

This kind of unabashed judgement of a desperate act has no place in our society.

I'm just as cautious as anyone when it comes to being open about my illness. I often talk about my more minor symptoms - the forgetfulness, certain aspects of OCD, certain aspects of mood disorder - but I rarely discuss the really dark side of things. The really disturbing, scary stuff I save for the professionals, simply because I know people will either avoid me or treat me differently. But I do talk to medical professionals when necessary, although many more are not yet ready to do that. And who can blame them?

There are many organisations doing sterling work across the UK, such as the Mental Health Foundation (mentalhealth.org.uk), Rethink (rethink.org), Time To Change (time-to-change.org.uk), SANE (sane.org.uk), Mind (mind.org.uk), and our own Mental Healthy.co.uk - working hard to educate people and combat mental health stigma. But so many people still seem unwilling to accept Depression as an illness.

The media have guidelines when it comes to reporting and discussing suicide (http://www.samaritans.org/media_centre/media_guidelines.aspx), but nowhere does it say it should be referred to as "death resulting from complications arising from severe illness" - which is what it is. Preventable and avoidable, if people are given the space and respect to allow them to feel comfortable enough to open up and talk about it.

So, let's encourage others to watch their language, while using our own to better effect. That way, we can help everybody.

Sarah

I strongly urge anyone experiencing low mood or emotional distress (or anyone concerned about anyone experiencing such things) to contact The Samaritans:

samaritans.org

UK tel: 08457 90 90 90 (24hrs)

ROI tel: 1850 60 90 90 (24hrs)

Email: jo@samaritans.org

Postal address: Chris, PO Box 9090, Stirling, FK8 2SA

Comments

Hx
Thank you for posting this it needed to be said

Thank you.

Samaritans - a twisted joke that got me started back to recovery. I went through a truly terrible time of constantly wanting to take my life and knowing my responsibilities and the consequences of this. I knew that eventually I would start to feel better and would phone the Samaritans most days. A talk would get me to the stage of coping enough not to head for the beach with a bottle of wine, the codeine and wait for the tide to come in........... I told most people I phoned that I really did not want to kill myself, was not going to but needed to talk until the feeling went away. The help was mixed but at least whilst I hung on to the phone I hung on to my life! Then, one Sunday evening, I talked to a well spoken woman who went through the usual questions - do you have a plan - yes. Do you want to take your life, yes but I am not going to Somewhere in this desperate conversation I said I will not kill myself - meaning I dont want to but feel like it and got the reply "I wish you every success, goodbye........." she put the phone down before I could say anything. Devastated, I struggled not to do the very thing I did not want to do. Fortunately, I knew someone who is a counsellor and took to phoning her when I was desperate and she helped me through. it became a bit of a joke - if the Samaritans put the phone down on me then where do I go. They are the best we can get but run through set questions and dont always know where to go from there. I did ask the Samaritans head office to put out to all their people what happened and the effect it had on me, truly feeling abandoned. I never got any feedback about this. I have had other people tell me they would not phone the Samaritans and now I know why. Well, not wanting to take wine and tablets to the beach, glad to say. Just because someone says they are not going to kill themselves, does not mean they cannot trust themselves to do that very thing. The suicidal wreck is hardly articulate either So, I am not sure I would recommend the Samaritans.
I could'nt agree more i have suffered depession for years about twenty i think :-/ the inconsistance of care by any service you ring. i have rang the smaritains before and found them un interseted and dismisive. I have had my own gp trying to tell me that god loves me and will save me if i ask for his love :-O whats that all about ah.....my brother and sister both have scitzophrienia and there has been no help for them ether. mental illness is very srong in my family you cant help what you are.....!! Its has made me feel very alone. there are all these numbers in the yellow pages but thats all they are numbers......! The samaritans are people who are forfilling something for them selves.....i worked for a dentist who was a samaritan and he told the whole world about it too and people would say oh..... He 's a good man you know.......fuck that its just something people put on there C V ......its called saving them selves....Lesley findlay

Thanks for sharing your story, Lesley.

Sarah Myles

Thank you for sharing this important experience.

While many, many people find The Samaritans to be invaluable in times of extreme distress, it is important to remember that there are alternatives available. Anyone struggling or needing support can also contact SANELine on 0845 767 8000.

I have had exactly the same experience. I can't phone them now either.

I'm glad you were able to contact your friend and get the support you needed.

Thank you for your comments.

Sarah

I like the asthma comparison

Thank you.

Sarah

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