One suicide is one too many…

During my life I have had to deal with some hard times, I had an abusive father, my parents’ marriage broke up, I lost my husband to cancer before my 21st birthday, our family has seen sexual abuse and school bullying, major injuries from a car crash, PTSD and depression, we’ve struggled to get help for suicidal attempts, I suffer from panic attacks, we lost my stepdad to suicide and my dad to illness, my mum’s battle with cancer and associated health issues and most recently we rescued our grandson into our care, however I am a person that still sees life as the glass half full.

If I have a ‘mental health’ day it is likely to be because I am stressed, pushing to hard, not self-caring, or just exhausted and my remedies include having a hot bath, reading, going for a brisk walk around the block or spending a day in bed watching chick flicks.

I have never been depressed, the panic attacks that I have suffered with intermittently with during adulthood are usually brought about when I am emotionally exhausted, and yes, they are physically and extremely scary at the time, but with good advice I have learnt coping strategies that work for me. My doctor once suggested that I use chewing gum so I couldn’t over breath and listen to loud music through airphones if I needed to distract myself from my thoughts and just get up and go for a walk.  

Depression is not like that, you can’t just chew gum and listen to music to override the thoughts, it is an illness that requires expert and self help, along with our support and understanding. And it definitely cannot be fixed by telling someone to ‘harden up’ or ‘get over it’.

The comparison below is a way of me trying to express the difference between someone having negative thoughts verses someone with depression, however you also have to take into account the magnitude of these feelings along with an overwhelming sense of dreed and the fact that these are all consuming; they are not just having a bad day:

  • Sad vs burdened, struggling, in a deep dark place
  • I’m overweight vs self-loathing
  • I don’t always get it right vs never doing anything right or not worth it
  • I need time out vs you would be better off without me

The Suicide rates in New Zealand are almost twice that of the road toll, from July 2017 to June 2018, 668 people took their own lives, where as in the year January to December 2018 there were 377 road deaths, it feels like an epidemic.

One suicide is one to many, but how can we try and stop this happening to another loved one; lets work together to find another way.

If you have not lived with someone who suffers from mental illness it is hard to understand but it is even harder to understand when you are living with someone with mental illness; love ones spend endless hours of heartache trying to support and understand, hoping against hope that the person will reach the other side and begin to see that they are not alone, there are others struggling and there is help and hope, that there are people wanting to support them to wellness and that they are worthy and loved and are spectacular human beings.

Over the years I have been to five funerals of people who I loved, cared for or worked with, who took their own lives. The emotions at these funerals are raw and fuelled by disbelief, anger, love and sadness along with the endless questions could we have done more, did you know that they were depressed, how did they do it, why did they do it, as well as those words that echo in the silence coward or courageous. Judgement will not solve mental illness but love and support may help.

The most recent loss was of a friend who I never knew, I say this even though I had spent time with her over the years, we had trained together and laughed together but we were never close. I always put this down to the fact that we both led busy lives and for much of our friendship she lived in a different town. She was a caring person and well loved, she would take the time to send well wishes when I was competing in an event and whenever we did see each other we laughed and enjoyed ourselves. When I say I didn’t know her or that we weren’t close, I realise now that this was intentional on her part, maybe this is how she protected herself or kept control by not sharing or letting others in. I was truly uplifted at her funeral to hear such amazing tributes from her work colleagues, she was a mover and a shaker, but I was saddened to realise that she was someone I could have and should have known more intimately; for that I am sorry. Sorry that I didn’t push harder to crack that mask that she wore, rather than assuming she had enough close friends. I should have asked, how are you, how are you really? I would have liked to have known my friend! Rest easy L.

So how can I make a difference?

I’ve been contemplating over the past few weeks on how to write a blog about suicide and I was thinking of different approaches that I should take, then a few days ago whilst looking through Instragram I saw a photo, this photo was like hundreds of other photos in the feed, of two women smiling. Having only recently joined Instragram and social media as part of my journey to blogging, I have a conservative approach to these things and have made a conscious choice not to click onto shots of random people, but this time I did, I clicked on a photo of two women I had never seen or heard of before.

Clicking on this photo was one of those ‘OMG’ moments, the photo was a post from Jazz Thornton with her doctor Stephanie Taylor, talking about mental illness and suicide and her journey to wellness. This could not just be a coincidence, so I read more and found that Jazz and Genevieve Mora have co-founded a non-profit organisation called Voices of Hope and been travelling around New Zealand visiting schools and now the world telling of their stories of survival and supporting the understanding of mental health, helping to demystify how people can even consider taking their own lives. Thanks to this innocent photo I am now aware of and in awe of their achievements. To see these amazing young people sharing their voices and hope throughout the world, talking and raising awareness and helping those touched by mental health to seek help early, prevention before the edge of the cliff, as well as giving us an intimate perspective of those that have been standing on that edge. I salute and congratulate you for fighting to stay with us and share the stories of others that cannot.

I have also just watched the amazing NZ Hearld short documentaries series, Jessica’s Tree that Jazz was instrumental in creating, telling the story of her friend Jess, who took her life, along with accounts by Jess’s family and friends. These documentaries are confronting, but an absolute must watch. The work that is occurring should give us hope that we can make a difference. Jessica’s Tree.

One suicide is one too many.

If you need help in New Zealand here are some links from the Mental Health Foundation (more on their website)

Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor 

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Healthline – 0800 611 116

Samaritans – 0800 726 666 

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