Speaking Ill of the Dead
By: Beth McHugh 2007
When I wrote my two recent blogs on suicide expressing my sadness that there are people who still believe that those who commit suicide are selfish, I waited for more of the same. I did not have to wait long.
It was initially heartwarming to see that there were several intelligent and compassionate comments on the dilemma of suicide. Unfortunately, one of the comments reiterated the ignorance surrounding the issue of suicide. This is what this person wrote, and I quote:
I do think it's selfish. People don't commit suicide because the world around them is in turmoil - they commit suicide because their “own” life is in extreme pain or hopelessness. They are considering THEMSELVES, not those who will be left behind.
I believe suicide reflects not only the immense pain that the sufferer is under but more importantly the failure of society as a whole to address that pain. When a person feels so isolated, abandoned and hopeless that they no longer can bear the pain, it is no longer a personal matter involving one individual, it reflects on all of us.
I had to deal with a very distressed client recently who was suicidal. However she did reach out to her community for help and the Christian caring group that she approached rejected her plea for help. The help that she requested was to my mind quite a simple and straightforward request.
She had recently been discharged from a clinic where she had been treated for depression after a sexual assault. She was trying to get her life back together. She approached this “Carer’s Group” and asked for someone to call in for morning tea one day a week. Her aim in this was to fill her week with positive and constructive activities as she slowly built her way back to being well enough to undertake part time work. Anyway, the group refused this request, presumably on the grounds that she had spent time in a mental hospital and therefore would be too “difficult” to help.
Another client possessed a life story that included events so horrific that the average citizen could not imagine. She asked her neighbor, who was aware that this client had suffered extreme trauma, to buy her a loaf of bread as she was too unwell to shop at that time. The neighbor agreed, but then “forgot” and refused the next day when the request was repeated, as she was too “busy” with her own social life. Too busy to buy a loaf of bread, the so-called “staff of life.”
These acts by selfish and uncaring people pushed these two women, who already suffered enormous life burdens, to breaking point. I listened to their tears and tried my best to reassure them that the world can be a beautiful place, one that contains caring people. But with examples such as those above and the comments I woke to this morning, I know in my heart that the stigma surrounding mental illness and the ignorance surrounding suicide is alive and well.
All I can do is quietly go on to speak for those who will not be heard
by many in our community.