April 13, 2015

Warning, this blog discusses the issue of suicide and may be triggering for some readers.

Beginning to type out a text to your sister that reads, ‘Hey, did you know dad tried to take his own life again quite recently…’

Pause. Contemplate writing, ‘He says he’s only still here through luck, not judgement’. Pause. Delete the content of the draft message, and instead send a silly picture you create from emojis that probably isn’t wholly appropriate to send your big sister.

Hearing your dad disclose attempting suicide is difficult

And then what? I’ve worked in mental health, and I currently work for a specialist child sexual abuse service, on the whole I’m pretty resilient and find ways of expressing my feelings. But still, hearing your dad disclose attempting suicide is difficult. Really difficult. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad he can say it. I’m a firm believer that we need to be open to having these conversations and that they can really help people. But in hearing it, you share in some of his feelings of helplessness, of loneliness, of frustration. You feel guilty for not knowing what to say, or how to help. You wish that he was happier and didn’t find himself in such difficult circumstances.

But, once you’ve heard that, and you decide not to try and transfer those overwhelming feelings onto your sister (which was seemingly my instinctive reaction). What do you do?

If we lived in a world where there were no stigma attached to mental ill-health, we would live in a happier place

A great woman once said to me that, ‘if people would express happiness when they were happy, cry and be sad when they were sad, allow themselves to express anger when they were angry (and so on)’ that the world would be a happier, healthier place.

I often think that if life were like it is in American sitcoms where it appears it’s the norm and accepted that everybody sees a therapist weekly, the world would be a happier, healthier place.

If I had an ongoing therapeutic relationship with a counsellor and I knew that I had a session coming up where I could discuss in detail my reaction to, and feelings around, that discussion with my dad, I’ve no doubt I would be considerably more at ease. But this isn’t American television. And the only people I know who access therapeutic intervention do so because they are at a time of crisis and are struggling to cope. Worse still, they feel a great sense of shame and embarrassment in doing so.

I’ve no doubt that if we lived in a world where there were no stigma attached to mental ill-health, no shame in accessing support, and no blame attached to those who were suffering. We would live in a happier, healthier place.

In that world, maybe my dad could access the right support, and maybe the continuation of his life wouldn’t be so dependent on luck.

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