Suicide prevention: looking past convention

Writing lazy language won’t prevent suicide wasn’t the start point and certainly wasn’t the end point of an exploration of why suicide prevention is stuck in a stasis; people kill themselves and they do it in high numbers. One can’t wish with suicide prevention in order to make it so; it would be impossible to categorically stop this from happening and, unfortunately, the number will never be zero. But with pieces such as mine before and the one now set before you, I hope to offer new approaches which may get us closer to this number – and at a quicker rate than is currently set.

A key focal point for me is my call for eyes to turn inwards; for introspection to become a vital and unmissable process in one’s life. This introspection acts as something of an enabler; a gateway to the real thing which is grasping the full potential of happiness. This is of course married to a personal, individual consideration of the importance of life and its value because of what it is in real terms: a life. A life which, through this process of introspection, can be integrated and placed into its full context as part of a constant process of conscious thought. A lack of integration is surely a key contributor to suicidal ideation – losing the ability to look past a problem in its immediacy, seeing the momentary issue as a totality. The relationship breakdown or the career failure then becomes life rending: the context of a broadly successful life or the potential for further happiness gets dropped.

In my last piece I touched briefly on the mistake of approaching suicidal ideation as a product of an external force, or an ontological accident. I’d like to broaden this out here by describing an issue parallel to this and extend another view to challenge conventional wisdom; to complain, with honest intention, about how suicide prevention is ineffectual if it is too focused on statistics and categories.

Patterns, demographics and numbers often emerge as a primary concern in discussions on suicide. In some sense, the observable pattern of a prevalence of male suicide is a redundancy: it is useful inasmuch as it is an observable pattern which has important root causes. They are not to be ignored. However, it seems that too often extraneous societal circumstances are taken wrongly as a cause and not a consequence. The problem of a high density of men killing themselves (for numerous reasons) doesn’t perpetuate the cycle in itself: there is no reason to take those facts as a primary.

Instead I submit that the indicators cut deeper. The numbers, so varied and tragic that they need not repeating here, show not what the problem is – only that there is a problem and its scale in the context of a populace. Even when the camera is zoomed in, the focus perhaps isn’t sharp enough either: it could be said that I’m reaching for a kind of ‘widening’ of the mind beyond a national problem and to also go beyond an arguably futile call for people (men particularly) to be more ‘open’ about their mental health. A higher degree of openness isn’t necessarily a step closer to a life saved; airing an issue into the ether could cause it to just be ‘out there’, isolated and standalone. Again, the context could be too easily dropped, especially considering that depression is a condition that makes clarity near impossible, blurring the lines and disconnecting the wires. The last thing one would want is to bring the issue to the fore by expressing it, only to emphasise what they perceive to be its enormity; all the while creating  a social anxiety with the audience, causing the suicidal person to add the preface that ‘it may sound silly, but…’ or ‘I know, it’s not that bad’.

Of course, these issues can be constructed to some extent as shameful by the conditions of one’s upbringing generation-wise. In large part, my father’s depression was exacerbated by him being a part of what is commonly referred to as the ‘stiff-upper lip’ generation. An expression of one’s feelings or any call for help was rendered difficult; but not impossible, I claim. Readers will understand that I take a dim view of the idea that societal/cultural/generational determinants are a primary cause – and I painfully long for a chance to say to him: ‘throw this repression to the wind! Don’t let your circumstances silence your mind and your mouth!’

Effective openness can only come after introspection. I’d envisage it like a place where someone can go to be presented with a cinema-size screen, playing back all the elements of life – good and bad. There is, of course, an element of danger by means of exposure here – I shudder on a daily basis, jabbed by thoughts of embarrassing moments and mistakes. I can imagine this being up-scaled by a factor of ten to a depressed person – but it is all the while a useful and valuable process. To face up to, consider properly and ultimately file away these events scales them down. However cliched this is, it is a process of ‘peace making’ with the past. From there, one can amplify valuable experience and achievement; depression unfortunately causes all of this context to go out of balance, becoming distorted and lost.

So, read in this that the problem isn’t solely that men won’t open up, it’s that they also drop the context. This of course isn’t primarily by their choosing, but, crucially, it can be overcome. An objective and integrated approach to thought and introspection can still be cultivated in a state of depression – even if it is considerably harder to do. The effort is surely worth it; to push past nebulous and unproductive expressions of statistics or platitudes about ‘opening up’, instead reasserting in a fully integrated way the value of life, before looking at practical ways to move forwards.

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An audio presentation of this piece can be found at: https://youtu.be/598m6nqbvwM

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