Suicide is the leading cause of death among young people in the United Kingdom. More than 90% of people attempting and completing suicide are associated with a mental illness. And yet many people don’t understand what that’s like, which leads to stigma.
Some say it’s an unacceptable, selfish and weak choice. However, suicide is complex. It isn’t always a decision you decide for yourself; sometimes a mental illness decides that for you.
Being suicidal was never a decision I made one day. It was more of a dark feeling that demanded to be felt against my will. I felt it in my skin, sticking out like needles. It made me feel like a prisoner in the dark depths of my own mind, and I couldn’t swim back up for air. It was always so overwhelming and uncomfortable. I didn’t want it there. I never asked for it. I didn’t even want to die, but I was scared this feeling would eventually push me to end my own life, should it worsen, as it felt like the only way to make the pain disappear once and for all.
Whilst suicidal thoughts and feelings are terms used interchangeably, there is some difference in their definition. Both tend to co-occur, but the feelings always came first for me – very persistently too. The times I have felt this way, more than not, stem from my panic disorder. Panic attacks are so bad they make me want to kill myself. They’re the worst things I have ever felt. I wanted the pain and horror of a panic attack to not just stop, but to also stop from happening again in the future. That’s when the thoughts would start. The thought of experiencing that god-awful feeling again, and again, in the future made me both feel and think that there is no point if that’s what my life is going to be like. And then, when the panic attack stopped, I didn’t want to die anymore. I did, however, become not only terrified of a panic attack, but of the suicidal feelings they now brought with them.
My mother once said to me that if I ever felt really bad or suicidal then I can and should tell her. I thanked her, but said I didn’t think I would ever feel suicidal. But I did, and I am always so thankful my mother had that conversation with me when I was younger. It stuck, and when I felt that way, I knew I had someone to confide in who would not judge me.
I spent a lot of time feeling empty and suicidal, but my earliest memories of feeling that they are when I was around sixteen. I remember sitting in my GCSE ICT class on a row by myself. The boys who usually sat beside me, harassing me, weren’t there. The teacher was speaking and I wasn’t listening to him. I was depressed at the time, and I had been for a while, But I suddenly felt a sharp change in my body’s rhythm. I didn’t know what it was like to feel suicidal before that moment, and now I don’t know what it’s like to not be so familiar with that icy dread. I didn’t think it would ever happen to me, but mental illness does not discriminate.
There is still a big misconception when it comes to mental health, but even more so when it comes to suicide. According to MentalHealth.org.uk, someone successfully completes suicide every two hours in Europe, with at least ten times that number making attempts. Being a celebrity doesn’t exempt you from mental illness either. The most recent and tragic celebrity suicide is Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, who hung himself in July 2017 after battling depression. Whilst we’ve come a long way in reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness, there is still a long way to go as people need a better understanding of why someone like Chester Bennington would and did take his own life.
Be the person my mother was, and tell your close family members and friends that they can talk to you. The 90% of suicides that are caused by mental illnesses are often mental illnesses that have gone undiagnosed and untreated. They are the people who have slipped through the cracks because they are too scared or too ashamed that they might be judged; that you might think they have nothing to be suicidal over. It could happen to you. It could happen to someone you know. Suicidal thoughts and feelings are not a choice. It’s what happens when pain exceeds your body’s resources for coping with it. I am still dealing with suicidal feelings and there is no easy way to cope with them, but it’s a battle worth fighting. I am still here, despite it all.
If someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or feelings then please reach out for help. Call Samaritans on 116 123.