After the carefully thought out philosophical comments by Jeremy Clarkson this week, it made me think further about the stigma in society that we face about suicide and those in mental distress.
The common preconceptions that suicide is “selfish” appears to still pervade society’s public houses and homes throughout the UK. After all this time, can mental illness ever lose it’s stigma, or will it remain the acceptable butt of people’s jokes and prejudices.
Something in the region of 1 in 4 people suffer mental distress each year and suicidal thoughts can be a regular occurrence for those in extreme distress. Suicide is the biggest killer in the “world” of all young people (under 25), while each year more people die in the UK from suicide than they do from road traffic deaths and homicides combined. Yet despite this, people are loath to talk about this subject or to acknowledge it’s significance.
This cultural attitude is exemplified by the ignorant and over bearing like Jeremy Clarkson who are happy to comment on subjects he knows little about in order to garner more kudos from his “fans” and of course gain himself a “little earner” – (did you know he had a new dvd out? ) - I’m sure being racist would be on his radar if he thought he could get away with it.
Unlike many, I have to say I am not a Clarkson hater. I find his pithy vaguely funny remarks in a sometimes overbearingly politically correct world sometimes entertaining. However, what many episodes along the way have shown is that his ignorance and willingness to offend for monetary gain, gives his game away.
Suicide is selfish
An interesting statement, and many believe it. The cognitive thought process that goes into this statement
Suicide is selfish
Is easy to understand. We see the individual. We see the consequences. We see the son, daughter, mother, father, wife, husband, lover, family, home – left behind, seemingly to pick up the pieces. To carry on, with the cloud that suicide leaves in it’s wake darkening the lives of those left behind.
I hear the call that it is an “individual choice”, surely we all have a choice. People who commit suicide have a choice to commit the act of suicide or not to.
All of this makes sense to many people. It’s obvious isn’t it?
Over the past year, I have volunteered for a charity called CHANGES BRISTOL which provides support groups for those in mental distress. The subject of suicide comes up all too frequently.
Many who have suicidal thoughts are never allowed to articulate these thoughts in society, due to the stigma and taboo surrounding the subject. Yet in a safe and non judgemental environment people can and do open up. Sometimes, to ask someone if they feel suicidal, or if they have ever thought that suicide was an option, the relief they experience is tangible to see.
Suicide is real. It is committed by the old and young; black and white; male and female. It cuts across boundaries and those suffering from mental distress can be found in every corner of our society.
For those who attempt suicide, it is often a transient feeling at the depths of despair. For those who fail in their attempt at suicide, most when asked 12 months later are happy they failed. Their life has moved on and things change – they are now in a better place.
The more we can help those with suicidal thoughts get past this moment of despair, the more chance we have of saving lives. Not just the lives of those who commit the act, but of their families and friends.
The truth is hard for many to come to terms with, but for most who attempt suicide, their cognitive functions are diminished. That is at the moment of attempting suicide, they are in so much pain, that they cannot think through their actions or what it would mean to their families. Indeed many reach the cul-de-sac of thought where there is no other option – their family would be better off without them.
This is not a thought process that could be described under the heading of “selfish”.
There are others, who have been so ill and in so much pain for so long (decades in some cases), that they do come to a decision that to end their lives is the only option for them. In these minority of cases, who are we to judge their “selfishness”.
“Every year, around 200 people decide the best way to go is by hurling themselves in front of a speeding train.”
“In some ways they are right. This method has a 90 per cent success rate and it’s quick.”
“But it is a very selfish way to go. The disruption it causes is immense – and think what it’s like for the poor driver”
“Change the driver, pick up the big bits of what’s left of the victim, get the train moving as soon as possible and let foxy woxy and the birds nibble away at the smaller, gooey parts that are far away or hard to find.’
It appears the “gooey” bits that he should be concerned about are that which is not functioning to it’s full capacity between his ears. Or maybe the problem is that it is functioning to it’s full capacity.
In truth the only way society can move forward is when we can have a sensible and level headed debate about suicide in this country. To reveal the inadequacies of our mental health services and to be honest about the extent of the problems we face. Suicide must no longer be the taboo that we should never discuss, but a reality. The less stigma and prejudice we have in society against mental illness the more people will get help for their problems and the fewer suicides we will have.
This new attitude and the end to the stigma of mental illness should please Mr Clarkson, after all, this would mean for him – fewer delays on the trains, and less of his precious time “wasted” .