Today I had coffee with a friend who also has anorexia, but she is recovered (or rather, she lives a life that doesn’t include anorexia, even if it’s always lurking somewhere in the recesses of her mind.
We were talking about suicide – both of us have attempted it a couple of times each. Thankfully both of us were not ‘successful’ (well duh, I’m writing this!). Right now I have to stop and ask, why do we call a suicide that ends in death successful? I know it’s because the person accomplished what they attempted… but it sounds so wrong. Especially given that many people who attempt suicide actually do not want to really die, they want help, they want the pain to stop..
My friend (who is quite a bit my elder – two decades+) mentioned that years ago in our state, it was illegal to attempt suicide. Now this is not news to me – suicide has been, and still often is, ‘illegal’, but I thought that was really just a formality. Who is going to run after a mentally ill, distressed person, and arrest them for daring to have lost all hope?
Well, apparently they used to do just that. People who attempted suicide used to be given fines!
This left me gasping silently like a fish out of water for all of five shocked minutes.
The stigma of having a mental illness has lessened greatly since the days of people being institutionalised for life in insane asylums but we still have a long way to go.
Have you ever experienced someone’s treating you differently after finding out that you suffer a mental illness? (If you do have one – if not, would you treat someone differently if you found out that they had a mental illness – and why?)
Have you ever feared telling your boss, teacher, friend – because you were scared of losing your job, being treated differently, ostracised, etc?
Have you delayed seeking help (or are you still to seek help) because of the stigma or the fear attached to having a mental illness?
Mental illness doesn’t make us different to every other human being. All human beings are somewhere on the spectrum when it comes to sanity. What IS ‘sane’ anyway? Who is the best judge of that? Indeed even the ‘sanest’ and ‘healthy-minded’ of us have our crazy moments!
When someone is suffering, and feels unable to ask for help for that suffering, because of a fear of how society will thereafter judge them, there is something deeply wrong with that society. The stigma of mental illness actually contributes to suicidal behaviour -
“Yet suicide is, itself, a source of stigma as anyone with suicidal ideation is considered weak, shameful, sinful and selfish, which prevents these individuals from seeking treatment early in the suicidal process. These judgements are often shared by active churchgoers ( Sawyer & Sobal, 1987), teachers and parents. Also, parents and widows of victims of suicide are stigmatised, which makes recovery from this type of loss particularly difficult (Smith et al, 1995). Destigmatisation should be addressed to mental illness as well as suicide. Increasing the stigma associated with having suicidal feelings will increase the suicide rate. Interventions among families, mental health professionals, military personnel and church activists aimed at decreasing the stigma associated with mental illness and suicide may contribute to the reduction of deaths by suicide.” (source)
This is why we need to keep on speaking out, we who have mental illness – This is why we need to stop letting ourselves be shamed silent. There is NO shame to having a mental illness – just as there isn’t shame for having a physical illness. We were given a body, our body sometimes gets sick and needs treatment to help us get better or live with that sickness managed – and this goes for body and mind.
Know that it is okay to ask for help – that having a mental illness doesn’t make you weak or stupid. Know that there IS help, and that there ARE people out there who understand. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Don’t tell someone who is unwell to ‘snap out of it’. They can’t. Don’t think that you can ‘pray’ them better or that if you make them laugh and do things, they will snap out of it that way. Prayer has it’s place, alongside real treatment and support. Being a friend and doing things with them is also the best thing you can do for them – but it will not make them better – and that is not a failing on your part either.
And if you find yourself needing help – here are some places to start – as well as talking to someone in real life – your friends, your family, your doctor, your teacher, your priest, your counsellor..
In the UK:
In the USA:
toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)to be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center nearest you.