Over the last few days I have witnessed what has been the worst stigma and lack of understanding of mental illness I ever encountered on social media. The target of this vile hatred and misunderstanding was those who attempted suicide, in particular the recent closure of a motorway in the UK due to a person who having reached the point of suicide had climbed onto a bridge ready to jump.
The tweets on social media were to be blunt vile, ignorant and selfish, some seemed more concerned with a delay in their journey than the life of the poor man concerned. At one point I tweeted that it made me ashamed to live in a country so ignorant of mental health, but slowly the tide turned and people began attacking those posting such hateful tweets, this was in part due to the work of a few individuals whose wise words encouraged others to challenge the negative stigma. I wish to thank everyone who challenged the negative stigma and restored my believe that this country is changing attitudes towards mental health.
All of this made me think about the times I had caused disruption during my suicide attempts and self harming incidents and people’s attitudes towards myself at these times. I can still recall the hurtful words of countless mental health professionals telling me how selfish I was for wanting to end my life, or those that viewed me as attention seeking or time wasting when I self harmed. I doubt I will ever forget those times that I encountered the dawning realisation that no one fully understood the pain I was in.
For me back then suicide wasn’t selfish it was my own selfless act of releasing those I loved from the burden that I then viewed myself as, it also offered me the release from the excruciating pain and turmoil I felt. Of course I couldn’t seem to express my pain clearly and somehow the judgement of others just added to my pain. My self harming was yet another means of physically demonstrating and releasing my inner pain. Of course not everyone’s story will be the same but in my case I just wanted someone, anyone to understand my suffering and help me stop the pain I felt.
Some people I met were more empathic they might not have fully comprehended how I felt but they never judged me nor criticised my actions. Occasionally they might even ask why and for a short time I could try and explain what was going on inside my mind. Looking back I know which approach helped the most and it wasn’t being judged or demonised by others.
I can still recall those individuals who cared and those who didn’t, for example once in Staffordshire I was stopped by the police, the officers concerned where kind, their actions were not to put me in a cell but to hold me in a room with 1-1 supervision whilst we all waited for my local police force to come and collect me and escort me back to hospital. They chatted about my reasons for leaving, for wanting to die, they explained people cared and wanted to help me. They de-escalated a very distressed and hurting individual to a more calm person who voluntarily went for my assessment.
But in Leeds whilst the police were helpful and non judgmental, the ambulance crew tasked with taking me from a & e to the local psychiatric unit criticised and complained about my wasting time and the use of valuable resources. I was in a unfamiliar location and had just been admitted to hospital and it wasn’t my desire to waste anyone’s time, but suddenly I was made to feel guilty and a burden; it didn’t help especially given I was suicidal.
When I self-harmed there were often those who judged and criticised, sadly the NHS staff were the worst, even on one occasion saying I must be making up my reason for harming; the doctor choosing to dismiss that my Mother could be my abuser with the curt response of “mother’s don’t do that sort of thing”. I remember feeling so distressed that he didn’t believe me especially as I had always been told no one would believe me if I told, now that was no longer a threat but a reality.
Though on one rare occasion a doctor was gentle and kind, he took time to make sure I was mentally ok too, even though all he was tasked with was stitching up my wound. That extra care made me realise there was hope; he’d explained that my family didn’t think I was a burden, they cared, maybe I could get through this awful nightmare I felt I existed in.
So why do people respond in such different ways, perhaps its ignorance or maybe fear of the unknown, or is it a lack of education and understanding of mental health. I think even among mental health professionals the issues of both suicide and self harm are sadly not fully understood by everyone.
With 1 in 4 people suffering from some form of mental illness its time that education was given a more prominent role, and perhaps we should focus on targeting this education at those in the caring sector and the younger generation first. If I have learnt anything from my time at breaking point it is that the least judgemental were in fact the younger generation, therefore we should look at more work in schools as well as within health, social services and the police.
Of course the wider public need educating too and challenging when they demonstrate stigma and misunderstanding, so more use of social media formats to positively challenge negative stigma as seen in the past few days can only be good.
Looking back now I realise that the dark place that was my existence back then, was not a permanent place, for with the loving support of my family, the right diagnosis and time, I now see that I have a future. Yes there are days of anguish and pain, but they pass and I survive to face each new tomorrow.
To those professionals and individuals who cared and showed understanding and helped to keep me safe I want them to know that I am truly grateful. Their actions helped me on my journey and they helped me to survive.
To those who didn’t understand my pain, please educate yourselves; not for my sake but for the countless others who will come after me on this road of desperation and pain and believe me there are many.
Finally to those who feel they are in that dark place and there is no other way out, I know my words may sound hollow and misguided, but having walked in your shoes, I can tell you that there is a light at the end of that dark tunnel even though you can’t see it currently. You are not a burden to anyone and you are cared about. Whatever has brought you to this place of contemplating suicide it is never worth your life, there will be brighter tomorrows and you deserve a positive future. Keep searching for that light it will come in time.