Tonight I read a disturbing and heartbreaking article on New Zealand suicide rates.
The statistics have been released for this year and it is the highest number in our recorded history since 2007 – a sobering 569 lives were lost to suicide. I couldn’t help but feel like a part of me wilted while reading this, and I feel the need to say a few things about suicide.
It’s time we stop ignoring this issue, shaming people as ‘attention-seekers’ and contributing to this rate by our actions and attitudes toward one another.
One of the most frustrating things about my mental health journey (I struggle with depression, suicidal thoughts and anxiety), is that every doctor I have seen about my issues has neglected to take me seriously and help me. I have seen several and I have been met with the words, “We will deal with that later,” “I don’t want to give you sleeping pills in case you will party with it,” and one even told me I had depression and nothing more. My strenuous efforts to get better and well on the road to healing has not been met by doctors or professionals who are willing to help me do the same. It’s disheartening. I am still praying and hoping for the day I will find a doctor who cares and is willing to walk with me on this journey, because people struggling with depression do not choose depression. They cannot help that they feel depressed. And they certainly cannot fight it alone.
A dear friend of mine sent me a story of a girl on Facebook who took her own life at the young age of 17. Before she committed suicide, she wrote a letter explaining how she had to fight her borderline personality disorder by herself, how no doctors took her seriously even though she had attempted suicide three different times and how distrustful the New Zealand mental healthcare system has become. I can’t help but agree. I know that there are doctors and professionals out there who are different, who perform their jobs with kindness and concern, but I, and many others like this girl, have experienced something entirely different.
I feel that there is a duty and an obligation of people who have studied and have experience in that area to help those who are confused, vulnerable and hopeless. If you are in a position of power, any power, what is the point of what you do if it is not done by and for love? What is the meaning of your work if you cannot impact and touch people’s lives, and maybe even save one? How can you live knowing you may have turned away a person’s desperate and quiet pleas for help, knowing that you may have been their last hope?
I don’t just feel that with doctors and mental health professionals. I feel this for all society and especially for all New Zealand, my home. We must not label that bullied girl crying for help as an ‘attention-seeker.’ We must not insult and shame people who we perceive as ‘wrong’ or ‘different.’ We must not tell a person struggling with mental illness that they have to ‘get over it’ or that ‘it’s just a phase.’ It’s degrading and dehumanizing to hear such words.
I cannot even begin to comprehend how devastating it would be if someone on the verge of suicide were to meet me and I had decided I didn’t want to be kind that day. The possibility that I could shatter someone’s hope or faith in humanity that little bit more feels like a stone at the bottom of my stomach. If a stranger were to meet you today, would you make them feel like they matter? Would you make them feel important and loved? Would you grace a kindness upon them that they won’t understand? Or would you make them feel discouraged and hurt and unsafe?
Our actions and attitudes toward one another need to be one of love. I hope that all of us can take these words to heart and implement actions that reflect that, not just for the sake of love but for the sake of life. Sit with a friend who is struggling with a mental disorder or sadness and just listen to them, really hear them out and be there for them. Spread kindness everywhere you go, even if it’s just a smile and a ‘thank you.’ Walk with people on their journey by asking them, ‘How are you?’ and really meaning it. Encourage people every single day. Be a cheerleader for everyone in your life. Tell people the wonderful things you think about them as if it were their last day on earth. Never, ever let a chance slip by to tell someone that you need them and that you love them. It’s far too risky.
I think about the 569 people and more who found nothing to live for and I feel a mourning for them. I have been in that place of deep depression and suicidal thoughts before and believe me, when you are there, taking your own life feels like the easiest way out of that pain. It is my prayer and my greatest hope that those numbers will not rise anymore, that we as a people and as a nation can do all we can to fight alongside those who are suicidal and hopeless. Be a supportive and loving friend. Be a kind stranger. Be a crusader of hope. It may not be enough, but it may be the very thing that pulls someone back from the brink of death.