Today is world suicide prevention day. It’s a day when we’re encouraged to talk about an issue that is too often shrouded in secrecy and shame. It’s a day to acknowledge that it’s okay to be not okay. And to speak words of hope into the darkness of pain.
Perhaps this year we have talked more about suicide than most. This year we have had the controversial series ’13 Reasons Why’ attempting to throw a spot light on suicide. Suicide has made the headlines when celebrities including Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell lost their battles. And last month the rapper Logic gave a moving performance of a song named after the US suicide prevention hotline, and was joined on the stage by dozens of survivors of suicide.
But as I sat down to write this I wonder whether this kind of publicity is really making a difference on the ground, in those ordinary conversations happening every day. Does it really make it any easier to admit when you’re struggling? Do these portrayals in the media encourage you to seek help or enforce the idea that the situation is hopeless?
As someone who suffered serious bouts depression for most of my teenage and early adult years, I am no stranger to suicidal thoughts. They are a common symptom of depression. I owe my recovery to a good support network and to friends and family who weren’t afraid to ask difficult questions. I am quite comfortable with writing about those experiences, as I did two years ago. There is safety in writing about the past.
But if I’m going to be completely honest, struggles with my mental health are still a part of my present. I have found over this last year in particular that my mental health has been increasingly impacted by the challenges with my physical health. Dealing with the impact of ME this last couple of years has taken a lot out of me. Being exhausted every moment of every day is a difficult reality to accept, and it is hard to stay positive when you can’t see the end in sight. There have been days when I have wanted out and have had a hard time seeing the good in life. Whilst I don’t want to die, I can’t say I’ve always wanted to be alive either.
And I’m okay, I know that thoughts and emotions pass. I am rational and extremely self-aware with plenty of tools in my tool box. I am no stranger to the darkness that depression can bring and I’ve found my way back into the light again many a time.
I would love to say that I have found those thoughts easy to verbalise. But even as someone who advocates for ending the stigma around mental illness, I have found those words hard to find. I am noticing afresh how the shame surrounding suicidal thoughts and mental illness is still there. And if anything it is harder in Christian contexts, where we are masters at platitudes and offering prayer sometimes instead of empathy and help. Yet I would hazard a guess that I have walked past dozens of people having these same thoughts in the last month.
We are scared by suicidal thoughts, so much so that we often ostracise those experiencing them. I remember years ago a mental health professional telling me that suicidal thoughts are the mind’s warning sign that it’s under too much pressure. They are red flags rather than instructions to be acted on.
But we often only talk about suicide when someone has completed suicide. We rarely have a conversation around suicidal thoughts. Because of this disparity it can appear that everyone who has suicidal thoughts completes suicide. We don’t talk about the millions of people walking around today who have experienced suicidal thoughts and got better. We don’t talk about those who found a million and one reasons to stay.
And there are so many reasons to stay.
Please stay because you matter, not because of what you do or have achieved but because of who created you and loves you. Stay because your story hasn’t finished yet and leaving would be a final full stop in the middle of a chapter. And maybe the other chapters would have been the most beautiful. Stay because the good days can be like shooting stars that illuminate the dark nights.
Stay because the world needs people like you, who decided to put back the pieces of broken hearts. People who will learn to turn scarred hands into fists that will punch holes to let the light in.
Stay for the people you love and those who love you. Stay for the weddings and the births, for the smile on your face when your friend tells you good news. Stay for the laughter and the tears you’ll share. Stay for the kindness of friends and strangers. Stay because you will never be truly alone and you can still find a community where you belong.
And it’s okay to stay for the little things. Stay for the warmth of the summer sun or the crisp blanket of snow. Stay for your favourite television show or the sequel to a book you love. Stay for that song you love to sing along to on the radio. Stay for all the food you haven’t tasted and the flowers you’ve yet to smell. Stay for camp fires and fireworks and the leaves turning golden before they fall. Stay because staying will always hold more possibilities and opportunities than leaving.
I can’t promise you that the dark days won’t come again for any of us. I won’t pretend to understand the depth of pain that can be held within another heart. Life is full of both beauty and tragedy and we weren’t meant to do it alone. We are made for community and we need one another.
So in honour of world suicide prevention day, I would encourage you to reach out. Reach out for the help you need and deserve. Reach out to that friend who you think may be struggling. Reach out to celebrate those who make your life brighter.