Darkness into Light

Understanding suicide is such a difficult proposition

Darkness into Light

The Darkness into Light walk took place last Saturday morning all over Ireland. This is the flagship fundraising and awareness event for Pieta House who help people in suicidal distress and engage in self-harm. It has grown from strength to strength since its inception in 2008.

The Gaelic Players Association has tackled the problem of depression and gambling in recent times but these aren’t the only causes of suicide. Understanding suicide is so difficult for relatives and friends when a loved one decides to end his or her own life. There are no single or simple reasons because of the complexity of factors involved. Questions abound. For those left behind there is a sense of guilt. Couldn’t I have done more? Why didn’t I foresee this probability? These questions can consume a person for the rest of their lives. Some people who die by suicide may have had a history of mental illness but it is those who take their own lives without a history that leave many more questions for their loved ones.

I am neither a psychologist nor a psychiatrist but I did encounter the darkness a long time ago when I was a millisecond from jumping into a roaring angry river in Romania. I was working in an orphanage for mentally and physically handicapped children at the time. I was sitting at a dinner table with a local Romanian lad learning their language. Within thirty seconds of a moment of irrationality I was standing on a bridge. My head was fuzzy. There was intense emotional pain. My heart was racing. I had no control. But for a colleague I would not be here to tell the story. I would have been another statistic. This episode stays with me to remind me how fickle life is and how delicate the brain is.

For approximately a year I spent long days at home in a black hole. I looked forward to sleeping at night because this was the only time that the pain went away. Believe me any physical pain of any intensity would have been easier to deal with. I did not have a mental health issue at the time. I had just finished exams, went directly to Romania and began working in a very stressful environment. I hadn’t slept for three consecutive nights. This is my story. Others want to end their pain for varying reasons.

I genuinely believe that the majority of people do not understand what’s happening in the minds of people who are suicidal. For me, I was devoid of emotion and rationale. Psychiatrists and psychologists who have an intellectual understanding cannot even empathise with those who exist in such a state of despair. They are the experts and thank God for them. Unless one has been to the brink one will never know what a suicidal person experiences. It wasn’t sympathy that I needed. It was expert help which I was fortunate to get.

I believe that mental health issues are on the increase in modern society as a whole. “One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide. Treatments are available, but nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help from a health professional. Stigma, discrimination and neglect prevent care and treatment from reaching people with mental disorders… Where there is neglect, there is little or no understanding. Where there is no understanding, there is neglect” (World Health Organisation)

I read an article by Padraig O’Morain in the Irish Times (May 7th 2016) entitled “Sustaining life expectancy requires a revolution mental health attitudes”. While I agree with the content of his piece, I am concerned with the postscript “Padraig O’Morain is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Mindfulness for Worriers”. Mindfulness “is a Buddhist concept and practice repackaged and re-presented to the Western world by Jon Kabat-Zinn the founder of modern day Mindfulness”. He says “I bent over backward to structure it and find ways to speak about it that avoided as much as possible the risk of being seen as Buddhist, ‘New Age’ ‘Eastern Mysticism’ or just plain ‘flakey’” (Mindfulness: Diverse Perspectives on Its Meaning, Origins and Applications. J. Mark G. Williams, Jon Kabat-Zinn).

I have written about Mindfulness here before. It is a practice of self-obsession. My advice is to stay away from this fad. As I wrote just before Christmas last year “Given a toss-up between going to church, where you rub shoulders with the old, the lonely, the poor, and anyone who cares to pitch up, and a mindfulness session where, for about 25 quid a pop, you can mingle silently with congenial souls in flight from stress, I know which seems more good and human to me. Mindfulness may be the new religion — but it’s no substitute for the old one”.

Seek proper medical advice without Mindfulness. Coupled with this don’t forget what St. Padre Pio said “Pray, hope and don’t worry”.

Keep the faith.