Starting a conversation about suicide
Suicide is not a spectator sport. In fact, it is not a sport at all. It is an act of finality, arguably of desperation, during which an individual chooses to end their life because death is the only way forward for them. If help reaches such individuals at the right time, then some kind of resolution may be possible through the support of family and friends, or through counselling.
Last week, a large group of people cheered a man on in Telford, Shropshire, as he jumped to his death. Discussions in the media have focused on whether these people are culpable for their actions and many have claimed this behaviour to be wrong. Such behaviour is morally despicable, not to mention, most likely, illegal. It is illegal to aid and abet suicide, and cheering someone on, looks suspiciously like aiding and abetting.
Why was the crowd more inclined to cheer the man on than they were to help him? A public act of suicide speaks also of a public cry for help. If this man had been in a room with one of the many onlookers and needed help, would they have reacted differently? If so, what was lost of their individual compassion and connection with another person that allowed them not only to avoid providing him with help but also, in essence, further cause him harm?
I wonder if the stigma around suicide is so great that people are more inclined to mock it rather than confront their own feelings around it. Every single person among that crowd will have family and friends, and yet, it seemed difficult, even impossible, for them to imagine themselves on the brink of death or of how they would have liked their “own” people to be treated if faced with a similar situation.
We know how intimidating it can be to seek help through counselling. Fears of being judged, of not being seen as normal, of believing that the therapist would never have met anyone with as many problems, and so on, provide self-inflicted barriers for a host of life’s problems. How much more daunting must it be for someone to approach a counsellor if the subject of their life’s problem is the prospect of death?
I do not condone what happened in Telford but I do believe it points to a wider issue in society than a group of thoughtless people who do not value another person’s life. Conversations about suicide are far from easy but the talking gets easier once we begin.