What events could unfold in your life that are so harrowing, so catastrophic, so perpetually distressing that they could pull you under the surface of your balanced, rational, day-to-day life, into the realm of a severe, irreversible depression, culminating in the taking of your own life?
Well the answer is that there are an infinite amount of answers. There are a plethora of complex chemical imbalances that can occur in the human mind that cause different levels of depression: from mild mood swings to interminable thoughts of suicide. And there are also an indeterminate number of social issues that can drive someone – who may on the outside hold all the attributes that appear to contradict such an action: popularity, confidence, good looks – to committing themselves to an irreversible act of rash stupidity, causing untold pain, anguish and paranoia to their family, friends and admirers as a consequence.
There are a plethora of complex chemical imbalances that can occur in the human mind that cause different levels of depression
Suicide is a subject that has played a peripheral part in the last five years of my life. Or maybe I should say – attempted suicide. I myself once succumbed to my darkest thoughts and weakness in the face of my demons. It was about five years ago, when on a paradoxically sunny day in June, I felt that I had been sitting under this metaphorical grey, stormy cloud for just too long.
I had been wrestling with dark thoughts throughout most of my life, with my earliest memories of this confused, frustrating sadness going back to the age of around ten years old. But at that age it was always treated as something more fickle. I mean, I could be crying my eyes out for hours for no known reason at all one day, and then the next day be laughing my head off – sometimes to the point of debilitation - at some hilarious prank that I'd devised with my sister to play on our parents.
But as you get older, your mind matures; you look for meaning in everything you think and feel; you reflect. You've also been given the sometimes welcome/sometimes not so welcome gift of responsibility. Which is good and bad. “Yes!” you think “I can stay out as late as I want; I can buy cigarettes and booze; I can earn hundreds of pounds a week and spend it on whatever the hell I want!” Well yes, you certainly can, but all of those new found privileges come with a certain responsibility.
But as you get older, your mind matures; you look for meaning in everything you think and feel; you reflect.
By all means go out and get trashed on a Tuesday night, but you better be up for work bright and early Wednesday morning, not letting on to your boss that you're nursing a terrible hangover. Otherwise, you're going to be out on your arse, and all that debt you've racked up buying clothes, booze and shoes could swell to the point where you'll never be able to pay it back. And who knows where that could lead?
I decided to exercise my newfound liberty by drinking loads of booze and taking lots of recreational drugs. It started well, as these things often do, but then quickly escalated to the point where I became a swivel-eyed, unemployable, messy freak. This six year binge of, at first just cannabis; then cannabis and alcohol; then cannabis, alcohol and ecstasy; then cannabis, alcohol, ecstasy, cocaine, speed, base, mephedrone, “all I've got is ketamine, mate”... 'OK, I'll take it'; etc. finally climaxed at a full-blown mental breakdown.
And so one day, when my then-girlfriend went out to a job interview, I proceeded to swallow about 20 paracetamol (I’ve since discovered that 20 painkillers isn’t enough to kill anyone, but at the time I believed it could). It took me about 30 minutes afterwards to realise that I had made a massive mistake and to drive myself to the hospital to tell them what I'd done, how sorry I was, how I won't do it again, and to please pump these things out of me before it's too late.
This six year binge of, at first just cannabis; then cannabis and alcohol; then cannabis, alcohol and ecstasy; then cannabis, alcohol, ecstasy, cocaine, speed, base, mephedrone...finally climaxed at a full-blown mental breakdown.
I was lucky to have chosen the 'paracide' (as one of the doctors annoyingly insisted on calling it in my vicinity) option as my means of exit, because it gave me time to reflect on what a terrible thing I had just done, and to admit I was wrong, swallow my pride – on top of the now dissolving paracetamol – and ask for help. And not just with the removal of the painkillers, but with the everyday battle I was fighting with my demons. This meant telling my family; a few, but admittedly not enough, of my closest friends; and the brilliant, not-sung-enough heroes of several different mental health charities*.
After that episode there were still subsequent bouts of depression that came and went, but I had now learnt how to cope with them. So I was confident that all this talk of suicide was now consigned to the darkest bottom drawer of my past, never to be spoken of again... until a member of my immediate family had fallen into their own state of unrelenting sadness and despair. Said family member decided to take the same route as I did, with painkillers, to end their life. I was there on at least three of the occasions it happened; pulling a drink-sodden, lifeless body, with tear-stained face into the back of a car, then proceeding to boot it down the dual carriageway to the nearest hospital as quickly as the vehicle's performance would allow us to, just praying – to whom I don't know? – that we were going to make it in time.
Up until the first time my family member did this, I maintained a very cynical attitude towards suicide. Even with regards to my own experience. I hadn't truly listened to what those mental health charities were telling me – I was just concentrating on ways to cope. I convinced myself it was entirely down to my drug use and general weak-mindedness, and still believed that “It was the coward’s way out”, “How can someone be so selfish? They should be ashamed” and all the other disgustingly ignorant things you hear from the ill informed about suicide.
I still believed that “It was the coward’s way out”, “How can someone be so selfish? They should be ashamed” and all the other disgustingly ignorant things you hear from the ill informed about suicide.
But when it happened to someone I knew; someone whom I had enormous respect for; someone who was strong in character, intelligent, a real fighter; I knew that this was not the attention seeking display of selfishness and spite that I was led to believe. This was a genuine problem that, if treated with contempt and disdain, could result in a successful suicide attempt one day. Thankfully this person is back to their usual, funny, often foul-mouthed former self, and I couldn't be happier. But now two years later, the subject is back and has broadened its horizons to take over not my family, but my town.
Because the reason I am writing about this sad and mystifying subject is that in my hometown of Andover, we have seen and heard reports of three consecutive suicides in the space of just over a month. The locals are extremely troubled by the unusual spike in suicides for this small, quiet, Hampshire town. There is a growing fear that our town could manifest itself into the new Bridgend if something isn't done about it.
Obviously the numbers have thankfully got nowhere near to those of Bridgend, and it might seem paranoid, even sensationalist, of me to draw such parallels. But when you look at the fact that with all three of these suicides, they were all of roughly the same age group, they all hanged themselves – of the 25 people who killed themselves between January 2007 and February 2009 in Bridgend, all but one died from hanging – and two of them committed suicide in the same park, leaving people wondering if this was indeed part of some kind of pact.
The first of the three to go was a young lad, only 18 years old. I never knew him, but we have some mutual friends. They were all obviously devastated by his passing, but deeply shocked more than anything. He had lots of friends and his whole life ahead of him. The second was a young man who I had also never known. But again, I was to discover via Facebook updates in tribute to the man's life, that a lot of my friends knew him, too. And again, were mortified at his passing, and dumbfounded as to why it happened.
The third person was a girl whom I actually worked with once at my previous employment. She was beautiful, and part of the popular crowd (it's a large company that takes on a lot of school leavers, so it holds the same attitudes and cliques of school), so therefore I never had the confidence to strike up conversation with her. At my more solipsistic moments, I wonder if my perpetual ignorance and 'keep yourself to yourself' attitude ever came across to anyone as an arrogant, 'I'm too cool to speak to you' sneer. I very much doubt it, though.
My lack of social confidence was pretty palpable at all times, I think. But it's something I intend to change about myself; because I think that the more approachable we all are - the more likely we are to share our thoughts and feelings. And the more open and communicative we are – the less likely it is that there will be misunderstandings between people, which can cause great paranoia and be extremely detrimental to one's mental health.
Now I'm aware that there will be a few of you reading this who will think that my reporting of these incidents could exacerbate the problem. After all, Madeline Moon, MP for Bridgend said that the reporting around the time of the Bridgend suicides “were now part of the problem”, believing that it had somehow glamorised the taking of one's life to young people. I find that unfathomable.
I think all of the people we've recently lost were genuinely depressed; it's just that they were either too frightened or embarrassed to communicate with professionals - let alone their nearest and dearest - about their problems
I think all of the people we've recently lost were genuinely depressed; it's just that they were either too frightened or embarrassed to communicate with professionals - let alone their nearest and dearest - about their problems, which is a very alarming indictment on the twenty-first century Briton's attitude towards mental health. And it's something that needs to be rectified immediately.
I feel that it is all of our duty to tackle this issue head on, work out what the cause is, and build a sense of community spirit and unity to combat it. Only then will we see a decline in the number of young people committing suicide and fewer families stricken with the never-ending grief of having seen their loved ones slip away in the most tragic of circumstances.
*At the risk of sounding like a voice over at the end credits of an episode of Coronation Street:if you or anyone you know has been affected by mental health issues, then I would thoroughly recommend visiting any of the websites below. They have been set up by people who have a broad understanding of all mental health issues; they're passionate about combating mental health; and they're genuinely good people who listen and care.
http://www.youngminds.org.uk/ (specifically for young sufferers)
http://www.samh.org.uk/ (specifically for sufferers in Scotland)
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