This week’s word is:
Ireland has a truly woeful approach to mental health. Our Health Minister admitted that €12million, originally earmarked for mental health services, was going to be reallocated. I think that in itself speaks volumes about how our government values its society’s mental health.
In Ireland, 500 people are estimated to die by suicide each year, meaning we can reasonably suspect the number is even higher. We are getting better as a society when it comes to talking about suicide and depression. But not enough, in my opinion.
Here is my denial story…
I was 17 when I sat on my bed one night, wrote goodbye letters to all my family members and took an overdose of paracetamol. I remember lying there crying, feeling only utter despair. After a while I heard my big sister come in from her work. She worked shifts and it was very late. I felt a sudden need to reverse my decision and went downstairs in my nightie and told her what I had done. She took me to the A&E where I was given a dreadful emetic and a revolting charcoal cocktail to drink. I remember The Beautiful South were playing on the radio. Then I remember being left in a ward of adults, my lips stained black from the charcoal, dreading the next day.
I remained in hospital for a number of days while they did tests to see if the paracetamol had damaged my liver. A stern doctor and a group of medical students stood around my bed, discussing me as if I was invisible to them, handing around my suicide letters. I felt completely violated, vulnerable and pretty furious but I was a good girl, I said nothing.
My parents came and wanted to know why I had done this terrible thing. I had no words to explain it to them. I remember fleeing to the bathroom to escape their questions. They followed me and, feeling helpless and cornered I remember crying and actually stamping my feet in frustration. My father said I was acting like a child. My mother told him I was frightened.
My father was the one who came to bring me home. He was faux cheerful and insisted on taking me to a large supermarket on the way home. He told me to choose whatever fancy foods I wanted. I could not have cared less and he grew frustrated with me. He actually seemed to think a treat would fix me.
My suicide attempt was never discussed.
My father seemed to think I was “on drugs” and would occasionally ask me to promise not to “take drugs again”.
I was never offered therapy. Life went on.
I never told them the real reason I took the overdose.
(Sidenote: My mother died when I was 20 and the morning after her death my father found me downstairs very early because I could not sleep. He sighed with more frustration, I felt as if my grief was an inconvenience to him, my neediness was the last thing he needed. I had a packet of herbal remedy for sleeplessness, Valerian, next to me and he said, “You’re not taking drugs again are you?”)
Denial. My family excelled at it.
If someone you know is feeling suicidal, or you suspect they are, please do not ignore it.
Be brave. Talk to them. Ask them how they are feeling. Ask them if they feel a desire to hurt themselves or to not be here anymore.
Give them the gift of allowing them to say it. Give them space to talk about how they feel, what they need.
Understand they are in more pain than they can express. They need support.
Don’t judge them. Don’t admonish them. Don’t blame them. Don’t shame them.
Don’t bury your head.
Don’t be my father.
Denial – it ain’t just a river in Egypt.
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