Whoa there, another post about depression / suicide / dealing with these taboo topics…yup, I’m afraid so! I don’t know if any of you watched it but there was a brilliant programme on the BBC last week, called Life After Suicide and it really got me thinking so I thought I’d share my thoughts with you. (Incidentally, I caught the show on iPlayer and it’s there for another 22 days.)
The programme took us on a journey through the after effects of bereavement by suicide, through the eyes of Angela Samata whose own husband took his life 11 years ago. She talks about her own experience and also meets others who’ve been affected by loved ones taking their own lives.
It was interesting to me for obvious reasons and one such reason was talking about the stigma that is STILL attached to suicide. When my mum died, my grandmother, (dad’s mum) told me to lie about what had happened. Clearly she was ashamed of the situation but luckily my dad wasn’t and enforced an “honesty is the best policy” approach. I could blame it on the fact that past generations had a very stiff upper lip, but I know that many people in later generations also feel this way about suicide.
Outside of these obvious things though, the programme stimulated a lot of thoughts that had just never occurred to me. If you watch it, you’ll find one of the people Samata speaks to vocalising her anger at the fact that her husband has left her with all of the things he couldn’t deal with. Not only that, but she now also has to deal with his death and all of it on her own while continuing family life for her children. Well that just plain old never occurred to me; I never stopped to consider that my dad had to deal with so much more than I did, because there’s a whole heap of stuff that happened that he shielded me from. I never went to the open inquest; he did. I never identified the body; he did. And I most certainly didn’t have to arrange the funeral, but guess what? He did.
Somehow, the amazing man that he is, he managed to do all of that with virtually no support from family or friends. He just stuck his head down and fixed our lives, all the while dealing with another huge worry which surfaced in this documentary: “What if my girls follow their mother’s footsteps?” Being one of the girls, I’ve never really thought about that either because I know I’m not about to take my own life, but watching all of the people in this documentary talk about exactly this fear really hammered home the fact that this is very real and many people carry the burden of this fear forever as a result of another’s actions. The most significant revelation that’s come from this is the beginnings of an understanding of why he and I feel so very differently about the events of the past.
There really is very little support for people who find themselves left behind after a suicide. As my dad has said to me, no social workers called, no nanny state took care of us, there was almost nowhere to turn. Luckily, there are some organisations which exist to help people affected and one such, which featured in the programme and also in my dad’s life, is SOBS. SOBS is a support group for normal people who find themselves in this situation and like any support group, they provide an open forum where people can express themselves but that’s the only one I know of and it was the only one featured in the programme. What else is there?
This remains something that annoys me on an almost daily basis. Once you have found the strength to tell people what’s happened, often you’ll find they know someone else who has been left behind in the same way. Depression is a real illness and suicide is a very real killer. Nearly 6,000 people committed suicide in the UK in 2012* so that’s thousands of people impacted and left behind in just that one year; yet when it happens to you, it’s surprisingly difficult to find support. The internet goes some way to combating this but it’s not enough. So here’s my plea to everyone reading this – please be open, please point people in the direction of others who’ve been through the same when they reach out and please, please don’t ask anyone to lie in order to save face. As in an situation when you’ve lost a loved one, people who are left behind following a suicide just need love, support and ideally someone to speak to who’s been through it and come out the other side.
Now go and watch the programme because I’ve barely scratched the surface of it! x
*Samaritans Statistics Report 2014
If you’re struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, here are some organisations which might be able to help: