Two weeks ago on September 10th it was World Suicide Prevention Day 2016, a day dedicated to talking about the topic of suicide and breaking down the stigma that is still attached to the subject. Charities like Samaritans, Mind and Rethink are working hard to get people to talk more openly about suicide, but it’s still a subject that a lot of people might find difficult to talk about.
I’ve been open about my experiences with suicide, both in losing someone who took their life and in trying to take my own. It’s something I’m comfortable to talk about, especially given how my suicidal thoughts and feelings very rarely stick around thanks to the rapid cycling of my moods. It’s one positive thing of having borderline personality disorder in one respect.
It’s very hard to start a conversation about suicide as a topic on its own. Understandably it’s a loaded topic and can be distressing to some, but I think the key to preventing suicide and lowering the figures of those who’ve taken their lives is breaking the taboo still firmly attached to the subject. There are other factors as far as religion and society are concerned, but when the opportunity to talk comes around people are reluctant to open up for fear of being judged or upsetting others.
There’s one recent time that sticks in my mind. I play Magic: the Gathering (it’s hardly a secret…) and there has been a deck that has done particularly well over the past few months as it’s seen tournament play. The deck itself had existed before then and was known initially as Suicide Zoo – ‘suicide’ referring to the tactic of ‘killing yourself’ in dropping your life total so you can swing with a creature called Death’s Shadow for maximum damage when pumped with other spells. It’s a pretty brutal deck, I like it. The word ‘suicide’ is used as a very literal description of the tactic used, it’s simple. However when the deck started becoming more popular on the competitive scene, the given name became somewhat problematic. The title caused some ripples amongst the community with the use of the word in a seemingly disrespectful way. Suicide is such a serious issue, how can it be used in such a blase way?
It quickly became acknowledged instead as Death’s Shadow Zoo as a nod to the main piece in the deck, and that was seemingly that. I recall watching a tournament on TV when it was an issue and I was annoyed that the original name of the deck had been changed because of the seemingly small number of naysayers. Are those few offended? Triggered? Or do they feel that renaming the deck might stop the controversy and bring focus back to the game? I didn’t know, and I still don’t know. The tangent I’m about to go on might seem like a long-winded one, but stay with me.
In removing the word ‘suicide’ from something as trite as a deck name, it’s feeding into the stigma and taboo that is still being given to the subject. In fact, by going a step further and doing this it’s sending a message out that says “Suicide is a bad word and we won’t use it.” It hearkens back to times when suicides were covered up out of shame and embarrassment, to a time when suicide was actually a crime. People were so focused on the taboo of someone ending their life, they completely overlooked the deceased individual’s pain and suffering that lead them to suicide in the first place.
But suicide isn’t a bad word. To want to end your life takes an overwhelming feeling of pain and despair that I really hope none of you feel in your life. If you have felt suicidal, or have attempted to end your life, then you know that sensation all too well. These feelings need to be acknowledged rather than brushed under the carpet, and we need to start pushing our own discomfort aside to talk about the reality of suicide. If someone you love feels suicidal and wants to open up about those feelings, then it needs to be spoken about.
We need to destroy this notion that suicide is ‘the coward’s way out’. I have a particular hatred for this phrase as it takes a huge amount of courage to end your life when you feel that it’s the only way out of the agony that comes with living. You know it’s the end and that’s a comfort for you. We don’t know what happens when we die, it’s a huge uncertainty and yet those who end their lives take that chance. Because it’s the better option. Can you imagine that?
I believe in breaking down the stigma of mental illness, I believe that people should be able to talk about these things – and I don’t think suicide should be an exception. We need to destroy the shame, we need to destroy the taboo, we need to take away the power that the word alone has. There are people out there suffering and they’re too scared to open up because of the sheer negativity that is attached to the word ‘suicide’. In 2014, there were 6,581 suicides in the UK and ROI – a number that is far too large.
Perhaps something as abstract as the name of a deck in a game like Magic: the Gathering isn’t the right platform to talk about suicide. But maybe it needs to be something like it, something normal that people talk about in a particular circle, that kicks off the conversation. There will always be people who find it uncomfortable because of the seriousness of the subject, or perhaps from their own experiences. Maybe that alone is enough to get people talking.
I’m under no illusion that this is going to be enough. But maybe it’s a start.