More people in Scotland die by suicide than in car accidents.
Just spend a minute with that.
Four times as many people – men and women just like you and me, our families, our friends – take their own lives than die in road accidents. Two people a day. Imagine if two people in Scotland were shot every day. There would be public hysteria! Voices calling for a stop to these pointless deaths. A government inquiry.
This is 2012. We have come on leaps and bounds in treating cancer in all its forms; people can live for decades with HIV. We have seen significant public health campaigns on smoking, drinking, exercise, diet. So why, in 2012, does despair and sadness and hopelessness pervade our society so completely that we are losing two people a day to suicide? And why aren’t we talking about it?
I think part of it is the Scottish character. That Calvinist work ethic – things are only worthwhile if they’re hard – and our inclination to view any display of emotion (unless we’re in drink) as a weakness. We take pride in suffering, bearing our burden, putting up with it, accepting our lot. And then there’s our physical environment. It is dark here, dark and cold. When it’s not dark, it is grey. It rains, frequently, the wind howls and we lean into it, not noticing how much it is wearing us down.
I have lived with depression for many years now. Half my life. From my next birthday, more than half. I was 17 the first time I walked into a doctor’s surgery and tried to explain that I just couldn’t cope. Everything was black. I couldn’t see a future, I couldn’t see tomorrow. So I was pilled up and ‘counselled’ by a well intentioned but untrained GP. And since then, it has been in and out. Psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors. I have tried CBT, NLP, the talking cure. Four different anti-depressants. And I am, without doubt, one of the lucky ones. Because I can talk about it.
My depression has been a difficult road for me and my family – but they have never shied away from it. They are willing to suggest to me it might be time to go back to the doc, back to the medication, back to the talking. They know that it is an illness; it isn’t them. Because that, I think, is one of the things that stops people talking. How can you tell the people you love, who love you, that you despair? That you aren’t looking forward to anything? That all the time there is just the sadness, the weight, the darkness and it doesn’t matter that you know they love you, the darkness doesn’t care.
So if you know someone like me – and I am almost certain you will – please let them talk. Talking is the start of making it normal and we need to make it normal, right across our country. Naming the darkness helps. Articulating what feels overwhelming helps. If it has a name, if you can see it, it is a real thing, a separate thing. It isn’t just you.
The other thing you can do is support Samh’s Two Too Many campaign
Spread the word. Talk about it. Mental health is just… health. We don’t shy away from sharing our aching backs, headaches, man flu. Let’s not shy away from this.