Surviving Suicide

Surviving Suicide

I was 28 when Paul took a fatal overdose. He was my fiance and my first love. He was injured at work and what started out as a simple break, ultimately led to his death.

His leg wouldn’t heal properly and despite two operations and a bone graft from his hip, it was inevitable that his right leg would need to be amputated below the knee and prosthesis fitted.

He was always a drinker and when he could no longer work, his drinking intensified. He was in constant pain with his leg and wore a calliper to walk, he would never work again as a plumber and he was back living at home with his parents.

Unknown to me or his family he began taking painkillers and drinking whiskey in his room. He took more and more to ease the pain. One night he took 38 painkillers and never woke up. My world was torn apart when he died.

Paul’s suicide catapulted me into a world of support groups and counselling, some of which worked some didn’t, but I kept trying until I found the counsellor that worked for me. It’s a personal relationship with a counsellor. Keep looking until you find someone you connect with.

When my editor asked our group of journalists who wanted to write a piece about suicide I volunteered – it had been 18 years and I was ready to tell my story. I wanted to find out what the signs are, what can we do as an individual contemplating suicide? What can the person who feels suicidal do? It seems the media is full of sensational stories about the prevalence of suicide in our society, but in real terms, in practical terms how do we prevent it?

I spoke with Sandra Hogan from Aware and asked her what are the warning signs and what should we do when we see them. She told me there are eight main symptoms of depression and if we feel five or more over a prolonged period then we should seek help. Feeling sad, anxious or bored; low energy or feeling tired; under-sleeping or over-sleeping or waking frequently in the night; poor concentration; loss of interest in hobbies, family or social life; low self-esteem or feelings of guilt; pains associated with stress; loss of interest in living, thinking about death or suicidal thoughts.

You can contact Aware on 1890 303 302 who are open from 10am to 10pm seven days a week, and when you call you will be listened to confidentially and given the space to share your story, you may be offered coping skills to minimise how you feel until you can see someone. I wanted to know how long depression can last. Sandra explained to me. “Many people experience a one-off bout of depression, and even where someone has a more enduring or recurring experience, it is important to remember that they may have periods of wellness also. The important thing to tackle is the cause and also to make positive choices to help the depression from continuing or recurring.”

So the first step is to recognise you are feeling depressed and talk to Aware, but what if you have moved beyond that and are now feeling suicidal?

I spoke with Cindy from Pieta House. She said it is hard to think rationally when you are emotionally aroused, so when you are feeling overly emotional you can’t make a rational decision about your life. So the cliche “don’t let your heart rule your head” is never truer than when someone is feeling suicidal. They can’t think rationally about their personal circumstances, they can’t see that they will find a new job or they will get out of debt in a few yearsí time – they can’t see past their present situation. Cindy told me that most suicides are preventable if the person engages with them.

People don’t attempt suicide because they want to die. They attempt suicide because they want the pain to stop. Their thinking becomes what Cindy terms ‘narrow’ and they can’t see any other solution.

From their experience in Pieta House the reasons behind contemplating suicide include relationship breakdown; alcohol dependence; debt problems; job loss or addiction. Of those people who feel suicidal and seek help with Pieta 85% survive and move on with their lives. I kept repeating that statistic in my head and thought about my own situation.

Paul died by suicide in 1995 and in rural Ireland in those days the only option we were aware of was AA where you admitted you had an alcohol problem. Paul had an alcohol problem, but he was also divorced which was a stigma in rural Ireland then and he was facing the loss of his right leg and an altered future and often described himself as a cripple.

He went to rehab but only lasted two days before he discharged himself. What would have happened if he had spoken with Aware, or spoken with other young people who had turned their life around after an amputation, or if he could have rationally looked into the future. But that’s the thing I now have learned that he couldn’t think rationally, he was thinking with his heart. I felt sad and heavy in my heart when I imagined a Pieta House close to us and what could have been the outcome.

Keep all channels of communication open with your children, siblings, parents and partner. If they mention suicide keep talking, donít dismiss that topic, talk about it, ask them why, ask them how they feel, and how long they have felt that way and most importantly tell them you will help them get help. Tell them you will support them and talk anytime and help in anyway. Help them make appointments, drive them there, look after them anyway you can and keep talking. Above all else remember this statistic 85% of people who engage with Pieta House survive. 85% is maybe the most positive figure you will hear this year.

By Joan Mitchell