Tag Archives: stigma

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Thinking about suicide? Are you stupid?

TW – Trigger Warning – suicide theme.

Apologies – this title is deliberately provocative. Please be reassured, this is a carefully considered blog looking at the language used when talking about suicide.

I was recently listening to a podcast where someone was talking about their experience of mental illness and they said this:

People say “did you want to commit suicide?”, well, yes, I did want to but I never, I was never at a point where I was stupid enough to think that if I go then my family and stuff is just gonna be like, “oh well, he was alright weren’t he, let’s crack on”. I always knew that, even when I was in my lowest places.”

(We’ll gloss over the fact that “commit” suicide is no longer used since that’s related to when it was a crime, there was a disclaimer at the beginning of the podcast apologising for this language!)

I know he’s not suggesting suicidal thoughts are stupid, he’s admitting he had them, but he appears to be showing a lack of understanding about what actually happens inside the mind of someone when they’re seriously contemplating suicide and it’s language like this that perpetuates the stigma surrounding suicide.

I know it was probably a flippant, off the cuff remark and I don’t want to target him but I feel when talking on a podcast, you’re in a position of influence and I want to use this example to talk about the wider subject, we all need to carefully consider the language we use.

When someone’s mental illness is so severe that suicide feels like the only option, they have got to a point where their mind is not able to think with their usual clarity and logic. From an outside perspective we can see plenty of reasons to stay alive but the chemicals in their brain have altered in such a way that their thoughts are not their own.

When in the depths of depression, your mind persuades you that your family and friends would be better off without you. You may think you’re a burden or you’ve become a person no one would want to live with. So, far from it being a stupid thought, it feels prudent to consider your impact on others and take yourself out of the picture.

The pain of depression has been described, by some, as one of the worst pains a human being can experience. Suicide is not just as easy way out but it may feel like the only option to escape the unending agony.

It’s incredibly sad to think about a person at such a low point but I’m being blunt about the reality because this is how powerful the mind is, it grinds down your self esteem and suicide feels like a legitimate (even logical) way out.

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Sometimes suicide is spoken about as selfish, as though the person is only thinking about the relief they will gain, that they are not considering the hole they will leave behind. Knowing incredibly beautiful, compassionate people who’ve died by suicide, selfish, is not a word I was use to describe them.

If you find yourself feeling anger or bitterness towards a loved one who’s died at their own hands, this is natural; it may feel logical to consider them selfish to have escaped the situation, leaving you to pick up the pieces. I’m not saying your feelings are wrong, if you’re feeling them, by nature of the fact they exist, they are acceptable. However, it may be helpful to consider whether these feelings are keeping you stuck and whether forgiveness maybe a step you need to consider in order to free yourself.

I have also heard people say they “don’t have the guts” to complete suicide. It is very unhelpful to use this language. Talking from experience, it is difficult to think about deliberately putting yourself through pain but, as previously explained, thinking clearly and logically are not possible at this point. It can feel as though it takes bravery but when I’ve got to the point of carrying out a violent act, it’s been a case of reluctantly giving up the fight for life and giving in to the voices telling me to end my life. This was not in a passive way, but in an active “I can finally take some action, do something about my situation, to make it better for everyone”.

It did not take bravery or guts, nor was it selfish, it was simply a symptom of my mental illness.

I know, we will all, on occasion, be clumsy with our language, make mistakes and say things that are less than sensitive, I know I will! But it’s important we’re open to considering how our language impacts others and how we can improve what we say to lessen stigma and improve communication.

If you, or someone you know, is feeling suicidal or expressing suicidal thoughts, please seek help from your GP or other care provider. In the UK, you can call the Samaritans on 116123.

Why we're still struggling to talk about mental illness

We’re making a lot of progress as more people get involved in talking about mental illness but it’s still very difficult for individuals to put their hands up and say “I’m struggling”. I believe fear is at the centre of this and there’s no easy way to break this down but we can do with small steps. 
1. Lack of understand and confusion
When I was first suffering with symptoms, I had no idea what was going on and I had no way of describing my distress – I didn’t know that the tight bundle of thoughts in my head, increased heart rate and tension was anxiety, I had no idea my lack of appetite was caused by an illness, I had no idea that feeling low and having to fake smiles was a sign I was unwell. I was frightened but I had no idea what I was frightened of. I didn’t know anything about mental illness and I had no language to describe it.
We need to raise awareness of signs and symptoms and make talking about our feelings common place, just like we talk about physical problems. More knowledge will make everyone more likely to see if someone gets unwell, and if we’re already talking about, it’ll feel less strange and awkward.
2. Fear of stigma
In general mental illness still has a negative reputation; people perceive the individual as weak or lacking in something. There are many misconceptions, such as thinking that we’re dangerous, unpredictable or unreliable. Some people think it’s our fault we’re ill, that we’ve done something wrong.
The truth is, mental illness does not discriminate, it is not a sign of weakness and we have good and bad characteristics, just like everyone else.
The way I fight this one is to go about my life and when someone least expects it, I let them know a little bit about what I’ve been through – this helps people see me for who I am first, then they realise being mentally ill is just part of me, it does not define me.

3. Fear of discrimination
“What will I miss out on?” is the fear. People worry about all sorts of things if they divulge a mental illness, “will I be able to get a job?”, “Will I lose my job?”, “Will I be able to get the promotion I want/deserve?”, “Will I have fair access to healthcare?”. I have heard stories about people being discriminated against in both work and personal life simply because they happen to have a diagnosis.
Someone’s mental illness should not be used as a excuse to overlook them in anything – it’s important to look at an individual’s characteristics and skills rather than judging them and making assumptions about them based on their diagnostic label. This is not unique t mental illness, there are numerous reasons people will be overlooked or left at the back of the queue – fortunately, the law is on our side. I sometimes feel like I have to work extra hard to prove myself but with perseverance, I hope we can stop discrimination.
4. Normalisation
When I first started having problems, in my teens, I thought it was ‘normal teenage angst’, I thought everyone hated their changing bodies and so I coped with it as best I could. Turns out my intrusive thoughts and anxiety were pathological!
I was trying to explain what went on in my head when I was embroiled in anorexia to a colleague recently (they asked!). I explained about the fear of food, of fat, of calories and of putting on weight. The reaction I got was “don’t all women feel like that?” – this person may have been trying to make me feel better or they may have completely missed my point, that these fears paralysed me and stopped me functioning. No – these feelings are not normal and I had to undergo years of therapy to enable me to eat with strangers or in public.
Sometimes it helps to see symptoms as ‘on the normal spectrum’ but this can prevent people from seeking help if they do not realise what they are experiencing is illness.
It’s important that talking about symptoms is normal but we need to remember the symptoms themselves are part off an illness and need treatment.
5. Wanting to protect other people
When struggling with something, it’s a common human instinct not to want to burden other people with it.
When someone you love is mentally ill, it’s natural to worry about them and want to help, not being able to help/solve the situation can add to the worry! When I’m ill, I do not want people to worry about me, I don’t see the point in someone worrying when there’s not usually anything they can do. It can make a relationship awkward.
Keeping loved ones in the dark does not protect them; people are more likely to worry if they think something is going on but they don’t know what it is. It can help, when telling someone about your illness, to also let them know what they can do. This may be something practical like cooking a meal, to come to appointments or to listen to you, without judgement, criticism or advice, but whatever it is, if someone feels the can be helpful, they are less likely to worry.
6. Guilt and shame
Due to stigma, discrimination and lack of understanding, people feel guilty and shame about being ill. We feel guilty about being ‘a drain on public resources’, we feel ashamed that we’ve relapsed despite therapy, we feel we ‘should’ be better but would anyone say any of this to someone with chronic lung disease or someone or renal dialysis? Of course not!
There is nothing shameful about being mentally ill – it is what it is, an illness, none of us choose to be ill nor are we to blame. We need to have compassion for ourselves, we need to talk to ourselves as we would talk to a close friend who was ill. Once we’re making steps to diminish the (wrongly placed) guilt and shame, we will have more confidence to talk about it.
I know, it can be very difficult to speak out but the current situation with discrimination and stigma will never change if we do not bravely continue to talk about mental illness.

Quick Mental Health Awareness Q&A

Why is it important to raise awareness?
People with mental illness not only have to suffer the debilitating effects of the illness but also have to suffer stigma, discrimination and a whole host of effects caused by misunderstanding and ignorance. Raising awareness of what mental health will go part way to breaking this down.
The more society understands about mental illness, the more we talk about it, the more normal it will be for people to get the help they need, earlier, and therefore a meaningful recovery is more likely.
People with mental health problems can work provided they can get the right support. At the moment, this support is not available. Raising awareness will ensure moving from benefits into work can be an easier transition and reasonable adjustments within the workplace will ensure staying in work is possible. It’s not rocket science.
So, basically, what is mental illness?
In a nut shell, when chemicals within the brain get out of balance, thoughts and feelings become out of sink with reality, meaning we may behave out of character. This means it can be solved on a number of levels by tackling the thoughts, the feelings, the behaviours or the chemicals but most people think it is best to manage all of them to some degree since they all impact each other.
Is mental illness scary?
As a sufferer, I would say, “yes” – at times I’ve been petrified.
Watching a loved one suffer, I would say, “yes” – at times, it’s devastating.
BUT this does not men we should be sacred to talk about it – talking will only help these situations. Mental illness will always, by its nature, be painful , it will break hearts and break lives but if, by talking about it, we can ease the tensions and heightened emotions, we will be making progress.
If I don’t know anyone with a mental illness, why should I care?
1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem min any given year. You may think you don’t know anyone but I promise you do, if they’re not talking about it to you, it’s because of fear; fear of judgement, ignorance and discrimination. If you genuinely don”t think you know anyone with mental illness, just for fun, count down a list of friends and ever 4th person, say “it could be them” – that person could suffer this year – think of the devastation that could cause, they might not be able to leave the house, to meet you socially, to go to work, to play with their children, their life might be at risk, they might need specialist treatment – now do you care?
Bit feeling a bit low or a bit worried isn’t that serious is it?















“Depression is sucking the life out of me, it saps me of emotion, it hags over me like a black fog. I feel nothing and everything. I’m completely exhausted but I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. My body aches. No medication is working. I think the only way out is suicide.”

















“I feel so overwhelmed that my family is in danger, I have an in uncontrollable compulsion to check the door is locked, multiple time. Thoughts intrude my mind, it doesn’t feel like they’re mine. It’s called anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder but it feels like it’s ruining my life.”

















“I’m trapped in a cycle of not eating. Food feels like the enemy, I’m genuinely terrified of what it will do to my body. I hear a voice telling me that I do not deserve to eat. I so desperately want to break free of this destructive cycle but it feels like there’s no hope. I’ve been told I have anorexia but I don’t think I have because I’m not skinny enough.”










“At times I’ve thought I can fly, it might sound funny but it’s not when I’m feeling so elated I climb out of my 2nd floor flat and flap my arms. Breaking my leg wasn’t enough to stop me, my mind was still racing, I ran out into traffic thinking I was invincible. I felt awful waking up in hospital realizing I’d put so many people at risk. This is the sort of thing I do when I’m manic.”

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 years. Mental illness is incredibly serious, it can stop people working, it can stop people socialising, it can literally stop people living their lives, it affects not only the person with the diagnosis but everyone around them.

Mental health services are still not properly funded, waiting lists are too long and people are not receiving the teat,jet they need.

If it’s all so bleak, what’s the point?
It is possible for everyone to recover a meaningful life, no matter how serious their mental illness has been. For some people this will mean managing with medication and ongoing therapy but the majority of people can move on to be so completely free from their mental illness. This is all only possible provided they have access to appropriate support and treatment – this wil only happen if people feel they can come forward for help and if they help is there!
What do we need to do?

  1. Share this blog 🙂 It’s one small step on the road.
  2. If you think someone might be struggling, just asks them how they are and if there’s anything you can do and don’t be scared.
  3. If you have a story to tell, share it. I know it’s hard but someone has to break the silence – knowledge can only come from the knowledgeable.
  4. Take in interest in things like Time to Change and Heads Together, follow them on Facebook or regularly visit their campaign pages, they’re the experts on how we’re going to move forward with all this!