By Barry Lord @
As many of you may be aware, September is suicide prevention month.
September 10 marks Suicide Prevention Day and organisations such as NAMI – National Alliance on Mental Health – and Suicide Prevention Ireland will work tirelessly to spread awareness of mental health issues, preventative measures to combat suicidal thoughts, and highlight the positive work they do.
I applaud their continued efforts and pray their message reaches as many people as possible.
I also wonder about solutions to suicidal thoughts that may be hiding in plain sight. After all, we live in a fortunate age where the tools to communicate with each other are as readily available as knives and forks.
The internet, social media and mobile phone technology, apps, etc. have effectively guaranteed we are rarely out of reach, rarely unable to express how we feel.
Except, it seems, when a friend, or family member, takes their own life, then we ask what good these tools really are when the victim felt they couldn’t use them to reach out and ask for help.
I realise it is not as simple as that, but this is one of the emotions that suicide engenders.
There is also rage and grief and once they subside, a sense of clarity usually comes in the form of questions: “Why didn’t they talk to me?”
“Why didn’t they talk to someone?”
As I sit at my desk writing this piece, I’ve found myself reflecting on some of the people I know who have been touched by suicide.
A close friend of mine had his life shattered when his second eldest daughter chose to take her own life, weeks before he and the rest of the family were due to relocate to Ireland from abroad.
It is now over a year since this tragedy befell them and while he, his wife and their remaining children have not overcome the grief, they have found ways to manage it. It’s all they can do.
While I thought about them, I looked at my Facebook page. I looked at the number of friends I have there. I would say around 40 – just how many are “real” or simply “Facebook friends” (i.e. “virtual” friends, friends from afar etc.)
I’ve yet to determine – but I imagined my friend’s daughter, who was popular and much loved, had perhaps double or even treble that number.
Indeed, I thought about the many other young girls like her who chose a similar course of action. Tragically, we’ve read about plenty of them.
Intelligent, educated young women with huge followings on social media. And yet they couldn’t make that call. They couldn’t send that message. Not one of their numerous friends read the words: “I need to talk to you about something…”
This kind of cry for help often goes unheeded because it is rarely made. And why? Perhaps social media is one of the problems.
In cyberspace, we mould our own image, whatever way we choose. How well we are doing academically or financially can be shaped by a photograph, a single post.
How happy we are can be summed up by an emoji. In the 21st century, feelings are condensed to ‘shortcuts’. Approval comes in the form of little gold stars.
So in this world, who is going to write about their despair, the dark thoughts they experience or the sense of hopelessness that can grip anyone of us at any time? Moreover, who is likely to want to read about any of it?
This notion plagues many sufferers of depression and when you’ve worked hard to craft an image of a successful self, it’s easy to believe that one word could undo your sense of standing. That by showing vulnerability you could make yourself appear weak in the eyes of others.
The next time you feel low in yourself, take a minute, especially if you have a social media presence, to look at the friends you have.
Give just one of them a chance and they may have the words you need to hear. Social media could well be seen as part of the problem, but if used the right way, it could become an important part of the solution.