Suicide – What About Those Left Behind?

By Alison Findlay

Suicide not only extinguishes the life of the person but also blasts through the lives of their family, friends and communities.

Like the ripples and waves in water, it is impossible to determine how far they travel or what impact they have on objects they may come into contact with as they disappear from view.

Following high profile suicides such as Caroline Flack and Robin Williams there is public shock, grief and calls for increased compassion and kindness

The public debate and soul searching then subsides as the news cycle spins on.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), close to 800,000 people are known to take their own lives every year across the globe.

At home, The Scottish Public Health Observatory (ScotPHO) report that 833 people took their lives in 2019, or as they define it where the underlying cause of death is recorded as “intentional self harm”.

This is more than two people every single day.

Each one of these 833 souls will have families and friends dealing with their own grief and distress during the immediate aftermath and often for months and years to come.

Every one of the 833 people have a name and a story.

Flowers and tributes mark the area in the centre of a Scottish village where a young man took his life one wet and windy  night.

A dad, brother, son, grandson, partner and friend, disappeared from so many peoples’ lives overnight.

No one will know what was going through his mind in the days, hours or minutes leading up to the event but the effect on so many who loved him and those who didn’t know him at all will continue to ripple out from that scene as the flowers wither and are then cleared away leaving an apparent scene of normality.

On the day of the funeral, packs of ashen faced young people wandered the streets looking lost and afraid.

With social distancing measures in place there could be no wake or gathering to share their grief, memories, questions or answers.

Linda Nicoll, 65,  lost her son to suicide 27 years ago.

She describes the ripples of this event stretching across the UK with family, friends, old and new neighbours all being impacted by her son’s death.

Linda says: “The first year, I didn’t know what was happening, then there was nothing.

“I was thinking I was going off my head.”

Linda subsequently founded the charity Touched By Suicide Touched By Suicide Scotland | Helping people who have been affected by suicide recognising that people wanted to speak about their loss with someone who had shared the experience.

Now with 14 groups stretching from Girvan to Orkney and 20 volunteers who have been personally bereaved, Touched By Suicide supports an average of 200 people annually both individually and in groups.

Covid-19 has resulted in support moving online but Linda fears the pandemic will see an increase in the numbers of people taking their own lives.

According to Linda, time to think and isolation can lead to dark thoughts with no potential for the physical presence and comfort of friends or relatives, even after a traumatic event.

Post suicide is like “no mans land” according to Linda who believes no one should go through such an event themselves.

Linda says: “We are taught not to think ill of the dead so the anger we feel becomes turned in on ourselves.”

Glasgow based journalist and writer Joe Donnelly explores the fall out of suicide in his 2020 book Checkpoint.

Joe Donnelly@deaco2000

Following the suicide of a close family member, Joe describes in at times agonising detail his journey from hearing the news to acknowledging his need for and seeking help.

Joe aligns his grief journey to his love of gaming, a genre often demonised for having a negative impact on the mental health of players and those who work in the industry.

Each chapter explores specific game mediums and designers alongside explicit descriptions of the pain experienced by Joe as he seeks answers and relief from the thoughts which torture him.

Eventually acknowledging to himself he needs support, Joe describes an excruciating encounter with a mental health service which should have any NHS manager worth their salt instantly looking inwards at how their staff greet people.

In November Darren McGarvey, (M.C Garvey (@lokiscottishrap) / Twitter) journalist, author, musician and TV presenter introduced an uncompromising piece focussed on suicide, mental health and drug deaths.

“I W!$H ! W^$ D£AD” graphically illustrates the despair of someone attempting to escape the torment of their own thoughts.

A spiral of self destruction concludes with Darren on a bridge spanning Glasgow’s River Clyde staring down the camera imploring the viewer “Don’t Do It”.

The imagery and focus of the River Clyde and it’s association with suicide was explored by Darren in 2017  in Down to the river of death – Sceptical Scot  where the impact of someone taking their life inspired his own exploration as to the possible societal triggers.

Twenty four hours before Darren introduced the world to his searingly insightful production an equally impactful piece of research was being published in Manchester.

The University of Manchester and the Support After Suicide Partnership, (SASP) had undertaken research across the UK with 7158 people responding to a survey request outlining the impact suicide had on them.

Introducing the launch of the research document, From Grief To Hope, From-Grief-to-Hope-Report-FINAL.pdf (supportaftersuicide.org.uk) the Chair of SASP, Hamish Elvidge repeated the comments of one of the contributors to the report.

He quoted: “My experience of suicide is that it is the equivalent of a bomb going off in your living room while you’re sitting watching telly.

“Afterwards you’re astonished you’re alive, but everything has changed and you have a million shards of glass embedded in your soul.

“Some of them are so big they fall out straight away leaving gaping wounds. But the little pieces, they can take decades to work their way up to the surface.”

The research report provides considerable insight into the impact of suicide on those left behind and provides a set of recommendations for each of the UK nation governments.

Critical to each of the recommendations is better understanding of the impact of suicide and improved access to support as and when required.

The report details the issues experienced after a suicide by relationship to the person and time from the event.

Family, relationship, financial, physical and mental health problems featured highly in the responses with 38% of people saying they had considered taking their own life.

High risk behaviours including alcohol and drug misuse and irresponsible financial behaviours such as over spending or gambling were more likely to be reported by respondents to the survey who were young men under 25.

These findings are no surprise to Linda Nicholl from Touched By Suicide who said that for some of those bereaved: “Nothing matters.”

Over a third of respondents had experienced more than one suicide.

The effect of Covid-19 on the mental health of the population has been highlighted with calls for the suicide rates during this time to be reported.

Billy Watson, Chair of the Scottish Association for Mental Health commented in October: “It’s essential that we have the ability to analyse changes in suicide rates in order to inform decisions on where to prioritise action.” 

Understanding and having appropriate and accessible support in place can assist to dull the crippling and dangerous reverberations of suicide as the alternative is ever increasing numbers of people being engulfed by waves of grief, loss and trauma.

 

If you have been affected by this article help is available 24/7:

In an emergency call 999

NHS 24 Mental Health Hub provides urgent mental health assessment and support: call 111

Samaritans – a helpline for anyone feeling low or considering suicide: call 116 123

Childline – a service for young people under 19 struggling with mental health issues or any other problem: call 0800 1111 Webchat: https://childline.org.uk/get-support/1-2-1-counsellor-chat/

Young Minds Crisis Messenger – A 24/7 text messaging service for young people in crisis: text YM to 85258

 

Touched By Suicide receives no public funding – If you would like to make a donation please contact them directly at Touched By Suicide Scotland | Helping people who have been affected by suicide or by phone on 01294 274273 or 01294 216895

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