Thursday, 11 July 2013

We need to rethink our attitudes and approaches to suicide!

There is a debate going on about changes to reporting death due to suicide. On one side are the people who have often suffered a suicide in the family and want the matter to remain private, there are rules for the media that mean no reporting of the death is allowed and only the name and age and gender of the person is able to be reported however others feel that our suicide rate is too high and change is needed to reduce it.I believe by not reporting we remain in the dark and the secrecy surrounding suicides creates an unnecessary sense of shame.

Every road death in New Zealand is an accident we try not to repeat and by consciously looking for ways to make our roads and cars safer while saving lives. No one gets in a car and expects to die and yet we do know that there are risks to driving and we often say to our loved ones to, " take care and drive safely".
 Our road toll is about 150 less than our suicide toll each year. Perhaps we need to apply the same microscope to suicide as we have done to road accidents and shine some light on this huge death toll. I believe there are several things that we could do better and would reduce this statistic. It is too high. Can you imagine saying, "don't kill yourself tonight mate" , instead of, drive safely?
Perhaps we need to!

Earlier this year while in America I saw giant billboards advertising a Suicide Prevention Programme called Recognise the Signs, Suicide is Preventable.
We don't see what we are unable to recognise, and until we are taught to recognise depression our suicide rate will remain high.

Suicide can occur in clusters and can be a destructive spontaneous act. But surveys revealed that many young people think about suicide. In the United states 1 in 3 College Students thought about suicide. Thinking about suicide? Why?
 I believe if we were able to talk about suicide we could educate people about the warning sign that exist in many successful suicides. We could prevent a number of suicides.

As a drug and alcohol counsellor I have come across a number of people who are, A fair way down the continuum of mental health, if there was a line,- that had healthy and well functioning at one end and not able to manage at the other. Getting by most of the time would be in the middle. Suicide is at the not coping really! end of the line. Ones who have been able to talk about it to me are fortunately all here today. I do hear of many many people who have received treatment for depression and other mental health stuff that are not here today. Over 500 people a year in New Zealand are choosing to, Not Exist.

There are signs of suicidal behaviour and if you are not familiar with them, the first one is when someone actually threatens to suicide. This happens increasingly as people are intoxicated or are suffering poor health and have no real chance of improvement. Shock and disbelief play a role. People who use drugs and alcohol recklessly are also demonstrating a lack of regard for their safety. Withdrawing is also a factor. Feelings of loneliness or hopelessness that accompany depression. Hopeless and helpless are feelings that are reported by people contemplating suicide. Some of this behaviour is normal too for some people. However many people who are thinking about suicide do not discuss it. Don't panic.

There are factors that can also increase the risk for a person who maybe feeling contemplative about their own death such as recent bereavements or suicide of other family members or recent relationship break ups. The most definite warning sign is a previous attempt at suicide. Don't panic and try to remain calm.

Trouble with the law is also another trigger for many people. There are a large number of deaths that have occurred  while in custody and I believe there is also another significant number of preventable suicides from shame of being arrested and potential loss of status or earnings due to certain laws. Losing your drivers licence may seem like the end of the world for a young drunk sales rep. who loves fast cars. In a moment he  may decide that life is over and become yet another victim and statistic. Laws that are unfair or unjust can also provoke this sort of fear and suicide can be the result.

 One that stands out is prohibition of cannabis. There is no scientific study that can conclude that cannabis use causes depression or suicide. In fact most show the opposite and that cannabis has a number of beneficial uses. However instead of relying on 3000 years of medicinal use by the Chinese and safe recreational use for over 40 years with out a single death our funded researchers continue to perpetuate the cannabis myth that cannabis use can lead to suicide. There is not one piece of evidence to prove this.

I do believe however that people arrested for big cannabis offences, for the first time may be prone to suicidal behaviour, due to fear of imprisonment. There are over 500 suicides a year in New Zealand and there are over 10,000 cannabis related arrests. I wonder how many of these people have become so afraid to face the consequences of being exposed as a cannabis user or grower that they have killed themself? One factor with our current system is that it can takes many months if not years for the case to be heard. If you are innocent it may be financially damaging to your career or business in the time it takes defending the charges and then clearing your name after the fact.

Another group of people, have lost loved ones to suicide after they switched from using natural cannabis to synthetic cannabis and then experienced poor mental health  including dependency and psychosis. As the new fake cannabis are largely untested I am glad that they may be taken off the market.

I feel that there needs to be light shone onto the dark topic that is suicide and through shared experiences there can be greater understanding. We need resources and funding for any sort of education to happen. We also may need a law change for this to happen. Now that seems wrong to me.

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