SI article 19th Sept 2010

We must recognise that suffering from mental or emotional difficulty is part or our normal life, says Dan Neville TD

For 14 years the Irish Association of Suicidology has identified the language around suicide as an issue of concern. We have constantly urged that the word “commit suicide” should not be used. We advised that to “die of suicide” or “die by suicide” or “take ones life” are more appropriate. Suicide was decriminalised in 1993. It is therefore no longer a crime. Surely a person in a state of severe crisis do not commit a sin.

People in crisis often are at a loss on how to deal with their difficulties. They do not identify their mental anguish as a condition that can be treated, that can be overcome and that there are services available to respond to . The old saying is that “a troubled shared was a trouble halved” is very apt in relation to this. We implore people who are in difficulties, who are in emotional crisis who have suicidal ideation to seek help to talk to somebody, to talk to a professional, to talk to a parent or to talk to a sibling, to talk to a friend, to ask for help. It is important that we recognise that it is a normal life experience to suffer from mental or emotional difficulty, that difficulties present themselves in life which must be faced and that getting assistance to do so is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength.

Stigma around mental health and suicide must be removed. See Change the National Mental Health Stigma Reduction Partnership which is rolling out across the country with the support of Government, of opposition parties and of the Non Government Organisations involved in the area. When we talk about stigma we are talking about using negative labels to identify people with mental health problems. The stigma has its roots in fear and misunderstanding. Many people hold negative opinions towards people with mental health problems because they do not understand the issues involved and because they are relying on myths and misconceptions. These myths and misconceptions must be debunked.

Why does society look negatively at especially males who share difficulties, who cry. Crying is extremely therapeutic for both and males and females. There is a serious issue about society’s attitude to male expression of emotions. This must be recognised and challenged and society must encourage an expression of negative feelings of failure, of feelings of mental weakness, of suicidal feelings. Just as general health illness is understood and services are in place, mental and emotional illness must be understood and services put in place.

The emotion that is expressed by the father of the young man who took his life is the deep, sad, mental experience of the bereaved of suicide. A bereavement by suicide falls outside the normal range of human experience. It is an overwhelming loss which leaves the bereaved confused and helpless, overwhelmed by many emotions and many unanswered questions. As well as the normal range of grief reactions the bereaved of suicide often experiences a sense of stigma, shame, loneliness or rejection. The death is sudden, unexpected, violent and extremely traumatic, consequently the bereaved relatives may also find themselves experiencing the symptoms of post traumatic stress.

Limerick West RD Dan Neville is president of the Irish Association of Suicidology and Fine Gael spokesman on Mental Health

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