DIARY: June 2011
I tried to kill myself last week.
Should I be glad I failed or disappointed? That answer changes from day to day depending on how I feel. The mixed emotions are profound but how the hell do you put it into words? How do you describe a feeling or emotion with simple text? I don't think you can.
I have "clinical depression", whatever that is. I always just thought depression was ... well, depression. I assumed there were different levels but apparently there's also different types: clinical depression, chronic depression, dysthymia, bipolar disorder and more. I didn't use to worry too much about it and thought that everyone gets depressed at some time. It's just part of life. Boy, has that changed.
[...] Clinical depression is a serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Individuals with clinical depression are unable to function as they used to. Often they have lost interest in activities that were once enjoyable to them, and feel sad and hopeless for extended periods of time. Clinical depression is not the same as feeling sad or depressed for a few days and then feeling better. It can affect your body, mood, thoughts, and behavior. It can change your eating habits, how you feel and think, your ability to work and study, and how you interact with people. People who suffer from clinical depression often report that they "don't feel like themselves anymore."
I have to admit I don't feel comfortable writing about this and have only told one person. Since most people I know don't have any idea I write this blog, I am able to open up more here and actually tell it like it is. For over a week, I have spoken to most of my family and some friends and told them I'm not feeling the best and having a bad week but that's as far as I have gone.
The leading cause of death for Australian men under 44 is suicide. The leading cause of death for Australian women under 34 is suicide. And more people die by suicide each year than they do on the road.
Strangely, the main reason for not telling my family and feeling hesitant in writing this is that I feel silly. I can't even accomplish something as simple as knocking myself off. I have always thought that those who fail at a suicide attempt didn't really try hard enough and weren't fully committed to ending it all. Is that what I did? Should I have taken more pills and did I purposely take less than what was needed to finish the job? Probably. If I was really serious, why would I worry if I would have enough meds left for the rest of the week? Why didn't I just take them all? At the time, I was convinced I took enough to kill a horse or two but I still had in the back of my mind what would happen if I failed.
Clinical depression is not a sign of personal weakness, or a condition that can be willed away. Clinically depressed people cannot "pull themselves together" and get better. In fact, clinical depression often interferes with a person's ability or wish to get help. Clinical depression is a serious illness that lasts for weeks, months and sometimes years. It may even influence someone to contemplate or attempt suicide.
So what happened in the days following my attempt? Did I feel relief or regret? Did circumstances magically resolve themselves? Did some good news come in or something positive happen that helped me get on with life? Absolutely not. In fact, it was the start of a horrific week which got worse each day. I didn't get paid by a client as promised, I was now short of my daily meds, ex Mrs Wright was home sick all week - constantly angry and demanding - and on it went. I kept remembering the day after trying to escape my shitty existence. Instead of being escorted through some beautiful, ornamented gates by an old man with a white beard or sitting at the bottom of the ocean because I had been reincarnated as a mud crab, I instead woke up as usual to some seriously annoying birds trying to tweet and my dogs by my side. Maybe I would have tried harder if I knew what was yet to come.
Well, it's a new week and most of the pressing issues have been resolved. I am trying harder than normal to stay balanced and get ready for my move to the coast. Unfortunately though, the depression is more severe than normal and each day is really a struggle. I have decided that maybe I do need to see a shrink and explore the possibilities of confronting my depression. My doctor is convinced that seeing a shrink would be pointless for me but what have I got to lose? If there is one thing that I am certain of, that is unless something changes, there will not be a follow up article to my next attempt.
Silence On Suicide Does More Harm Than Good
by Lainie Anderson
In July last year, the South Australian Coroner Mark Johns called for suicide statistics to be published alongside the road toll. Since that time, just over 100 South Australians have died on the state’s roads. More than 180 South Australians have killed themselves.
Despite Mr Johns’ call, suicide statistics remain unpublished. The topic by and large remains taboo. And desperate people keep taking their own lives because their mental illness isn’t properly treated, or because friends and family don’t have the confidence or the skills to raise this most delicate of subjects.
As a community, we’ve got to stop being so squeamish about suicide. It’s the single biggest cause of death for Australian females aged 15-34 and males 15-44. Latest statistics show that 2130 Australians took their own lives in 2009, compared to 1417 road deaths for the year and 1837 from skin cancer.
Yet while $7m is spent on mass media advertising to curb SA’s road toll alone, there’s nothing similar to curb the incidence of suicide. So what needs to change?
Experts like Mr Johns and SA’s Public Advocate John Brayley says the task is two-fold: prevention and awareness.
Around 70 per cent of suicides are associated with depression, so reducing the stigma of mental illness and expanding services are fundamental. Most other suicide victims are in a ‘situational crisis’, so timely access to crisis counseling is also essential.
Family First MLC Robert Brokenshire says SA’s services are simply too haphazard, and this week called for a Suicide Prevention Coordinator to be funded in Thursday’s State Budget.
In response, Health Minister John Hill revealed that his department has for some time been preparing a Suicide Prevention Strategy “to focus our efforts on the things that will have the most impact”.
It will include a new Suicide Prevention Advisory Committee, reporting directly to the Minister on the success (or otherwise) of measures, any gaps in services and ways to better coordinate government agencies.
That’s the first we’ve heard of it – and it’s a welcome initiative. But it still leaves us with the mammoth task of raising awareness and reducing the stigma of suicide in the wider population.
With church ministers and chaplains dealing with suicide on a weekly basis, the Moderator of the Uniting Church in South Australia, Rev Rob Williams, agrees. He too is calling for urgent action on suicide awareness as well as prevention, and the Uniting Church is now forming its own taskforce to drive the issue forward.
“There’s got to be more that we can do and we think a good place to start is lifting the lid on the secrecy surrounding suicide. Certainly, a sensitive and gentle shift in the way media look at these issues is something that we are very interested in.”
The Australian Press Council is interested too. It’s currently reviewing its 10-year-old reporting guidelines on suicide and will release the findings later this month.
A major issue, of course, remains the fear of copy-cat suicides. Some still believe that instead of preventing suicides, increased reporting will merely cause more. But with so many Australians taking their own lives, it’s time to mature our thinking on that score.
People who are truly intent on killing themselves have an abundance of information to make it happen – not least in the online world where traditional media guidelines are ignored with gusto.
The mainstream media has a responsibility to continue treating suicides carefully and sensitively, but surely one way to achieve that is by publishing regular figures (similar to the road toll) to keep the issue high on the public agenda.
As a community, we’re then sending a message that – like road deaths – suicides are preventable and we’re committed to curbing the toll. That’s got to be better than pretending 2000 Australians aren’t killing themselves each year.
Lifeline offers 24 hour crisis support on 13 11 14
Many Chronic Pain Sufferers Ponder Suicide
A NATIONAL study on chronic pain shows a third of the population suffers from the malady and, of those, 20 per cent have considered suicide and 5 per cent have attempted to take their lives.
Chronic Pain Australia president Coralie Wales, who commissioned the study of 2500 people, said most sufferers also felt stigmatised, believing they were perceived as drug addicts or bludgers. "The more stigmatised you feel, the more likely you are to commit suicide," she said.
Chronic pain is defined as that which persists for more than three months. It affects about 6.5 million Australians.
A 2007 Access Economics report estimated chronic pain cost the nation $34.3 billion a year in lost productivity and on health service demands.
Ms Wales said South Australia treated chronic pain sufferers worse than any other state, because they were forced to collect their medication from the Drug and Alcohol Services, alongside drug addicts.
"In South Australia it seems that anyone who takes an opiate seems to be a suspicious character and you have to be fearful of opiates," she said.
Ms Wales said the situation was so bad that chronic pain sufferers were forced to move interstate for better access to medication.
Colin Shaw moved from Adelaide to Brisbane a year ago to seek treatment for his cluster headaches. "Collecting medication alongside addicts was one of the most inhumane things. It was soul-destroying," he said.
He has attempted suicide four times.
Mr Shaw, 49, has suffered from up to six cluster headaches a day for more than 20 years. He says they are 10 times worse than migraines.
"It's like you've got a fire hose going through a small tube. It's like you're literally bursting, combined with a knife behind your eye," he said.
"It's just cost me so much. It's cost me my family, my social life, my work as a photographer. Everything is gone."