It was in 1961 that the Suicide Act decriminalised the act of suicide, so ensuring people who had tried to end their own life would not be prosecuted. Prior to that, a person found guilty of ‘felo de se’, felon to himself could be sentenced to serve a term in prison or be taken to be ‘treated’ at a Psychiatric Hospital.
In the Middle Ages a person found guillty of ‘self murder’ would be tried and sentenced to death (work that one out!!), buried at night in unconsecrated ground and their possessions taken over by the state.
But hey, what has that got to do with today? Sadly a lot. Suicide still has a stigma attached to it, still seen as a taboo subject and tainted by how it was viewed in the past. Individuals who are having suicidal thoughts and feelings of poor self worth and self esteem are still faced with an uphill struggle to find the right help and support.
People have suicidal thoughts for many reasons, they can be complex, rooted in a person’s psychology and be hard to explain. They can be appear, a subject to changing circumstances, or brood just below the surface like a stalking shark just waiting to bite.
A person who has suicidal thoughts can feel isolated, bereft, guilty, angry, frustrated, confused, disoriented, drained, vulnerable, depressed, alone, defensive, blamed, misunderstood, doomed, anxious, unworthy and hopeless. People who are close to them may only see the outward behaviours, the signs without the symptoms being explained, transference and counter-transference follows which only makes matters worse. Individuals may turn to alcohol or drugs which worsens it even more.
(Transference and counter-transference can also be an issue when coming into contact with health care services)
I have worked in the field of mental health for many years and there is still the tendency to medicalise suicidal behaviour which in my opinion does not help. Suicide is not a mental illness, don’t get me wrong, mental illness can result in symptoms that increase the risk of suicide (which then should be treated accordingly), but this is not the case every time.
The debate in the UK around assisted suicide is still ongoing and, as in the case of the Channel Islands, continues to be kicked down the road. Leaving many people with chronic physical illness having to go abroad to find the help they desire. ‘Is it rational to want to end one’s life before the ravages and indignities of that illness becomes to much to bare?’ ‘If so what of chronic mental illness?’ I leave those questions there!
In the end, debating suicide does not help a person who is in difficulty facing ‘living’, awareness on the other hand does help. No matter what our role is, gaining some insight into the subject can help save a life.
Knowing what to do and not to do when coming into contact with somebody who is feeling suicidal is an essential part of caring.
Train for Care does provide training in mental health and well-being, including suicidal and self harming behaviour.