Suicide and Stigma

I have recently been catching up on some archived episodes of the SBS program Insight. One of the episodes I saw the other night was about how to reduce the stigma and spread awareness regarding suicide. It is still for most people a taboo issue when it comes to discussion. One of the main problems with this is that when it comes to suicidal people, there are as many different types of suicidal people as there are viewpoints on Insight. If you've ever watched an episode, you will see that different people all have different takes on any particular issue. It's similar for the suicidal on suicide.

Speaking as a person who has been depressed for most of her life, and who has felt for more than half of her life that killing herself is the only realistic way to deal with her particular problems, the problem with creating ads or programs to increase suicide awareness seems to be that those who want to make the ads have a vague idea that suicide is bad and must be stopped, but they don't truly understand the causes of suicide, or how to help, or that enough resources to help don't exist. Aside from suicide specific resources, and referrals to various therapies and services, it's a holistic issue that involves many social issues and quality of life issues. The current state of modern life might itself be part of the problem. It's one thing to offer immediate crisis support, but what about after? What if people are realistic to fear for their futures?


Lifeline is an organization dedicated to helping those in crisis, whether by phone or through their website.

My first impression of the Lifeline website was that it wasn't very warm and welcoming, or rather that there was so much attention to the corporate or brand aspect that it's offputting. I realize they need donations, but one of the problems people might have in feeling suicidal, that they might not even consciously realize they have, is that they're feeling alienated by the way the modern world works. And meanwhile, at the same time 'help' is offered, the site itself is a brand and a career opportunity or a nice addition to a resumé for go-getters.

For me, it sort of emphasizes the pressure of having to speak up or advertise oneself in 10 seconds or less..

The live chat is probably a good idea, because there are people very comfortable with that kind of format. I would probably be better with email, and the possibility of IM if I felt comfortable after email, but at the same time I'm not in a 'crisis' situation in the sense that I will kill myself while waiting for a response.

As for the Lifeline website, it might be good for a person who sees a phone number to call, or wants to chat immediately, although the chat is only from 8pm-4am? But anyone who looks around a little before committing to a call, to find out the philosophies, might find themselves discouraged.

On second viewing, I still find the website offputting. There's a lot about the organization itself which sort of might make a person feel guilty if they already feel like a wuss for calling a suicide hotline. 'Oh no, I should be making a donation, I should be volunteering and giving back to my community, look at all these people who can handle jobs, school and volunteering..'

For those who just want to talk to someone, as long as they aren't on hold too long or at all, they'll probably find it easy enough to navigate, and those who like chat will probably find it helpful.

Again, I think the Lifeline live chat is probably a good idea, because there are people very comfortable with that kind of format - but it would probably be even better if it were possible to provide it 24 hours.

What's missing is maybe a section or link to 'alternative' types of approaches, in addition to links to more mainstreamish things.

Social Inequalities

If we know that individuals from certain groups, for instance, Indigenous individuals and LGBTI individuals, are more likely to attempt suicide, then surely we should recognize that part of the solution to the suicide crisis is that we must push for social changes? And if we can't do that, then we should increase awareness of the extra difficulties such individuals face trying to get a 'fair go' in life.

What if rather than complain or question some of these human rights issues and risk being perceived as a whinger, some people just kill themselves? If more people felt free to speak up about their experience and to question the setup, could this possibly lead to social changes that will benefit everyone? Maybe platforms for speaking out need to be established.

Communication Breakdown

Keeping a person safe for a night or a few nights, and locking away all potential suicide objects or methods does not address the underlying issues that led to a person becoming overwhelmed. In many cases, the crisis will pass, but a person may never really be feeling they are coping well and some might live with a certain level of misery, and not be able to participate in life fully, or share whatever it is they could potentially share, partly because people still believe that suicidal feelings sometimes come out of nowhere, or that depression has no real reason. Just because people with a certain mindset can't see the reasons for depression doesn't mean that there aren't any.

There's a lot of pressure, from families, peers and society as a whole, to accept 'the way things are', without question. You don't have a right to question why housing is so expensive, why there are so many crappy jobs and crappy products, why to participate in almost every level of life you have to disregard some laws and rules, while pretending you don't, and constantly have it reinforced that to walk away from all this means that you're the lowest of the low rather than a conscientious objector, or at least a sign that the system is corrupt, rotten.

People take in the brainwashing, and override their own personal perceptions and experience and say: I'm bad, I have no reason to be depressed, I have people who care about me, it would be so selfish and cause them so much pain if I did this to them, so many people have it so much worse. And so they don't really connect with what's really going on with them, burdened by all of these shoulds, and then one day it's too much, they kill themselves and everyone is scratching their heads saying 'she would never do this, it came out of nowhere'.

Sometimes when people think they are communicating in ways that allow open conversation, they don't understand that they might unconsciously be imposing acceptable limits that the other person picks up on.

If you take a look around, you will see the things that I was not allowed to discuss with family, and that even psychiatrists and other mental health professionals either didn't want to know about, or didn't have the time for. I'm not saying that all depressed or suicidal people are like me or have anything in common with me - refer back to the beginning where I mentioned that there are as many different viewpoints in the suicidal community as in any Insight audience - but there are probably things within my website that represent that some things aren't really acceptable, even when family and friends say 'we accept you'.

I tried to talk to family and friends, I tried to talk to the professionals, and in the end, I ended up here, because there was nowhere else I felt I could go.

On the Insight episode I referenced, there was a proposed ad campaign that included: Thinking of suicide? We'll help you write the note I think there's a sort of dark humour that's ashlike [I am referring to a newsgroup called where I hung out years ago, and where GK and I met] to that billboard ad. But underneath it, it's not a bad idea for people who are more comfortable with writing rather than speaking to someone. And so you have a suicidal person who goes to a website, checks things out, and maybe decides to write to some people in their life, not to say good- bye, but maybe to think about what they would say to a person. Or, to write an email to discuss with the people there, as long as it didn't feel like cops were going to knock down your door and drag you away. I think this option actually isn't bad. I do also think that it's not bad to write to people a letter that might even be 'shocking' - what would you say if you weren't shy, or if there's nothing else to lose? But I've done all this. I've written those emails, I have put up tons of stuff on my site expressing everything, what else can I write?

Some people said the ad was confusing, some said they didn't believe it would drive people to services.. but my perspective is that I'd be more likely to contact these people than Lifeline. If it is 'too much' to risk that dark humour might harm the majority, then at least it might be a good idea to have an 'offshoot' from the Lifeline site which focuses on writing and communicating, and phone options for those who would prefer that - and the link to this offshoot could say: if our site seems too corporate and unfriendly or mainstream for you, try this. And that way, it is possible that some who might otherwise fall through the cracks could find a place.

Compatibility Issues

The problem with suicide hotlines is partly that however well-trained the volunteers are, it is hit-or-miss that the 'right' volunteer will match up with a certain indivual - this is again about the varying viewpoints issue. I know that volunteers would be specially selected, and trained to be without judgment, but it is not a human specialty that most can be objective, insightful and compassionate to the extent that might be required.

Just as not many people could do Jenny Brockie's job, not many people could be trained to respond to the entire range of suicidal mindsets.

There are also certain jobs which carry increased suicide risk, and this should also be addressed.

The Media and Copycat Suicide

Apparently media laws or guidelines include that you are not allowed to broadcast details of methods or locations, because this increases copycats. What was not mentioned in the Insight program was that if methods are mentioned, but also the gruesome possibilities of what could happen when such methods go wrong are also mentioned might deter some suicides.. this was one of the reasons the newsgroup a.s.h was a 'positive' resource. Through talking about all aspects of suicide, from discussing pros and cons of suicide methods, emotional and practical problems, as well as being a social atmosphere where people could share opinions about what's happening in the world, or jokes, or poetry, or personal stories, all of this probably prevented many suicides rather than encouraging them.

Besides that, at present, aside from the 'regular media', social media is pretty difficult to police.

While there might be some link established between reporting suicides and methods, there is as far as I know no data concerning communities like a.s.h.

Resources and Reality

One of the ways to decrease suicide would be to make life seem more attractive. The way it is set up is very rigid and competitive, and it's pretty limited in a lot of ways if you don't want a 'normal' life. This would include talking openly about realistic options for life, what a person can realistically expect, what is expected of them, etc, and it should be posed that a person maybe has a right to decide if the terms of life are acceptable to them.

OK, this whole thing is pretty scary, because you have all these panicked people who want to stop suicide, but don't actually understand suicide. They might see that resources are needed, and awareness of how to connect with resources, but if there aren't many people who are actually trained and understand enough, what are the resources going to do even if they could provide enough of them?

SBS and Insight already address many of the social and political issues in the world that contribute to extra obstacles for certain groups of people. It's like there needs to be a way to link what combinations of risk factors are, and potential ways of addressing these. Link and process all different layers? Or like a supercomputer that can do this? Or, therapists who can adapt and provide 'integrative' approaches or adaptable approaches to therapy.

Ripple Effects

Ripple effects for decades after a suicide.. what about ripple effects from parenting techniques, or deciding to have kids when you probably shouldn't? Suicide might have 'worse' effects than other forms of death for those left behind in large part because of the stigma that surrounds it, making it impossible to talk about.

Altruistic Aspects of Suicide

When people discuss the aftereffects of suicide, something many don't see is that some people's deaths really might not be noticed by their families, and we already know that depression and isolation might result in suicidal feelings, so there's a big disconnect here, or a lack of connecting dots. Some cultures and individual families might actually think suicide is 'right' when one member has brought shame upon them. With all the focus on people being productive, caring members of society who will one day 'give back' - what if some people have disabilities or conditions that will result in them always being something of a 'liability'?

One man on the Insight program about suicide said that he felt he had brought so much shame to his family he thought they'd be better off without him.. when it comes to my website, I actually get the impression my family wish I hadn't posted it and that this has caused more shame and problems for them than if I had just shut the fuck up and killed myself.

With all the focus on 'giving back', what about people who realize they have some condition or situation that means they can never contribute as much as others, or make up for all the expense they have caused? How do you realistically convince them it's not as important as preventing their suicide if you yourself believe in the importance of pulling one's own weight and giving back to the community?

Come On, Admit It, in a Lot of Ways, Life Sucks

Many people are depressed because life sucks. They may not be consciously in touch with this, but when they try to follow what everyone is telling them they should do and feel, they can't. They might even echo the things people say, in an attempt to get it all to sink in, or not to worry others, or cause a fuss or problem, but what if the reality for some people's depression is that the realistic life options available to some people are not especially appealing? There are plenty of messages saying: you can achieve anything if you set your mind to it, and if you don't you have no one to blame but yourself, but these messages aren't strictly the truth. Perhaps if more people truly understood this, there'd be a hell of a lot more suicides.

There are some people who could potentially be helped by going right to the edge, confronting the harsh realities of life, having someone acknowledge that their perceptions of the realities of life aren't insane, trying to sort through it all, to find out if there is something in life they still want, something that it is realistic to achieve, and then perhaps to have help in formulating a plan toward achieving that.

But many people are so affected by the shoulds that they are not really in touch with what they want to do. They have ideas about what would fit well in their families, or earn respect, etc, or what seems cool, or what has status, and many people as a result do not really know how to assess their real interests, and cross-reference these with their real abilities and available resources and spots/positions.

Substance use as a symptom, not cause

People aren't aware of the prejudices they have about alcohol and drug use, and when discussing these issues, people tend to assume the addiction is causing the depression, I know I'm doing something bad, I know I should stop, and stopping in itself is the biggest step. While I think substance abuse can exacerbate depression or a preexisting problem, I think it's rarely the primary problem.

Whatever it is Might Not Pass

People who have been depressed for long periods, or off and on throughout life might be put off by the assurances that there is help, that this will pass. Also, when you realize how many different volunteers there are, and you know you have a complex problem, you realize that finding someone who can understand your particular issues is very random or unlikely, especially when the training for the site seems like a onesizefitsall approach, and reflects the values of mainstream society.

Through my reading of the site, I wasn't sure about some things.. When it came to positions at the organization, they seemed to be saying they wanted to investigate if you had a criminal past, or anything else that might disqualify you from being a good counsellor.. meanwhile, people who have experienced alternate lives from mainstream society might actually have very important imput to offer.

More on Lifeline Services

Lifeline securely stores transcripts of chat sessions. De- identified transcripts may be used for the purposes of clinical supervision and evaluation.

er.. clinical supervision of a person who has not been identified? In other words, a person is discussed, and if found to be at risk, they'll look up the IP address and various other things? They might show up at your door?

Prospective employees, volunteers at Lifeline:

will not engage in conduct that might damage the reputation of Lifeline and the services it provides

will provide and update Lifeline with relevant information about their background, criminal history and personal circumstances that could affect actual or perceived ability to deliver Crisis Support Services

-These two above are perhaps open to interpretation.. but does the first mean a person can't be a good counsellor if found in possession of pot, or something?

-Does the second mean that they do accept some people with criminal histories, as long as these aren't seen as potentially tarnishing Lifeline's name or likely to affect the ability to provide the service? [On another part of the site, they spoke of volunteers from 'all walks of life', and presumably former criminals, recovering addicts, and anyone who knows what it's like to be socially excluded could possibly help others in a similar position? Or would they not be allowed?]

-What about relapses into addiction, which are actually considered to be expected on the road to recovery.. does this mean that as soon as you have a relapse, you have to tell someone, or does it mean you immediately must step down and go away?

will not use any information (de-identified or otherwise) obtained while undertaking their role within Lifeline, outside the organisation unless permission is sought and received from Lifeline National Office

-does this mean that if you want to use some of the info in a school paper or thesis, you have to ask for permission? what about talking to your friends? relating 'unusual' or 'entertaining' stories about some of the 'characters'? While you are not allowed to judge the ones who call to their face, perhaps when discussing them with friends it's ok?

In Summary

When it comes to resources and places to go for help, some practical life problems might not have good solutions, and preventing someone from killing themselves in the short term does not necessarily solve the problem.


->exile on meme st: a diary