The announcement about the awful suicide of Caroline Flack stopped me in my tracks last night.
In death, there never seem to be words that feel right. Sadly, it feels all too late.
I know what it’s like to want to die. While I am acutely aware my situation is very, very different, if you strip back the layers we are all essentially the same: we’re human. We feel hopelessness, despair, panic, terror. We think there is only one option.
If you’re reading this today you may know exactly what I am talking about.
I happen to think we’ve taken enormous strides in deepening our understanding of mental illness with organisations such as the NHS, MIND and the Samaritans leading the way for open advocacy, help and support.
But the self-serving media narratives tell me we still have a long way to go in communicating mental health. In Caroline’s case, there’s been a morbid fixation on examining the cause. If the villain of the piece is not Love Island, then it’s the ‘curse’ of Strictly Come Dancing. Claims and counter-claims of fault-finding point to the media, social media and the framework of our criminal justice system.
It’s all creating a cacophony of noise that transforming a complex, delicate and deeply personal issue into a sinisterly voyeuristic public pantomime.
Really though, how is this serving to help her loved ones and the many thousands of others who are struggling to make sense of their own situation?
Whatever the reasons behind her terrible and final act it won’t be simple. There’ll be a combination of factors and we may learn of some, we may not. Caroline’s legacy may include one of positive change in an entertainment and social media industry that’s increasingly fixated on clicks and views and shares. I hope so.
Her untimely death, coupled with hearing Zoe Ball speak movingly about the loss of her partner to suicide on Desert Island Discs, took me back to when I had abstract suicidal thoughts about ending my life and the methods of doing so.
My fall into the abyss left me jack-knifing between feeling unable to continue living the life I had and the fear of wanting to die. When the terror became overwhelming, I phoned family or friends who would appear like guardian angels and stay until I felt safe again.
Medication, long-term counselling and familial/peer support meant my suicidal thoughts were managed out my mind and I started caring about living again.
Now I’m one of those berks who bangs on enthusiastically about sunrises, the first snowdrops in spring and new records on Strava segments.
But stories of suicide make me feel really, really sad. It still has the power to cause profound pain.
The language we use and the way we portray suicide will take time to change. In the meantime we can keep steering the conversation towards productive help rather than sharing salacious headlines. So let’s:
Do our best to show empathy and compassion.
Withhold judgement about another person’s tragedy.
Check in with those closest to us, particularly those who’ve struggled previously.
Recognise an individual’s plight is not our entertainment.
Ignore those who pour venom through their keyboard.
Step back from apportioning blame.
Take responsibility for what we say to others – on and off line.
Educate ourselves about how best to help those struggling.
Actively challenge misconceptions.
Talk to someone we trust if we’re feeling overwhelmed.
Listen to those who feel fretful.