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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 11, 2010 @ 8:54 pm

    Politics and Suicide Prevention

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    It is fair to say that  politicians on all sides admire the work of Fine Gael TD Dan Neville and Fianna Fáil Senator Mary White on suicide and the need to raise awareness about the issue. When I was a youngster, you rarely if ever heard of anyone taking his or her own life. I am sure it went on but was  probably hushed-up.

    In those days, suicide victims were refused burial in consecrated ground, which must have added greatly to the distress of their relatives.

    There is a very sad story on the news today about leading  British fashion designer Alexander McQueen (40). He died shortly after his mother had passed away. Police are not treating the death as suspicious but it has not been definitely established that it was suicide. Click here.

    To someone such as myself it is very difficult to undersand how someone can turn away from the myriad joys of life and voluntarily step through the door to eternity.

    However, I have a suspicion that the action is not seen as voluntary and that some mental imperative is at work with these tragic individuals. Some issue has arisen or maybe there was a traumatic episode in the past which “mandates” the victim, as it were, to bring an end to it all.

    I have known very few suicide victims but they were people in the prime of life who had a lot going for them and much to be joyous about, when some twist of fate put them on the path to self-destructi0n.

    Am I right in thinking that suicide has increased vastly in this country with our recent prosperity or was it the case that the figures were suppressed in the past? It has been said that when people no longer need to struggle to exist then they start to question the need for existence in the first place.

    • Robespierre says:

      It is much more complex than that Deaglán, I have unfortunately known two people who decided to exit life in their early twenties.

      Like depression in Ireland we have an extremely unhealthy attitude towards dealing with our emotions and our mental health.

      This rectitude has consequences that can find expression in violence or self harm including excessive drinking and experimentation with mind altering substances.

      It is a statistical fact that many young lone drivers die in accidents late at night. In many cases sexuality, frustration and an inability to comfortably talk about their feelings with a male or female friend, a partner or family member are believed to be a major factor in this.

      There are number of people in my life who are currently traversing difficult passages in their life and I am making it my business to stay in touch with them.

      A wise man once told me that you could meet most expectations of the people in your life by following two rules: be there and be caring.

      I fail all too often but I do my best to stick by these rules – it is after all what matters.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Doesn’t the use of the word ‘victim’ not simply reinforce stigma? People don’t ‘just’ commit suicide – if you have never been in the pit of despair then you are lucky. But for some people they simply cannot see a way out and it’s highly unlikely if Alexander McQueen did take his own life that this was the first time he was in such despair: he saw no other alternative. I’m not aware suicide is a spur of the moment decision unless a gun is involved as most methods require thought and that process gives the brain the chance to reflect. You don’t hang yourself on a whim or take an overdose.

      Therefore there must be some conscious choice.

      Which brings us back to the issue about whether or not a person has the ‘right’ to take their own life. Why shouldn’t a person be able to make that choice – be they facing despair or illness. Perhaps the cost to Mr McQueen for his creativeness was a frequent trip to the pit of despair and perhaps he decided enough was enough and he didn’t want to go through the journey again, and the recent death of his mother clarified it for him personally.

      The pity is that as there is no afterlife or heaven or hell, if he was expecting to be reunited with his mother then that will not happen. But he will be at peace now.

      We are able to rationalise that it might be ‘time’ for a deeply-loved family pet to be put to rest. Yet we refuse to face the death of a person in the same way. We’d rather people linger on with less and less quality of life than allow them pass away in dignity with grace and in peaceful respectful surroundings. We would rather people spend their whole life drugged up so they can cope than simply admit they were not meant for this world.

      This God people mention gave us free will, yet if we pray to him he acts to change the course of our life. So he interferes with our free will. Oh he only does that if we ask him to, yet he never seems to interfere when people who are starving or in deep despair ask him to interfere and help them – yet he does when we want to pass an exam or find our car keys?

      Perhaps, as well as making sure those who face temporary despair are able to get the help and support they need to find their way out of it, we ought to also make sure those who they leave behind are able to honestly face up to the suicide and to accept it is a rational choice some people make.

      Less use of the word victim would be a start.

    • Liam says:

      Maybe not a logical point but is there a huge difference between suicide and someone who is strung out on drugs or alcohol. In all cases people have bowed out of the struggle for life in their own way for whatever reason.
      I can only imagine that in the past if entering the world was hushed up in certain cases , leaving it was the same.
      I do wonder is there an increase in the murder-suicide where a parent drives off the pier with the kids in the back for instance? Is it down to ease of access of “tools” in the case of a car, is medication or illegal drugs messing with people’s heads, or is society developing more sociopathic tendancies, as unearned expectations and rights to “things” appear to be at an all time high.

    • Deaglán says:

      Thanks for those interesting and thoughtful comments. I knew someone would pick me up on the word “victim” but if I’m not mistaken suicide used to be considered a crime, which seems slightly surreal, and I wanted to stress that I didn’t see it in that light. If you don’t like “victim” then suggest another word: “committer”, “suicider”? You see, there aren’t too many options.

      And I don’t think you can altogether equate people who want to end their lives because they have a terminal disease and are in dire physical pain with others who would appear to have every advantage God could send and yet turn around and, tragically, kill themselves without warning.

      Likewise it would be wrong to describe politically-motivated hunger-strikes (whatever one thinks of the motivation behind them) as suicide.

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      Durkheim in his seminal study of suicide called it ‘Anomie’…and if you want me to explain it then I’m happy to give a lecture for the appropriate fee…In small town Ireland I notice people shy away from talking to people ‘in need’ preferring gossip, usually prefaced by the prefix ‘poor x’…moreo ften than not these are the same crawthumpers chewing the toes off the statues on Sunday morning… a very judgemental Society…My guiding principle is when you know someone is in trouble you don’t wait for them to ask for help YOU ‘bother’ them…in a subtle way…by little acts of kindness… keeping in touch…expecting nothing back… …If someone is so disturbed then this will not necessarily prevent them from committing the greatest act of self hate but even if it made one person think twice then it’s worth it. From personal experience, a journalist as it happens, whose star was in the ascendant, it indeed appears to be the case that the people who seem to ‘have it all’ are most self-destructive…

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      @4 ‘politically motivated suicide’ would come under the heading of ‘altrustic suicide’ a opposed to ‘egotistic suicide’ where people are ‘disconnected’ with Society for whatever reason…I never cease to be amazed by what is stored in that small cranial receptacle…On dark days I just tell myself this will pass I just have to get through it…Like a child, life still holds too much wonder for me and anyway I’m too much of a coward to inflict any harm on myself…Or maybe it’s a kind of Social Darwinism just to add a little controversy to the debate…!

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      Re your illustration @4 of the ‘politically motivated suicide’ – interesting that you should chose this as an example rather than the more modern ‘backpack’ approach? The State were more than willing to ‘assist’ in these cases, or should that be State assisted Homicide given the failure to intervene and the indecent haste with which they conceded the political terms following the death of a democratically-elected Politician.

    • Des FitzGerald says:

      I can’t believe people still genuinely think someone who takes their own life is selfish? I can’t think of anything more rational and unselfish than to decide you have had enough and want the despair to end. By extension there is usually some recognition that the despair is affecting others.

      Even the evidence of how badly Irish people deal with emotions or feelings of any type, it is not credible to argue that there are choices available and there is help. The level of help is amazingly dependent on the personal attitude of the person giving the help and those facing despair cannot depend on any consistent official state and professional help.

      In essence it comes back to the dead hand of the church and how it will take decades to change those attitudes which we grew up surrounded by. It’s only 30 years ago that the church took babies from mothers who weren’t married and in return for a financial fee gave those babies for adoption but then forced their mothers to work as slaves to pay off their debt!

      This is the same church that refused to bury a dead child in holy ground and said those who took their own life were in hell.

      No compassion at all.

      So from whom exactly would Irish people learn compassion toward those suffering emotional despair?

    • kynos says:

      To lose three women who loved him and who he loved so much in such short time. They were all his amanuenses. With them went his power. So he went too. God be with them and they together.

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      me@7 that should have been the State was…like one of those trained monkeys I will now slap my own arse for being so grammatically incorrect! Perhaps if the Primary Health Care did more to identify potential ‘suicide risks’ and put in place a care plan then some lives might be saved. However it would be better if Risk Assessments were carried out before people became suicidal there are simple questionnaires that patients could be asked to complete on joining a GP practice in the same way as they complete questionnaires about their physical health. This is a matter for Government and the Electorate. I believe you have an Election coming up soon…Stick it to them on the doorsteps when they come canvassing for your vote…! Action not Apathy is required! ‘Get up off the Parliamentary side of your arses’ as the Great Man is reputed to have said and DO SOMETHING…Stop whingeing! Sorry about the brace of arses but I can’t think of a better synonym the others are all too twee!

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      Should anyone want a moment of levity away from the sombre subject matter of this blog then go to Outside In ‘Cork 3 years On’ and read kynos’ post @ 3…it’s classic!

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      Those Halcyon Days when you were young Deaglan…No murder… No suicide…do you think perhaps you might have led a rather sheltered existence? Were you an only child be any chance? What exactly have Dan Neville and Mary White done as a matter of interest?

    • Deaglán says:

      I was not aware of any suicides. I imagine any that took place were hushed-up but I also suspect the religious taboo had some influence on people. Also, I would reiterate my point that, when the struggle for existence ceases to be a problem, then existence itself becomes a problem. I think I got it from Saul Bellow’s writings.

      As for murder, I recall a sweetshop owner in a nearby town was bludgeoned to death. It sent shockwaves through the population and was a major talking-point for months.

      The murder-rate now is very much higher than when I was a child.

      It’s not really a subject for mirth, Blimey.

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      @14 cf ‘sombre subject’….Mirth? You really are a tad hyper sensistive betimes Deaglan

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      And I’m still no wiser as to what Dan and Mary are supposed to have achieved

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      @13 I think I made some valid and/or valuable contributions to the topic, yet only an ill conceived idea on your part that I had said something inappropriate was the one that received a response!


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