In in this week’s column: Time to think, Fr Paddy Byrne talks about the devastating effects of suicide. Here is what he has to say. It is well worth a read!
Fr Paddy Byrne
DURING a ten-day period recently, five lives were lost to suicide in Co Laois. Wonderful lives abruptly ended, leaving behind families overwhelmed with grief and sadness. We live in most challenging times. I suggest that all of our vulnerabilites are exaggerated in a time of crisis. The coronavirus is not just a threat to our physical health but it also adds greatly to the strain of our mental health. Lockdown has intensified fear and anxiety in many people who struggled with their mental health. By the end of this pandemic, perhaps more people will have died in Laois as a result of suicide than the actual coronavirus.
Suicide prevention remains a universal challenge. Every year, suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages. It is responsible for more than 800,000 deaths, which equates to one suicide every 40 seconds.
Every life lost represents someone’s partner, child, parent, friend or colleague. For each suicide, approximately 135 people suffer intense grief or are otherwise affected. This amounts to 108 million people a year who are profoundly impacted by suicidal behaviour, which includes suicide and also encompasses suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. For every suicide, 25 people make a suicide attempt and many more have serious thoughts of killing themselves.
Suicide is the result of a convergence of genetic, psychological, social and cultural and other risk factors, sometimes combined with experiences of trauma and loss. People who take their own lives represent a heterogeneous group, with unique, complex and multifaceted causal influences preceding their final act. Such heterogeneity presents challenges for suicide-prevention experts. These challenges can be overcome by adopting a multi-level and cohesive approach to suicide prevention.
Before his death, Donal Walsh pleaded earnestly to his young peers to value life. The message contained in Donal’s DVD ***Life is gift*** was powerfully communicated to every secondary school in the country: “I realised that I was fighting for my life for the third time in four years and this time I have no hope. Yet still I hear of young people committing suicide and I’m sorry, but it makes me feel nothing but anger. I feel angry that these people choose to take their lives, to ruin their families and to leave behind a mess that no-one can clean up.
“Please, as a 16-year-old who has no say in his death sentence, who has no choice in the pain he is about to cause and who would take any chance at even a few more months on this planet, appreciate what you have, know that there are always other options and help is always there.
Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Its consequence leaves a permanent heartache in the lives of loved ones, who are left behind wounded, bereaved, broken and so often void of the apparent answer to why a sibling, son or daughter, brother or sister, partner, neighbour or friend should end their life in such a tragic manner. Of course, the darkness and despair in those final moments, when life is ended by suicide, in no way defines the totality of that person’s life. In the same sense, nothing can separate us from the love of God. God’s love is best summed up as our saviour, dying out of love on the cross, prayed aloud: “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
The frequency of suicide is an alarming reminder of how fragile and vulnerable the human mind is. I believe mental illness is the most difficult of any human cross to carry. When illness is physically manifested, it is tangible, acceptable and real. Illness of the mind is more subtle and less apparent than a broken leg or physical illness. However, mental illness can be hidden, stigmatised and much more difficult to ‘fix’.
Perhaps the greatest devastation that results from suicide is the unanswered questions that loved ones will forever struggle with. Why did this happen? Should I have recognised the signs? Why did they leave this pain on us? How did I not know that they were so unhappy?
I believe the burden, anxiety and overwhelming despair that brings somebody to end their own life is the most lonely and vulnerable cross any human can carry. I suggest that theirs surely is the Kingdom of Heaven ‒ a kingdom that transforms despair into hope, darkness into light and being lost into the joy of being found. Any individual whose life has ended in the darkness of suicide also has a life story filled with brightness, gentleness and tremendous actions of human love.
In these dark days that are so uncertain and difficult for so many, please talk out your fear to somebody. Avail of so many listening ears in family and community who can offer support and help. It’s okay not to be okay.
There is a vaccine to this dreadful reality: that is to have the courage to seek help, to talk, to avail of so many services waiting for you to listen.
If you need someone confidentially to listen, phone the Samaritans on 116123 or text 087 2609090.