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David Armitage: Society today seems only to praise the dead... perhaps we need to be a bit kinder about the living

David Armitage

Malachi O'Doherty wrote this week about the difficulty in reporting suicide. David Armitage attempted to take his own life in 2018. This is his response

David Armitage

Malachi O'Doherty wrote here on Tuesday about the wariness around reporting suicide. Malachi was concerned about how to report suicide without causing any trauma for the bereaved, or encouraging others to take their own lives.

I would like to point out to Malachi that organisations like Samaritans Ireland, as well as Professor Siobhan O'Neill, have produced documents for the media on how to write correctly about suicide. It is slightly concerning that an esteemed journalist like Malachi has not come across this document, otherwise he would have known how to portray suicide in the media in a balanced way.

Malachi also writes about positive ways that people have died by their own actions, such as by fasting. I guess he forgot to mention about kamikaze pilots and also the captain going down with the ship.

Death should not be glamorised in any way, but talked about responsibly, whether it is in media reporting, or drama.

I respect Malachi's desire to discover the correct way to deal with suicide. Each death by suicide is a complex story and a tragedy that can be avoided.

We cannot cover up death by suicide, but remain factual about the circumstances and emphasise the impact on the loved ones because a family member, or a close friend, has tragically died to suicide.

Pain is at the heart of suicide. To actively inflict pain upon oneself to try to solve a situation is tragic. There is no nice way to enter this mindset, but there are many ways to avoid descending into it and each one is avoidable.

This is not just a health issue. We can look at the reasons why: intergenerational trauma from the Troubles, collapse of Stormont, NHS crises, poverty, universal credit, addiction and LGBT prejudice are the main ones.

But then there are more personal reasons: mine was mental health issues from a traumatic upbringing. Others could be loss of jobs, or the pressures of life becoming too much to cope with.

Being male seems to be a massive issue, as the majority of deaths by suicide are of males under 45.

Being the stereotypical breadwinner, or not being allowed to show emotions, are behaviours that cause men to bottle up their emotions, or lose their identity (if they lose their job, say).

Communities have changed. Once we lived, went to school, worked and played in the same area. Now, this has changed.

Each one of those could now be in different parts of the city and, therefore, we have different connections in those areas.

We may know more people, but do we closely know people? When I moved here, I found it very difficult to develop friendships, because people had grown up with the same friends and so they said that they did not need any more friends.

But I did. Same again, when I was divorced; many friends dropped away, some because they took sides, or did not want to. Loneliness is a massive issue and one that is so damaging to those struggling with life.

Society today seems only to praise the dead. For example, before Princess Diana died, she was being vilified by the Press, but as soon as she was dead, it seems that she suddenly became a saint.

Maybe, we need to be nicer, as a community, to the living, so that people know that they are valued; society today seems to be overwhelmingly negative.

We need to see that life here is positive, obstacles can be overcome and we should try to create an atmosphere that celebrates the achievements people make.

Not the Oscar winners, or Olympic gold medal winners, but the ordinary people, like single mothers, or the disabled person, who gets a job, or somebody on benefits who is not crushed by the system.

We need to stop putting a value on the contribution somebody makes to society; we need to value all people the same, regardless if they sleep in the street, or if they are First Minister.

For over 25 years, I have been on anti-depressants and had a piecemeal relationship with trying to get better, working with the GP to get the best medication and finding out what services I am eligible for.

Charities can provide short-term help and then it's back to the GP, searching hospitals, day centres, psychiatrist appointments (but with a new doctor every few visits), varying standards of counselling, bad advice from all and some brilliantly helpful people who are worn down by the demand.

In the end, it was East Belfast Survivors of Suicide that really helped me stay alive.

In this, there is some self-help stuff. Some, like The Road Less Travelled by M Scott Peck, did help and some made me worse. My mind is the biggest battlefield.

The turning point in continuing was when I decided that I am not going to let my mental health dictate my life. I am going to be the boss of it.

For a long time, I could not leave the house and, if I did, I was made worse. People can be both a blessing and a curse, but isolating myself by not going out, or not letting people in, was damaging. Crossing this was, for me, like climbing two Everests. Fear was conquered.

People are the greatest healer, as well as the being the cause of my illness. I mentioned about good people in mental health services, and good friends as well.

These are the ones whom I could get in touch with at any time and who knew how to respond; either with kindness and coffee, or taking me to casualty.

That day, in August 2018, when I went missing, I was blown away when I heard that my pastor at Belfast City Vineyard stopped the service and encouraged people to go out and look for me.

And that the Alliance Party opened its office doors to co-ordinate a search. And the people of Belfast came to look for me. Whenever I do get down, I do remember the kindness shown that day.

The last time I was suicidal, I was made homeless, because the landlord took six weeks to fix the front door after the police broke the door in. He thought they overreacted. If a good friend had not let me stay at her house, I would have been discharged to a park bench.

I was actively suicidal and, after eight hours waiting at casualty, the emergency call-out team came and said I was not ill enough to be admitted. So, I stayed at my friend's and professionals came out to me.

I have three leaflets, from three visits, that were given to me by staff at casualty, saying I was suicidal. I could not cope and there seemed to be nothing for me.

Recovery is slow and painful. The saying goes that it takes a village to raise a child. I needed people to help me get better.

Eighteen months after my final suicidal act, I am still not working.

Some weeks are extremely tough, but the trajectory is on the up.

But I am so grateful that I am here now and that I have many years ahead of me.

As CS Lewis wrote: "You are never too old to set a new goal, or dream a new dream."

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, contact the Samaritans on 084 5790 9090, or Lifeline 080 8808 800

Belfast Telegraph