“Your mind is a dangerous neighbourhood and you shouldn’t go in there at night.”
Dear Reader, today is World Suicide Prevention Day.
Every 40 seconds, someone dies from suicide. Many more attempt it and survive. It is the second leading cause of death for people in the ages 15-29. I know all too many people who have been affected by the tragedy of suicide in some way: those who are left behind, those who have tried and survived, those who deal with the scene afterward, and even those who have been used as a means to that end. Like myself.
In my day job as a train driver, suicide is a constant unwelcome companion. Many of my friends and colleagues have had the misfortune of being involved in someone’s attempt on their own life, and I have been there myself – the involuntary instrument of a suicide. You learn to live with it; you learn to cope. It changes you. There are several reasons why there’s been so many posts on this topic here on my blog, but that is one. I live with it’s shadow hanging over me, in one form or another. I speak about it and joke about it and think about it. When I was young and depressed, I even entertained the thought of doing it myself. I probably never will, so no need to worry – that was in the past.
In my life as an artist and creative person, suicide is also present, but in another way. Artists have a higher risk of mental illnesses and with it, a higher risk of suicide – be they musicians, painters, writers, actors or whatever. I have many friends, acquaintances and role models who are artists and who struggle with depression or other difficulties. Some have tried to kill themselves in the past, some succeeded. Some will likely try in the future. You learn to cope with that as well. It, too, changes you.
We speak too little of depression and mental illness in our society. People who succumb to those kinds of problems are deemed weak or not taken seriously. They get told to shape up, that it’s all in their head, that it’s just a slump. They feel alone, outcast and not taken seriously. There’s a man in the public eye that I admire, Joe Pantoliano – you may know him from The Sopranos, The Matrix, and a whole slew of other movies and TV shows. He has struggled with depression for years, and to try and ease up on the stigma and taboo associated with mental illness he started No Kidding? Me too! – an organization aiming to open a dialogue about mental illness and remove the stigma surrounding it.
Another organization I admire is To Write Love On Her Arms – they are a non-profit organization trying to spread hope to those suffering from depression, drug abuse, mental illness and suicidal thoughts, as well as invest in treatment and recovery. They’ve been around for 8 years now, and have grown to This year, they are doing a big campaign for suicide prevention: ‘No One Else Can Play Your Part’. Their influence and renown is spreading, in part thanks to artists and others wearing their t-shirts and spreading knowledge about them.
Both of those groups are local, but spreading out internationally.
The title of this post comes from The Semicolon Project – a group that lies even closer to my heart. They have taken the semicolon ; as their symbol, signifying that a semicolon marks the place where an author chose to continue when he could have ended the sentence. Think what you will about the use and misuse of semicolons, but I think that this is a beautiful thought. This has created a growing practice of tattooing – or drawing – a semicolon on one’s body as a symbol of suicide awareness and prevention.
If I could, I would have loved to show you my own semicolon tattoo, but I haven’t got one yet. If things go according to plan I will incorporate one into the design I’m currently working on.
I know it can be difficult being friends with someone who suffers from mental illness. If you are a friend, though, make that effort. You don’t have to solve their problems or feel you are responsible for saving their lives – just be a friend. Often, just knowing that there’s someone there who won’t judge is enough. Someone who won’t abandon you, even when you feel you are worthless and only in the way. One person truly can make a difference, so if you know someone who is struggling, say something – talk to them; offer help and support to them; be there when they need you.
And if you are really thinking about committing suicide, talk to someone – to someone close to you, or to a complete stranger on the phone or online. Hell – talk to me, even;
Suicide Prevention Hotlines
Canada & US; National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Sweden; Nationella Hjälplinjen (open 13-22) – 020-22 00 60
Sweden; Jourhavande Medmänniska (open 21-06) – 08-702 16 80
UK; HOPELine – 0800-068 41 41