Last week, I had an interaction with a member of the media, about my possible involvement on a news item talking about mental health and suicide. As someone who’s been open about my own attempt for somewhere between five and ten years, I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of some wonderful projects in local and national media, lending my voice to the conversation around suicide, depression and mental health, and giving people a face or voice to put to the words ‘attempt survivor’, there are many of us, but for a whole host of extremely valid reasons, not many are as it were, out. These exploratory conversations are not a particularly regular occurrence, but I’ve done more than enough to know when I’ve got someone worth talking to. As I said, I’ve been very lucky over the years I’ve been talking about this, and maybe that’s why it was so striking, because for all the negative stereotypes about the media, pretty much every interviewer I’ve spoken to has been genuine and trying to do their best work.
Last week was the first time that I genuinely didn’t feel that.
It’s left me somewhat shaken, angry and upset about the approach of this individual, but rather than getting into specifics of what went on, I want to do something a bit more useful – I wanted to give some helpful thoughts and ideas for those wanting to talk to attempt survivors about their experiences – both from a journalistic point of view and otherwise…
Think of this as me letting off steam while trying to help. These are my thoughts – and I do not claim to speak for all attempt survivors – but here are some things to think on. All of these points come out of my own experience.
My story is mine to share as I want
Just because I’ve told you parts of my story before, that does not grant you access to it again as and when you want it. This is true not just for the media, but for anyone. My suicide attempt is part of my life, a major, traumatic and central part of it with myriad consequences good and bad. But it is not my whole identity and just because I’m one of a relatively small number of survivors who’ve made themselves known, that does not mean I want to be seen as ‘the suicide guy’. There is more to me, and if I don’t want to talk about it today, that is my right.
My story is not a linear one
When you talk to me and I’m (hopefully) mentally well, don’t assume that this has been a straight line from rock bottom to mostly functioning human. It isn’t. I still have dark times, I was last suicidal in January of 2016, I hope that this never happens again, but I also know myself well enough to say that there may well be times when it is back on the table. Do not go into this expecting a happy ending with a bow on it. This script is open ended, you don’t need to be frightened of that ambiguity.
Suicides don’t happen for one reason or all of the same reasons
No two suicides are alike, if you’re asking me what it’s like to feel suicidal, that is fine as long as you know I can only tell you in broad terms. My suicidality came out of a multitude of things, including academic pressures, social stigma, identity issues, high school, and much else. It didn’t come from things like homelessness, financial hardship, anti-LGBTQ prejudice, unemployment or bereavement. And these are just some of the factors I cannot speak to. Each story that you come across is going to be different and deeply personal. Please don’t try to retell my story to fit your own narrative.
Do NOT try to get stuff ‘off the record’
Just don’t. Please don’t. And don’t pressure me or others like me to do it. I have a very firm boundary that I don’t discuss suicide methods. My reasons are simple, it adds nothing to my story and could be easily copied by a vulnerable person. This is a line I have always set. PAPYRUS – Prevention of Young Suicide, the charity through which I do much of my speaking on this topic has an equally firm stance that they make clear. And yet I am still asked by too many people I’ve worked with, ‘off the record’. I understand there is a morbid curiosity to this, but please consider the position you put someone in when you do that. It’s an answer that gives you no benefit, and puts people like me in a difficult space. I want to share my experiences to be a help, but I don’t want to do that at a cost to myself and others. Do not force me to make the choice to step away or put myself at risk.
Be aware of what talking about this can bring up for me
I’ve been talking about this for a number of years, I have been mentally well for the longest extended period since I first got into the depression game, I have a strong support network, I’m becoming better at self-care, I know a lot of where my internal risks are.
And even with all of that positive structure in place, talking about this can still fuck me up. When you talk to someone about this, you ask them to tell you a story, but for many what you’re really doing is asking them to revisit a trauma. Some of us are happy to do that, and that’s why we’ll talk to you, but don’t think of it as easy or simple or ‘run of the mill’. The preparation, the talking, and the aftermath all take a mental toll. Do not assume that after we’re done I’m going to be able to go back to my day as if nothing had happened. If I’m lucky that may be the case – it hasn’t happened lately though.
Remember that someone is sharing something that is personal, stigmatised, bound in trauma, and something that society hasn’t got to grips with. Be kind. It goes a long way, if you approach this with compassion and kindness, in my experience it tends to show both in you, and your finished work. You have an important role in telling a hidden story. Do it kindly.