It may come as a surprise to some that suicide is illegal in many countries — 20 according to United for Global Mental Health. Suicide has a stigma. It stinks of failure. Among those failures are these:
- Failure on the part of the suicide to stand up to their “problems” and take care of them.
- Failure on the part of the suicides loved ones and those nearest them to see it coming and prevent it from happening.
- Failure on the part of society to provide better mental health support.
Only one of those failures is true, and it is the one that is least likely to change.
We don’t provide for mental health problems in general and suicide in particular because they are scary. Both are indications of being out of control and behaving unpredictably. Both threaten to bring up big emotions within ourselves and might mean that we’ll have to deal with those emotions in others.
Can you imagine that if you asked someone, R U OK? as we’re supposed to do in Australia and they said, No, I’m not OK. I’m thinking seriously of committing suicide. You’d shit yourself. You’d have to do SOMETHING. That’s the thing, we’re so scared that we won’t know how to help someone who is having mental health issues that we just don’t want to know if someone else is having mental health issues. We’re so scared that the emotions that are driving someone to contemplate suicide are so big that in addition to overwhelming them, they’ll overwhelm us. We’re so scared that whatever we have to do to help someone who is not OK will be so long and involved that it will derail our immediate plans, so we’d rather just avoid it.
When emotions get big, like the ones I was experiencing just a couple of weeks ago, they are frightening because they seem like they can overwhelm our coping mechanisms. We know on some deep level that emotions can cause us to behave impulsively and rashly and part of that includes causing harm to ourselves and others. Our lives teeter on the knife’s edge of our emotional control just waiting for that one bad day when we do something we will regret.
Making Talking About Suicide More Acceptable
In a discussion in our comment section with Ten Bears about the effects of TV on the psyche of that time, I realized something that almost approached epiphanous. The TV of the ’70’s, ’80’s, and ’90’s had a leavening effect on the internal world that we constructed for ourselves, and that we could see it in various changes to our society. It occured to me today that it is applicable to the issue of destigmatizing both mental health and suicide.
We build our world view our internal view in large part by monitoring how the people around us think, react, behave, and interpret the events of our world. Mass media has moved the horizon of our world to encompass a large portion of it, albeit, very unevenly. The heyday of broadcast TV offered few choices. There were only three or four channels to choose from depending where you lived. I remember the day in the ’70’s when a friends parent shocked me by complaining of the poverty of choices compared to their life in Alamogordo where they had cable. But, those few choices about what we were watching and the competition to make the most watched TV shows meant that we were all watching pretty much the same thing.
Those TV shows became part of how we built our internal worlds. The views and events and reactions that they depicted, we internalized. They became what we saw as acceptable. They became the views that we held. Think about the arc of Black people on TV shows, in commercials, and in movies. We went from blackface to Gone With the Wind to Good Times to now having racial issues be a prerequisite for every serious dramatic TV show and Black actors are now assuming prominent roles. By exposing white people to Black people being competent and prominent, white people came to accept, at least superficially, that Black people not only should be, but were, equal to whites.
A similar arc can be seen with LGBTQ+ rights. Homosexuality used to be hinted at in TV and movies, but gradually, more and more openly gay people were featured. At first the flamboyant gay was used as comedy relief and the gay kiss used for shock value, but gradually more serious roles and larger parts were given to gay characters. Think Three’s Company, One Day at a Time, and Maude with their closeted characters to Ellen to Modern Family to the big gay wedding season finales.
Now, the same phenomenon is being played out with autism. We’re seeing very two dimensional stereotypical autistic characters being played on a variety of TV shows. The Good Doctor comes to mind and The Big Bang Theory. Soon, we’ll be debating whether non-autistic actors should be playing autistic parts just as we once did with ethnic roles and now are doing with gay roles.
I’m afraid I’ve exposed my lack of knowledge about pop culture here in this segment, so please give me some shows and movies that helped mainstream Black, LGBTQ+, and now autism in the comments. Obviously, I need help.
A similar thing can be done for mental health issues and suicide. Homeland is a pretty good example of what I’m thinking here with a bipolar heroine. They get the bipolar thing right in most of it. They get the treatment right in most of it. They get the stigma right in most of it. We need more characters with clear symptomatology, treatment, and discussing their issues with their friends and family. We need to have the “correct” way of helping someone through a mental health crisis portrayed in the media so that we can have a model to adopt.
Of course, the Interwebs shattered the leavening effect that mass media had on the worlds we built for ourselves. Now, we live in media bubbles where our beliefs are reinforced and not challenged like they were in the heyday of broadcast TV.
If You Need Help
If you need help right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). This is a free 24-hour hotline. (Press 1 for a dedicated line for Veterans and their families. Para español, oprima 2.)
You can also call the Samaritans: 1-877-HOPE (4673). Additionally, the post, Happy World Mental Health Day: Mental Health For All, has lists of links and phone numbers for mental health help in the US, UK, Canada, and India.
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“72.365 purpose for the pain & world suicide prevention day” by ashley rose, is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Categories: Mental Health