The trouble with the national conversation

*The following post may be triggering.  Please make sure you are in a safe place before reading.  If you are struggling please contact your GP or give the people at Life Line a call on    13 11 14*

With the recent suicide of Charlotte Dawson, mental health issues have been pushed to the forefront of the media’s attention.  The weekend morning shows all had segments with various professionals on how to recognise signs in our loved ones.  It’s great that there is a national conversation going on right now about suicide but (there’s always a but) I’m not sure how appropriate the context is.

The main focus of the conversation appears to be how we can stop our loved ones from attempting and succeeding in committing suicide.  This is the part that I have an issue with, it’s insensitive to the struggle of the person with suicidal thoughts and the family members left behind.  It makes the assumption that it was up to the people who knew them to make an observation that even trained professionals can miss.

There is no set ‘this is what a mental health patient looks like’ so I wonder why there is the idea that a person experiencing suicidal thoughts will act a certain way.  I think that we would all like to tell ourselves that we would notice the signs if someone close to us is feeling suicidal.  However hearing these signs must feel heart wrenching to those who have lost someone to suicide.  It must feel like everyone is telling them that they missed all of the signs and that there was something they could have done.

To put things bluntly, no one can stop someone from acting on their suicidal thoughts.  I have attempted suicide multiple times..was there anything that someone could have said that would have flicked a switch and made a difference?  The short answer is no.  It’s complex and something that a lot of people keep to themselves.  Sometimes there are no signs.

It’s up to us to be there for our family and friends, to support them when they are struggling in life.  However I don’t think it is fair to place the burden of a persons mental illness and their actions on the people in their life.  Regardless of whether the family and friends notice the signs, it is still up to the person to open up.  You can’t force someone to accept the help they may desperately need.  It’s not always failing of the mental health system or that no one saw the signs, sometimes the despair becomes too much.

I say bullshit to the signs.  Maybe they need to be repackaged so that we are better connected to our loved ones, steps that help us to keep up a conversation instead of people feeling like they have to hide how they are feeling.  Mental Illness is nothing to be ashamed of, feeling suicidal is nothing to be ashamed of and the more we talk about our experiences I hope that we can help to reduce the statistics.

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22 thoughts on “The trouble with the national conversation

  1. Zanni Louise

    Great post Tegan on a very topical subject. You speak frankly, and I like it. I used to be a phone counsellor for Lifeline, and I did a number of suicide interventions. Like you say, there are no simple answers. But we need support from government, organisations, friends and family, and support for friends and family and people working with mental illness. We need money for research. We need strong resources, and free or at least heavily subsidised psychology and mental health supports. x

  2. Emily @ Have A Laugh On Me

    So well said and I wholeheartedly agree, if someone wants to do something they will. It should be more promoting awareness that depression can hit anyone so take a little time to ask how someone is, and listen, REALLY listen xx

  3. Emily

    Love your way with words. Yep, let’s stop blaming people for things that are out of their control. And also, let’s stop blaming those who commit suicide for not thinking of anyone else. I can only imagine (and therefore have no doubt I’m not succeeding in imagining) what it’s like to see suicide as an option, let alone the only one. Nothing but sympathy from me for all concerned.

  4. Kathy

    Well said Tegan. It is complicated, but I agree that the best way is to communicate broadly in the community that depression is nothing to be ashamed of, and to communicate clearly with depressed and suicidal people that there is help. The burden of guilt must be so hard when added to the burden of grief for family members left behind.

  5. Carolyn @ Champagne Cartel

    Oh, I so agree with you – great post! I think perhaps what they are trying to do is to help people feel less powerless, even though a lot of the time they are. If we feel like we have signs to look for, if we feel like we have someone to call, if we feel like we can help a little bit (and sometimes we can), it makes us feel slightly more in control and less susceptible to the anarchic chaos of the universe and terrible illness.

    Or the more cynical might assume what they are actually trying to do is cash in on the fact that a seriously ill person ended her life and the nation is shocked and sad. Nothing like banging on and on about it to get eyeballs on TV sets.

  6. SarahD @SnippetsandSpirits

    Brilliant point Tegan and so well composed as always. I think what you said is so true what we need to be shown is how to “keep the conversation open” this is the key this is so important but it seems to be so slow in getting out there! Keep up your amazing and brave work. Love x

  7. Robyn

    Great post Teagan and very we’ll put! Sometimes I don’t think there are any signs at all. If someone with depression or suicidal thoughts wants to keep it hidden they will!! I’ve been there too (with postnatal) and almost no one knew! The answer is definitely more in keeping the conversations open and honest!! Have you noticed how no one in the media has actually said that Charlotte Dawson committed suicide?? It still seems to be such a taboo word, sadly!!

  8. Chantel

    Great post. These situations are just so sad for all involved and we need to really try and get mental illness into our general conversation to try and eliminate the stigma. imagine a world when mental illness is viewed in the same way a physical illness is. What a change up that would be. Brave post.

    Hello from #teamIBOT

  9. Becc

    Nicely put. This is why I am all about raising awareness rather making people feel guilty for not seeing the signs.
    The burden the family feels already is so heavy. Having them believe they may have been able to stop it is cruel. That is not the intent of the campaigns I know and indeed if they do show signs and you can be there, then that is fantastic, but in the end, no one can stop it if that is what the person decides to do.

  10. Rhianna

    Well said Tegan. I think it is important to remember that this conversation is one that needs to be kept going well past the events of the last week. I also love that you rightly point out that sometimes the signs aren’t recognisable and don’t always tick the suggested boxes. Sending you lots of fairy wishes and butterfly kisses. You are all kinds of awesome for being so upfront and honest and sharing your experiences

  11. Bec @ The Plumbette

    Thanks Tegan for another thought provoking post. You are right. You can’t prevent someone from taking their own life. And from knowing a friend who was happily married with two young children… even his family couldn’t stop him from committing suicide.
    With the events that have happened in the last week, I want to be more intentional in contacting my friends and being there for them when they need me. I can’t stop or prevent a friend from suicidal thoughts, but I can be a friend that is there for them if they ever need.

  12. Bronnie - Maid In Australia

    Well said Tegan. Please let’s not blame those left behind, because those determined to leave will do so. But also, enough victim blaming already too. People who do this are generally very sick and at their very lowest and most devoid of hope. Let’s just try to be there for each other and help each other. No more blame.

  13. Vanessa

    Every time a tragedy happens, the lifeline number and similar things are put out there. This is good. But I always wonder if that’s enough. Lifeline isn’t a magic elf that can fix things.
    But if you go deeper than that, are you interfering in someone’s medical life? I know from experience how annoying unsolicited advice is. Mostly because it usually isn’t relevant, or has been discussed, tried or discarded in consultation with a doctor.
    I don’t know what the answer is. I just feel the way things are isn’t working.

  14. Twitchy

    Excellent point and very well put. Obviously signs should not be ignored, but perhaps even more often than not there are none to stand out. Similarly to people pointing to social media bullying as a singular reason for Charlotte’s fate, the real story is far more complex and impossible to boil down like that.

  15. Lara @ This Charming Mum

    Excellent points Tegan. There seem to be so many ‘friends’ of Dawson’s in the media right now – and one of the big questions being asked is ‘where were they when she really needed them’? But, as you rightly say, it’s quite possible no one could have done anything to help her. And no one should be left with the guilt of wishing they’d done more. Every case is individual and complex but I think one helpful strategy would definitely be to raise awareness of depression more generally rather than suicide as a distinct issue.


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