Breaking the Silence recap

On April 24th Life Matters hosted our Breaking the Silence event. We want to extend a huge thanks to all those who attended and especially to our panelists: Maria Dillon, Abigail Clark, James Sutherland, Tiana Mihere, Hahna Briggs and Jane Stevens.

Each of our amazing panelists shared powerful stories of personal loss and their own experiences navigating the Mental Health system. What emerged throughout the evening were some common threads which tie these stories together. These same threads are woven through the stories of the attendees who were brave enough to speak at the event, and in the results of our recent online survey. The survey invited members of the public to share their own experiences of the Mental Health system so we can ensure they reach the Mental Health Inquiry panel. We received over 500 submissions and the results, while unsurprising, are harrowing.

By collating this information we are working to identify what these frayed ends look like in the hope that we can stop vulnerable people from falling through the cracks.

Difficulty accessing services

By far the biggest hurdle to getting care is having the concerns for yourself or your loved-one taken seriously, quickly. Again and again we have received reports of 3 month waiting lists for psychiatric assessment, “not enough beds” available in crisis wards, people turned away because their mental-state or destructive behaviours are not being deemed “urgent” enough and because they do not meet the “criteria”.  It seems that the system is set up to provide care only in the most urgent circumstances, and help is not available to those who are not immediately suicidal. We need to be helping people before they get to that point.

In the same vein, many people report being discharged before they were ready, when they still felt they posed a threat to themselves or others. Again and again we hear stories of people turned away from Mental Health services in times of crisis and, feeling they have no other option, taking their own lives.

Cost is also a barrier to a huge amount of people, who, having been given 6+ weeks to see a psychiatrist in the public system, have no choice but to wait. We have received feedback from people who did get appropriate care privately, thankful that they had the funds and resources to access the support that saved their lives.

Yet another barrier to help is drug-use or addiction. In many cases, if a suicidal person is using drugs, the Mental Health department will refuse to help, insisting they seek help for their drug use. If this is not viable or realistic, addiction services will not help them either, leading to them being bounced back and forth between services and too easily falling through the cracks.

Access to services is difficult enough but it is important to acknowledge that for marginalised groups the difficulties are compounded. Some of these groups include our youth, men, Maori and the LGBTQ+ community, who all face unique struggles along the path to mental wellness.

Lack of compassion

Judgemental, demeaning, dismissive, isolating, cold, clinical, unhelpful and unwilling to listen to family members; just some of the words used to describe encounters with the Mental Health system. Many respondents also acknowledge that Mental Health professionals are often underpaid and overworked, struggling on the frontline of a much larger battle. It is worth noting that there is also a lot of praise for those working within the system, but the callousness of the system itself leads to huge pressures on staff. It goes to show that this issue runs deep, and sees an unhealthy culture perpetuating unhealthy outcomes.

Lack of follow-up

Too often, after seeing a health professional or being discharged from a ward, people are left to their own devices. Time and time again, people have reported being told they would receive a phone call or visit from a professional checking in on their progress, but these phone calls/visits never come. At a time where wrap-around support is crucial to the ongoing wellbeing of the patient, it just isn’t there.

There is also inadequate access to respite facilities and, on occasion, service users have been discharged with no place to go. If a patient is discharged into the care of family, it is unlikely that the family with receive any ongoing support. They are left concerned and afraid, with the huge responsibility to save the life of their loved one.

Inadequate support for families and loved ones

After a suicide, comes grief. Huge, monumental, incomprehensible grief. While navigating this grief a family is also then confronted by the vicious bureaucratic realities of death: funeral expenses, tying up loose ends, debt collection agencies, legal matters and, too often, questions of culpability. The system provides no support or guidance at this point, and in some cases, isolate the family entirely, refusing accountability and silencing the family’s concerns.

Here at Life Matters we believe that legal support should be provided, free-of-charge, to families bereaved by suicide. Families mourning the loss of a loved one should not have to fight so hard for justice. Not alone.

Stigma

Stigma surrounding suicide and mental illness is pervasive and serves to bolster all these barriers to help. Seeking help can be difficult for anybody, and because our society views mental illness through the lens of stigma, many people may be reluctant to receive a diagnosis which could lead to the help they need.

While our youth have access to counselling through school, there is the perception among them that this is not confidential, as school counsellors have been known to pass information forward to teachers. While we may be able to understand the reasoning for this, it is actually likely that it will prevent some kids from seeking the help they need. In some schools, there is little discretion, making it obvious that a child has an appointment. For this reason, many kids are reluctant to seek help when they need it because they don’t want others finding out. This shows how stigma itself acts as a barrier to support; we need to change the discourse and shift the message; It is okay to not be okay.

We should be committed to ending the stigma surrounding suicide and mental illness. If we, as a society, can talk loudly about these issues that affect so many of us, then these barriers to support can be broken down.

 

Remember to look after yourself and loved ones. Use the helplines and ask for help from services. Contact us if you struggle to access help or need support in the aftermath.

We encourage everyone to contribute to the Mental Health and Addictions Inquiry and to connect with the panel if they come to a town near you. You can make an online submission or go to a public meeting. All information can be found on this website. https://www.mentalhealth.inquiry.govt.nz/

 

Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Healthline – 0800 611 116

Samaritans – 0800 726 666

Demystifying suicide

Suicide is truly an awful beast. It’s frightening and mysterious, looming out of the darkness to catch family, friends and colleagues off guard. There is a great deal of stigma attached to the word suicide, but it’s time we talked about it. By reaching out to each other, helping those struggling, and sharing our difficult stories, we can actually save lives.

After my brother died, people didn’t know what to say. They’d awkwardly hug me, tell me he was in a better place and that he wasn’t suffering any more. They’d skirt the issue of his death as if it was a huge, shameful secret. I don’t think they meant any harm by this. I think people are afraid of discussing suicide because they don’t understand it.

So, here are twelve myths about suicide that need to be blasted!

Myth One

One common myth claims that talking about suicide can plant the idea in someone’s head. Numerous studies have shown the opposite. There is a palpable sense of relief that accompanies expressing one’s feelings. The desire to blend in, to “toughen up” and get on with things prevents people from seeking the help they desperately need.
Talking about suicide and mental health struggles opens up communication about a topic that is often kept a secret. These secrets, exposed to the bright light of day, often lose their power. We need to demystify it, and make it so people feel free to express their suicidal thoughts. Suicidal thoughts don’t make one selfish or weak.

They’re merely symptoms of an illness, and like a broken leg or breast cancer. There should be no stigma or shame in talking about suicide. Education, treatment and compassion are the keys to suicide prevention. About 90 per cent of people who die by suicide suffer from a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder. It’s vital that we keep channels of communication open, and keep a close eye on loved ones who might be experiencing mental health issues.

Myth Two

Another common myth about suicide is that people who want to take their own lives will always find a way. This is not true. Many people are relieved to survive a suicide attempt. Suicide can be prevented. Most people who are suicidal do not want to die; they just want to stop their pain.

Myth Three

Unfortunately, we often hear people argue that those who talk about suicide are just trying to get attention. This is NOT true. People who die by suicide usually talk about it to someone before resorting to it. Suicidal people are in pain and are often desperately reaching out for help because they do not know what to do. They have lost hope. If they talk to you about suicide, always take it seriously – always.

Myth Four

Suicide always occurs without any warning signs. However, there are almost ALWAYS warning signs. For example, my brother had told me he wanted to die. He wanted the sadness and anxiety to stop. I only wish I’d paid more attention.

Myth Five

Suicide only affects people of a certain age, gender, race and financial status. NO. Suicide can affect anyone.

Myth Six

People who attempt suicide are “crazy”. Let me just reiterate something. Crazy is such a horrible, loaded word. It’s so problematic. It erodes at one’s humanity. It’s a garish label slapped on terrorists and television villains. In reality, people who attempt suicide are in a great deal of pain. They are not lesser, or “damaged”. Myth Seven

People who attempt suicide and make it through alive will not ever attempt suicide again. Actually, people (usually) don’t become “magically cured”. Often, someone who attempts suicide and survives will often try again. People need to be cared for after an attempt.

Myth Eight

People who resort to suicide are “weak”. This is probably one of the most toxic myths surrounding suicide. It is patently wrong. People who attempt suicide are in pain. They are suffering and probably have a chemical imbalance in their brain. Many people considered “strong” and “macho” by the world die by suicide.

Myth Nine

People who are suicidal definitely want to die. Actually, many people who are suicidal do not actually want to die. Rather, they are in pain and they want to stop the pain. When I was suicidal, I didn’t want to die. I was afraid of dying. I just wanted to stop crying, to stop feeling so empty and sad.

Myth Ten

Alcohol and drug abuse doesn’t contribute to suicidal impulses. Actually, people who die by suicide are often under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Myth Eleven

Young people never consider suicide because they are happy and have their whole life ahead of them. Actually, suicide is the third leading cause of death globally for young people aged 15-24. Even children die by suicide.

Myth Twelve

People who are suicidal do not seek help. However, many people who are suicidal reach out for help. Always take a cry for help seriously.

Written by Jean Balchin. Unversity of Otago student.