I’ve been bereaved by suicide, and the person in question suffered from bipolar disorder.
Since the death of Robin Williams on 11 August, the airwaves have been filled, not only with celebrations of his life and achievements, but also many discussions on suicide and depression. This morning on “Today” on BBC Radio 4, there was an interview with a young man who was literally saved from suicide–he was on the edge of a bridge preparing to jump, and another interview with a representative from Rethink, a national mental health charity.
There’s a lot of talk about the stigma that still surrounds mental illness, and around suicide too. How I hate the term “Commit suicide.” It’s a fallback to the time when suicide was a crime, and that’s still the term we use for “committing a crime.” But suicide isn’t a crime.
The Radio 4 interviews were good, I thought. But not everything that’s been said is on target. It’s hard to listen to people trying to rationalise what happened. There is no rational answer why someone takes there life, and there is no single answer. I think the best articles are those that convey that very real sense that mental illness is just that…an illness. This article by Alistair Campbell does quite well at doing the subject justice.
Surviving the suicide of a loved one is not easy. Of all the ways to be bereaved, suicide can leave the most questions, the most self-doubt, the most blame. Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide is a UK national organisation that has a helpline (0300 111 5065, 9 am to 9 pm daily) and runs local forums. Meeting with others who have been bereaved in similar circumstances gives you a safe space to talk and there’s real comfort in realising you’re not alone.
That’s enough facts for this post. Now back to myself and my own experience. I can hardly begin to describe the pain from the moment of discovery, onwards. It is a bad dream from which I have not been able to awaken. One of the terrible things about being bereaved by suicide is that it is the manner of death rather than the person’s life that seems to become the focus. That’s what we’re seeing with Robin Williams. It took almost 3 years before my first waking thought was not of the circumstances of my daughter’s death.
But she was so much more. She lived for almost 31 years. In that time she had hopes and dreams, she shared laughter with friends, she had boyfriends, a beloved little dog called “Barney”, she listened to music, she created space in her life for others. She was generous and witty, intelligent and kind. That’s what matters.
I hope that if you’re someone who is bereaved by suicide, you too in time will be able to celebrate those happier thoughts. And when we are starkly reminded by the death of a celebrity that mental illness knows no boundaries of creed or race, wealth or deprivation, place or time, age or occupation, let’s think and pray for those who are struggling and try to support them in any way we can.