World Suicide Prevention Day 2020
Today (Thursday 10th Sept, 2020) is World Suicide Prevention Day.
I wanted to share a couple of pieces that I'd written and recorded about an area of the suicide discussion that doesn't get enough attention, but is a vitally important one to understand - passive suicidal ideation.
You can watch me talking about it below, or continue on for a written piece.
When I was first diagnosed with depression five years ago, there was a lot to take on board with the diagnosis. On one hand, it was actually a relief to find out that there was a reason to explain my persistent low mood. We knew what the problem was (to an extent), so we could go about treating it and maybe we’d get to a point where I didn’t feel so constantly terrible.
But one of the more challenging things that I was told by my doctor was that I was experiencing something called ‘passive suicidal ideation’. I was a bit taken aback by the ‘suicidal’ part of that, because at this point the thought of taking my own life had never occurred to me, so I was confused
My thinking was very simple – it was binary:
- if you’re thinking about killing yourself that’s unhealthy and it’s a bad thing
- if you hadn’t thought about killing yourself, then that was healthy and things were fine
I later learned this isn’t the case.
For those who might not know what passive suicidal ideation is, I’ll offer a brief explanation. Apologies if you have garnered from the name what it is, but I didn’t fully grasp it when I first heard the name…
Passive suicidal ideation is basically wishing you were dead, or thinking about not being alive. It differs from what many people think of as ‘suicidal’, because your thoughts are ‘passive’ – you aren’t actively planning to take your life. It’s wishing for a result rather than planning to affect the result.
For me, these thoughts came in the form of thinking that my partner’s life would be better without me. I knew that my friends and family and my partner would of course be sad for a time if I was gone, but I was absolutely confident in the knowledge that they would ultimately be happier without me in the long run. I felt like I was a burden to them, and that on balance, I brought more misery and upset to their lives than I did joy.
I totally believed that the temporary sadness they would feel if I was gone would, in time, pass, and ultimately their lives would be better without me in them. And me being dead seemed like the only way to reach that point.
I hated myself. Really, really hated myself. I had no respect for myself, I didn’t want to live inside of my own head, with my thoughts, my insecurities and my feelings. I didn’t think I made anyone’s life better by being in it. I made things worse. I was a burden, and I just made everyone frustrated and upset, and stopped them from living the lives they deserved. This was especially true of my partner, who I was convinced deserved better.
But these suicidal thoughts were passive. I didn’t want to cause hurt to anyone by taking my life. I didn’t want to have anyone wish they could have changed my decision. I didn’t want anyone to think that it was in any way their fault that I was gone. I wished for some kind of terminal illness, or that I could have been involved in a freak accident. I had no wish to suffer, necessarily – I just wanted to stop being.
I also thought this was completely normal, by the way. Everyone is, to some extent, self-deprecating. I don’t really know of anyone who can take a compliment, or who speaks very positively about themselves. And let’s be honest – if you do know someone like that, you probably think they’re insufferable! “They absolutely love themselves!” is one of the worst things we can say about someone. How insane is that?! To love yourself should be a good thing, shouldn’t it?! It’s important, it’s healthy. But for whatever fucked up societal evolutionary reason, it’s to be discouraged. Nobody should like themselves.
For me, I totally bought into that. Not only did I not like myself, I hated myself. But that was normal to me. And so, for me, what was abnormal or unhealthy about wishing I was dead? Surely it made total sense that if I had no value, that I only made the lives of people I loved worse, that I shouldn’t want to continue to do that? For so long, this was just my uninterrupted, totally normal world view.
I hate myself and wish I was dead.
That probably summed up my self-image for the majority of my twenties. So when the doctor told me that this was apparently “unhealthy”, I was properly confused. How could it be unhealthy if I wasn’t planning on doing anything? Why was the word ‘suicidal’ being used when I had absolutely zero intention of doing anything to end my own life?!
It was pointed out to me that passive suicidal ideation is the beginning of a thought process that normalizes a viewpoint that my life has no purpose or value. If you wish something was gone, what’s to stop you getting rid of it?
I’d already gone in the space of a few years from having a relatively normal relationship with myself, where if anything, I was an overly-confident teenager who liked himself a lot(!), to this point in my twenties where I thought my life had no value. Was I naïve enough to think that this was the end point of that journey?
Just over a year later the thoughts did become active, but thankfully I never made an attempt on my own life, and the experience frightened me so much that as I sit here, over four years after the night I actively thought about taking my own life, I am optimistic that I won’t reach that point again. I hope.
But my experience shows that it isn’t a stretch to go from passive suicidal thoughts to active suicidal thoughts. It isn’t healthy to have such a low view of your own life. It isn’t okay, even if you’re not thinking of ‘doing anything about it’.
Please, don’t ever think that your life doesn’t have value. Please don’t think the world would be a better place without you in it. You are not such a problem to anyone that the only answer to the perceived problem is that you remove yourself from the equation.
The Bohemian Austrian poet (yes, I know I’m a wanker) Rainer Maria Rilke wrote:
I’m so thankful every day (even on the properly shitty ones) that I’m still here. I’m grateful that when my thoughts did evolve from passive to actively suicidal, I didn’t go through with it. I’m still here, I have value, I feel everything – the beauty and the terror.
Sometimes I have to acknowledge that my thoughts have slipped back to that problematic place – I’m not completely absent of passive suicidal ideation. Every now and then I find myself in a bad place, thinking those same thoughts that I had throughout my twenties. But I know they’re wrong, and I’ve learned from them. You can have the same journey, but nobody is above needing help.
I needed therapy, doctor’s appointments, sympathy and understanding from friends, family, and employers, and I needed to develop a healthier relationship with my thoughts and myself. I’m no picture of physical and mental wellbeing, believe me, but I’m still here.
Before I had passive suicidal ideation explained to me, I’d never heard of it. I never thought my thoughts and feelings were a problem. I just thought it was perfectly ordinary to hate yourself so much that you wished you were dead. I kind of thought everyone felt that way.
Since my diagnosis I’ve tried to talk (not too much!) about mental health. I’ve tried to share my experiences and hopefully demonstrate to people that ‘no feeling is final’. But I’ve been surprised that in the few years where I’ve been speaking more and hearing more about mental health, passive suicidal ideation is something that really isn’t discussed very much. This needs to change.
Thursday 10th September 2020 is World Suicide Prevention Day, and an important part of the discussion around suicide and suicide prevention has to be about these passive thoughts. They’re too easy to dismiss as not being a problem. They are a problem, and if you feel that way, it’s so important to try to get help.
Your life has value. You are important. Nobody will ever be better off without you in the world. I swear to God, I know what I’m talking about here. Please, never ever allow yourself to believe the horrible things we sometimes tell ourselves. If you have these thoughts, don’t dismiss them as nothing. It’s passive suicidal ideation, and left unattended, they may not remain passive for long. You deserve help and compassion. You wouldn’t want anyone else to feel that way, so please respect yourself enough to wish well for yourself, too.
If you can, speak to a friend, a partner, a family member or a doctor. Call the Samaritans (☎ 116 123), or look for local services. Charities like Mind do amazing, life-saving work. Don’t feel that you’re taking up valuable resources or space talking about your feelings – they matter, and the earlier you can talk about them with someone, the earlier you can hopefully move off that destructive path and back towards a healthier, more hopeful, more positive relationship with yourself.