It's OK to Talk About Suicide
Before 2021, suicide wasn’t a topic that I would dare to talk about. Definitely not at home. We didn’t even discuss it when it happened in our extended family many years ago.
But two random encounters this year changed my mind about suicide. Two random encounters made me determined to talk about suicide and break the silence around it.
The first happened when I was casually browsing for books related to mental health at a local bookstore. Curious about my interest in books about mental illness, the bookseller started a conversation with me. I shared that I was personally interested and that I was also researching for Our Better World’s mental health series. He was glad that Our Better World has been telling stories about mental health. “Society needs to talk about it,” he said. He walked off and I thought that was the end of our conversation.
A couple of minutes later, he came back to chat again. This time, he shared that he personally felt the importance of sharing and the positive impact it can have on people. He recounted a time he was on a break near the bookstore and chatting with an acquaintance working nearby. She confided that she had suicidal thoughts. He shared with her that he too has had them and that he attempted suicide before. That conversation left both of them feeling less alone, more understood. In the end, the acquaintance did not attempt to take her life.
I was both taken by surprise and filled with humility to be trusted with such personal experiences.
The second encounter was a business meeting that became a window into the life of a person whose thoughts to take her own life never really went away. She shared how her illness gave her cycles of ups and downs and with it, suicidal thoughts in her head go up and down too. She’s found a strong reason for why she is still walking this earth and trying to do her best to hang on to it.
I never expected to be let into her world, it was our first meeting and the context of the meeting wasn’t even for the mental health series. The intensity and details of what she shared with me left me feeling a little bewildered, a little heavy-hearted, and full of admiration for her resilience in facing her daily struggles.
Perhaps this is the privilege of working on the mental health series, a window into the dark side of human experiences. Dark, because they hardly see the light of day in the conversations in society. But, surely these “random” encounters show that these conversations shouldn’t remain in the dark. Talking about suicide could make people feel less alone, give pause to their feeling the weight of their suicidal thoughts, and even save a life. It is ok to talk about suicide.
By this time, you’ve spent about two minutes reading this article. In that span of time, somewhere in the world, three persons have died by suicide. It is a very jarring statistic to comprehend. It also means that there are dozens of families and friends being affected by these deaths. In such a stigmatised topic, the helplessness felt before and the grief after the death is immense and yet suppressed.
It is with the consciousness of this weight, that the team at Our Better World crafted this year’s series. We wanted to bring light to these suicide stories. Of people who are living with the thought of ending their lives, of people who are reaching out to help those struggling with suicide, and those who grieve the suicide deaths of their loved ones. In a journey of planning, producing and launching this series - which was more intense than most of our stories - we kept reminding ourselves: the stories will help someone, even if it is only one person, it would all be worth it.
I was finally able to have a conversation with my mum about the family suicide death. She had put it aside but we had a good chat as she fondly reminisced and I was able to clear part of the fog in my teenage memories.