This piece discusses mental health and suicide. If either of these topics are likely to cause you discomfort you should stop now and instead read this post I wrote about Love, it’s marginally less distressing.
Friday 11 May brought the news that many expected despite hoping that they were wrong; the body retrieved from Port Edgar on Thursday 10 May was indeed that of Scott Hutchison, founder and vocalist of the band Frightened Rabbit. Scott had gone missing the day before.
Scott made no secret of his mental health difficulties, you only had to listen to the lyrics of his songs to get a glimpse of the struggles he had, yet he managed to not only lay them bare but set them to beautiful melodies. As someone with my own set of mental health issues I was soon a fan of the band as, cliché alert, the songs felt like they were written just for me.
I never succeeded in seeing the band perform live, I did get a ticket for their Brixton Academy gig in November 2013 but on the day of the gig I just wasn’t in the mood to go out and enjoy myself, like so many time before and since, so I gave it to someone I talked to on Twitter who I knew was a fan. Last month when I saw they were going to perform at Robert Smith’s Meltdown Festival I mentally shouted at myself, “Quick! Buy a fucking ticket”, but I dithered and when I eventually got around to it they were sold out. “Never mind”, I thought, “I’ll catch them next time…”
Depression is a small word for a big illness. When I was first diagnosed a family member scornfully declared that I should just, “Get a grip because we all feel sad but we need to get on with things.” If only feeling sad was the worst of it. The chief executive of a charity that I worked for told me, “Depression is just an excuse to have a Friday and Monday off.” It’s funny that I can barely remember what happened yesterday but those words from 2004 still echo in my head.
I consider myself fortunate that I never had suicidal thoughts. Don’t get me wrong, I often wished I was dead. I would spend my commute to and from work imagining my death, not from my own hand but as a result of an accident, a terrorist attack, a robbery gone wrong, all manner of weird and outlandish deaths, but never from my own hand.
In 1993 I was waiting for a friend who was late so I left the agreed meeting point outside Harrods and headed in the direction I knew they’d be coming from, 15 minutes later a bomb went off. Then, in 1999, due to my tendency to cancel plans at the last minute when high, I avoided being at the site of the Brixton nail bomb, my refusal to run for buses meant I missed the Soho a week to two later one by about 60 seconds. Over-sleeping in 2007 meant I missed catching my ‘usual’ Piccadilly line train on the morning of 7 July by about ten minutes, without the internet in my pocket I had no idea until I turned up at work what had caused the disruption but I didn’t get the bollocking I was expecting. That’s the first time I’ve written them all down together, it’s no wonder all my imagined deaths were ‘exciting’.
It is possible that another reason I feel that suicide isn’t for me is the memory of when, aged 15, I decided to drink bleach after coming home drunk and feeling like no one would miss me. Take it from me, as if you’d need confirmation, lemon Domestos tastes far fouler than it smells. I managed one swig from the bottle before my body rejected it within seconds, my mother never knew the truth behind why I was cleaning the bath after midnight that night, nor why I could barely speak for almost two weeks.
It might also have been to do with when I was 18 and joined the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, now called Dignity in Dying, where I obtained a copy of Derek Humphry’s book Final Exit shortly after it was published in 1991. The Daily Mail (surprise!?) called it a suicide manual, it was controversial at the time and hard to get hold of in the UK as no British publisher was willing to publish it, they still aren’t. However you can now order it from Amazon and have it delivered to your door within 24 hours, or minutes if you go for the electronic version. The book is still banned in France, don’t tell them about the internet whatever you do!
Reading that book gave me the comfort to know that if I did decide to take my own life, I’d be able to do it in the least distressing way possible but like I said, as the years have passed, I’ve never had any inclination to consider it.
That’s me, as I said, I’m fortunate as there are many out there who battle daily with their inner demons, just like Scott did. It is so very sad that, on occasion, the demons win. Just last week I read an excellent interview Scott gave to Noisey where he discussed the track Floating in the Forth, which imagines suicide by drowning but ends with the overwhelmingly positive line, “I think I’ll save suicide for another year.” Sadly, that year ended up being 2018.
In that Noisey interview Scott was asked how his current mental health was and he replied, “Pretty fine. Middling. On a day-to-day basis, I’m a solid six out of ten. I don’t know how often I can hope for much more than that. I’m drawn to negatives in life, and I dwell on them, and they consume me. I don’t think I’m unique in that sense. I’m all right with a six. If I get a couple of days a week at a seven, fuck, it’s great.” and that’s the reality for so many people out there, often people who outwardly don’t exhibit any signs of the turmoil that’s going on in their heads. Chances are, you know someone going through it right now.
I said earlier that depression was a small word for a big illness, it is also a small word that can create a huge obstacle. It is much more common now for people to admit that they have depression or other mental health conditions such as anxiety but despite people admitting it, friends, family and colleagues often feel awkward discussing it. Sometimes it’s a fear that broaching the subject is insensitive, it isn’t if you do it right, or will somehow trigger an adverse reaction, it generally won’t.
Talking, or listening, however can be amazingly beneficial, no one is expecting you to morph into a therapist and cure anyone but the simple fact that someone is prepared to listen, or even offer to listen, can make a world of difference to someone who is in a dark corner of their mind. So if you know someone who has opened up about their mental health issues, or perhaps a friend who exhibits strong signs that they may have issues, inviting them out for a tea, coffee or a pint and a chat could make a huge difference to their day or even their life.
You don’t even have to bring up their mental health if you don’t feel comfortable doing so but just let them know you are there if they need you, you may think they already know that they can call upon you but depending on where they are in their head they may just feel that they’d be bothering you by discussing how they feel, because they don’t feel all that good about themselves.
Fortunately, I’m mentally in a good place right now but I know how quickly and easily it is to slip back down into darker thoughts, I’m also lucky enough to have a good circle of friends who I can count on for support should I need it but I’m aware that not everyone has that, or at least feels they have that.
If you are feeling like things are too much and you don’t think you can talk to your friends or family send me an email, I can’t promise answers but I can promise a friendly, non-judgemental ear.
It goes without saying that you should talk to your GP as soon as possible if you haven’t already. I know most are quick to prescribe anti-depressants and send you out the door and whilst I agree that anti-depressants can provide some relief, in my view they are just a sticking plaster; talking therapies are what will really help the root cause of the pain and sadly, in the UK at least, they are not so easy to access, you need to persist, which I know is difficult when you are already feeling crushed by an enveloping darkness.
I’ve listed some dedicated UK helplines listed below. Whatever you do, try and talk to someone, there’s no need to go through it alone.
Samaritans – for everyone
Call 116 123
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – for men
Call 0800 58 58 58 – 5pm to midnight every day
Papyrus – for people under 35
Call 0800 068 41 41 – Monday to Friday 10am to 10pm, weekends 2pm to 10pm, bank holidays 2pm to 5pm
Childline – for children and young people under 19
Call 0800 1111 – the number won’t show up on your phone bill
The Silver Line – for older people
Call 0800 4 70 80 90