Suicide was once a criminal offence in the United Kingdom.
Calling it “committing suicide” sparks an instant alignment with “committing murder”, and it is a sort of murder: murder of the Self. It’s the angriest act against the Self. Attempted suicide is a violent act of self-destruction.
We often associate suicide attempts with desperation, depression, powerlessness and having had enough of this world.
However, if we look deeper into the wound from where suicidal ideation flows, we will find self-hatred, anger with self and others, and a drive to annihilate one's own existence.
But what happens when you try, and it goes "wrong"? Wrong in the sense that you have survived it.
In the 1970s, my psychotically depressed uncle escaped from the mental health hospital where he was supposed to be incarcerated for his own safety. He travelled to the underground station nearest to his family home, took himself onto the platform, and jumped in front of a speeding tube train, planning to end his life.
Much to his disappointment, he fell between the tracks, and survived. What was the result of his failed attempt? A new message entry went into the wound from where suicidal ideation flowed: "You can’t even get suicide right!"
Today, there are websites that outline the directions on "how to" kill yourself, not leaving any room for error. Specific methods, instructions and assistance on how desperate people can do a desperate thing in planning their own execution: a sort of suicide euthanasia. The UK Legal system considers these sites as possibly holding criminal liability for complicity in another’s suicide, if it can be proven that the person used the site.
As psychotherapists and counsellors, where does our responsibility lie when a client utters: “I wish I were dead?”
Are we to automatically raise the alarm with the emergency services; do we trigger our contractual agreement on breaking confidentiality; do we contact next of kin? Should we brush it off as the client seeking attention and should we really be in a position to play judge and jury on whether or not they mean it?
How do we know that it isn’t a manufactured focal point so that we are both diverted from the real issue? Is this how the client gets some extra care from their therapist? Have we missed the risk factors that are staring us in the “blank canvas” of a face that we bring into the room?
There is a voice, a voice that criticises, condemns, punishes, and goads.
When that doesn’t succeed, the voice morphs into an empathetic, understanding and gentle confidante, who understands the pain and the reasons why, and so helps with the plans.
Should that not work, then there’s always the voice that lists all the affronts that have caused personal offence over a lifetime. Suicide suddenly makes sense again, to the one who is wishing to extinguish their own light.
So, returning to our responsibility in our role as psychotherapist and counsellor, I would suggest it’s up to us to work with each client individually to identify whether theirs is a cry of frustration or anger, a cry for help or, the most painful of all, a real and desperate cry of despair calling to us to try to help them find a way to give their individual life meaning.
The key, as always, is to listen, and to hear.
By: Kay Lawrence