Suicide Awareness Month 2017

Suicide Awareness Month 2017

I want to talk about suicide and I want to talk about it now. By the time you’ve clicked on this link and read this sentence, another person in this world will have taken their own life. So many more will be thinking about it. It takes a lot of pain to make the decision that there’s nothing better than death, and it’s a decision that plays on the minds of a staggering amount of people worldwide everyday. It’s a decision that often ends in tragedy.

People think suicide is selfish. I think this is bullshit. ‘Selfish’ suggests that you’re caring about yourself and yourself only. When you’re suicidal, you care about yourself so little that you’re wishing yourself into non-existence. And often, you do care about the other people around you. You care about them so much that you feel like a burden on them, like the best thing would be for you to disappear. How can someone leave their family, leave their friends, leave everything? It’s hard to understand if you’ve never been suicidal, but the fact that these people have and love these things and yet still feel compelled to leave it all behind is so heartbreaking.

It’s thought that over 90% of people who committed suicide had a mental illness. Most will have had some contact with mental health services at some point before their death. Most will probably have felt uncertain about their decision at some point. I believe all of their lives could have been saved.

I asked over 230 people who do or have struggled with suicidal ideation questions about their own experiences. I hope you will find this really insightful and I hope that it can help you to understand it from the inside perspective.

Information about the participants 

  • 70% of the participants were aged between 18 and 25, however 16% of the participants were over 35 and 3% were under the age of 15.
  • The majority of the participants were female, however a number of participants were also gender fluid or non-binary, as well as a number of males.
  • The reason why the survey consisted of so many females is probably because not only is my social media base largely female, but because of social conditioning from an early age, men may be less willing to talk about suicide even when the answers are anonymous. This should be taken into account whilst reading the results of the survey.
  • 86% of participants reported suffering from depression, however most selected having multiple diagnoses. The other three most common illnesses noted were an anxiety disorder, a personality disorder, or an eating disorder. This is in line with what would be expected from a sample of sufferers of mental illness as these illnesses are more common with around 7% of the population suffering from depression.
  • When asked which of their illnesses they thought contributed most to suicidal ideation, the most commonly selected illnesses were depression, borderline personality disorder and PTSD. However, across the board there was variety with perceptions that any mental illness severe or untreated could lead to suicide.

Exposure to suicide

  • 75% of participants informed the survey that they had first become aware of what suicide was when they were under the age of 12. 45% of these were under 10, with 7% of those being under the age of 7. 7% reported not being aware of what suicide was until they were over the age of 15.
  • Common reasons why an individual had been exposed to the idea of suicide included: the media (particularly the news but also TV shows, films, songs and books), the social media website Tumblr, lessons at school and the suicide of someone who the individual knew. A large number of participants commented how they struggled with suicidal thoughts and wanting to die as their first memory associated with suicide.
  • A large number of participants reported having lost someone to suicide. This was in most instances an online friend (39%), a friend (37%), another child at their school (34%), a close friend (25%) and someone met whilst being cared for in inpatient treatment (24%). 21% had lost a member of family to suicide, with 9% having lost a member of immediate family.

How did the loss of this person make you feel?

When asked how they felt after losing someone to suicide, these were some of the answers:

  • Heartbroken and just clinging onto the hope that they’re in a better place.
  • Devastated for their family. 
  • Suicidal – I wanted to be with them and felt ashamed that my attempt had failed. 
  • I felt completely numb and empty. I couldn’t believe they were gone. 
  • Confused because I saw no warning signs and didn’t understand.
  • It broke me but eventually made me want to help others who have been at that point in their lives where they want to give up. 
  • Guilty because I felt like I could have done more. I felt like I was to blame and there was something I could have done to save them. 
  • Shocked and angry that nobody helped them, that services didn’t help them, that people are killing themselves as a way out because mental health services are so awful. 

If you could speak to this person now, what would you say?

  • I love you. Please don’t do it. It gets better.
  • My darling I miss you so much and I’m so sorry.
  • Please speak to me. You’re not alone. 
  • It’s not the answer.
  • I miss you and I love you so much. 
  • You are enough and will get through this pain. We can do it together. 
  • I am so proud of you and you will never understand how much I valued you.
  • I still love you and I always will. 
  • I’m so sorry. I should have done more. 
  • I’d tell them that they have the most beautiful baby girl they never even knew was going to be here. 
  • There’s always something better around the corner. 

Personal experiences of suicidal ideation 

  • Of the 230 participants, 18% were under the age of 10 when they first started getting thoughts about suicide. This really goes to show how CAMHS need to work on early intervention, especially with vulnerable children. This could save lives. 30% were between the age of 11 and 12 and 26% were either 13 or 14. This means that 76% had thought about suicide before they had even gone through puberty.
  • Common reasons listed for first having these thoughts included: bullying, traumatic events, the death of a family member, divorce, sexual abuse, being neglected, figuring out sexuality, difficulties in the home environment and a generally unstable childhood.
  • 90% of participants said that they did not tell anyone when they first started getting these thoughts.

Personal experience of acting on suicidal ideation 

  • 92% of participants had made an attempt to take their own life, with 67% having tried prior to this to tell someone how awful they were feeling and how much they were struggling. Please listen.

Perception of contributing factors towards suicidal ideation 

  1. Severe depression (84%)
  2. Untreated mental illness (74%)
  3. Being bullied or isolated (73%)
  4. Emotional abuse (72%)
  5. Pressure of exams (52%)
  6. Sexual abuse (46%)
  7. The loss of a loved one (40%)
  8. Physical abuse (40%)
  9. One or more psychotic episode (30%)
  10. Adverse effect of mental health medication (29%)
  11. Pressure of work (28%)
  12. Exposure to the suicidal ideation of others (27%)
  13. Financial difficulties (22%)
  14. Misuse of drugs or alcohol (20%)
  15. Parental neglect (19%)
  16. Being unemployed (18%)
  17. Prejudice faced for being in a minority group (13%)

Why did you feel like suicide was your only option?

  • I couldn’t think of anything else.
  • Lack of support from mental health services leading me to think that there was no hope.
  • I lost my best friend and couldn’t cope without her. 
  • I felt no joy in being alive and I felt like it was too hard.
  • I felt like everyone else was better off without me and that I was a burden. 
  • The pain was just too much. 
  • I didn’t know how to kill the mental illness without killing myself.
  • I was so exhausted and tired and I didn’t want to try any longer.
  • I was too scared to continue my life as it was. 
  • I had already lost everything worth living for. 

If professionals were involved after an attempt, what care did they put into place?

  • 80% said that mental health services were involved after they attempted suicide, meaning that 20% did not even have a risk assessment.
  • Many patients said that they were either sectioned or admitted to an inpatient ward informally, however a large number of others commented on how their life was put at risk multiple times before they were taken seriously and admitted. A considerable number of participants said that they received no help after, despite mental health services being involved.
  • Other treatment options were access to the crisis team/home treatment team, a referral to CAMHS or Community Mental Health Services, or being placed on medication.
  • 75% of participants said they had received psychiatric medication as a treatment to help reduce suicidal ideation. This was almost on par with therapy, which 74% had received in some form.
  • 62% of participants were or had been under an outpatient team and 61% had intervention from the crisis team at some point.
  • 57% of participants had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital at some point for their suicidal ideation. 2% said they had never had one appointment with mental health services, despite being in general for an attempt.
  • Participants voted therapy as the most helpful treatment for suicidal ideation, with inpatient treatment second and medication third. Many commented that no treatment so far had been helpful.

Why is there so much stigma against suicide?

  • People don’t understand. 
  • People don’t expect them to succeed.
  • People joke about it all the time. 
  • Because there are so many attempts for every completed so people think it will never work. 
  • They think if you confide in them they you won’t actually do it. 
  • People think that it’s selfish or attention seeking. 
  • They don’t know how to help so they just brush it to the side.
  • They think if you really were suicidal, you would have just done it. 
  • Some use suicide as an empty threat. 
  • From the outside, it often looks like they have nothing to be ‘sad’ about. 
  • Generally people don’t know what to say. 
  • People get confused between non-suicidal self-harm and suicide attempts. 
  • Others are more comfortable believing that no one is capable of taking their own life. 

How have family reacted to your suicidal ideation?

  • They were sad but not surprised. 
  • They were shocked and really angry.
  • My Mum was devastated.
  • They were really confused and kept asking me why. 
  • They were dismissive and almost tried to deny it. They couldn’t believe it. 
  • They called me selfish. 
  • Just went on like normal and pretended that nothing happened. 
  • They didn’t get it because I was high functioning. 
  • My parents threatened to kick me out. 
  • They didn’t know and they still don’t know now. 

How have friends reacted to your suicidal ideation?

  • It really upset them. 
  • Confused, worried, but supportive.
  • They didn’t know and it took me a long time to finally talk about my past.
  • They didn’t know what to do so they just stopped talking and hanging out with me. 
  • I didn’t have any friends at the time. 
  • They felt like I was being a negative influence so their parents kept them away from me. 
  • They seemed upset but also that they didn’t really care because it hadn’t worked.
  • Some blamed themselves and wished they had known how to help. 
  • They thought it was for attention or that I was being over the top. 

What things should you never say to someone who is suicidal?

  • Other people have it worse.
  • Suicide is selfish.
  • Just get over it.
  • Snap out of it.
  • If you wanted to do it you would have done by now.
  • You don’t actually want to die.
  • You have a life other people would be grateful for. 
  • You’re attention seeking. 
  • I would never forgive you if you did that. 

What things have been helpful for you to hear when you have been suicidal?

  • ‘I love you. I’m here for you. It’s going to get better’
  • ‘You’re loved and valued’
  • People listening without judgement. 
  • Others stories who serve as proof that things can get better.
  • ‘You are not alone in this’ 
  • ‘You’re important, please hold on’ 
  • ‘I’ll be here for you no matter what happens. I’m not leaving’ 
  • ‘The feeling will pass. You’re alive and you’re wanted’ 
  • ‘You’re at rock bottom. It only gets better from here’ 

What do you wish that other people understood about being suicidal?

  • Just because I am still here and still alive doesn’t mean I’m not struggling with it everyday. 
  • It’s not selfish and it’s not easy. 
  • It’s not something that you can just get over.
  • I am in so much pain and your ignorance is making it worse.
  • This is the point where I really, really need help. 
  • It’s not all inpatient admissions, it’s being turned away by services because nobody takes you seriously.
  • I don’t necessarily want to die, I’m just tired of living. 
  • Please do not shame me for trying to get the help that I need to stay alive.
  • This is a heavy load to carry around. 
  • It is a symptom of a treatable illness, and I will get better.
  • It isn’t easy and it’s not something that I’ve ever wished for. It’s torture. 
  • You never know what is going on in someone else’s head. 
  • We need help, and reassurance, and support.
  • I am terrified to die, but my illness also makes me terrified to live. 

What warning signs should loved ones look out for?

  1. Actively looking for ways to seriously hurt themselves e.g. stockpiling tablets
  2. Talking about death, both in a negative and a positive way
  3. Becoming increasingly withdrawn from friends and family
  4. Making threats to harm or kill themselves
  5. Complaints of feelings of hopelessness
  6. Lack of concern about the consequences of any actions
  7. Increased self-harm
  8. Losing interest in things previously enjoyed

How do you think that mental health services can help improve care for people who are observed to have suicidal ideation?

  • Support them and check in on them on a regular basis. 
  • Offer them the option of an admission. 
  • Set up support for points of crisis before they actually happen. 
  • Keeping them safe in hospital if there is any uncertainty. 
  • Providing a healthy medium where inpatient assessments are done more thoroughly so that patients aren’t institutionalised to the point where they can’t cope on their own, but also that they aren’t left with no help when they need it the most.
  • Regular support from a key worker. 
  • Having a 24/7 text service as many people struggle to phone crisis teams, or don’t have access to them. 

How do you keep yourself safe now?

  • I realised that my life is important and started actively looking after it. 
  • Keeping myself surrounded by other people. 
  • Using the crisis team as much as I can when I’m struggling. 
  • Distraction techniques.
  • Using PRN medication to calm down. 
  • Keeping regular appointments with services and frequently checking in with my GP. 
  • I try to keep my house a safe place with as little danger objects as possible.
  • Practising self-care routines.
  • Keeping busy so that I don’t have the time or energy to act on these thoughts. 
  • I’ve learned to recognise my own triggers.

And finally. The most important question. What are your reasons for staying alive?

  • My pets.
  • My partner and my family. They don’t deserve to lose me. 
  • Hope for the future.
  • To prove everyone else wrong.
  • To get my degree and carry on making victories against the odds.
  • Christmas, birthdays, nice meals out, nights out. 
  • Because I believe that happiness is waiting for me somewhere. 
  • To not let my little sister grow up without me. 
  • Seeing the sunset/sunrise. 
  • Beautiful views, hot summers, cosy winters, parties, graduation. 
  • Finding my own place on this Earth. 
  • Yummy food I still need to try!
  • I’m not going to let the abusers win. 
  • New reasons of my favourite shows and new books by my favourite authors being released. 
  • To eventually help others. 
  • To carry on learning and growing as a person. 
  • The prospect of so many opportunities.
  • Ice creams, hot tubs, face masks, bath bombs, bubble baths, crappy TV shows… 
  • Belief that things can always get better.

Thank you so much to everyone who helped me to put together this post. It’s definitely been the hardest thing I’ve ever put on my blog, and I hope that it is insightful. We need to talk about suicide and we need to pull together to change attitudes and save lives.

If you have been personally affected by suicide or feel distressed, please contact Samaritans 24/7 on 116 123 (UK). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I’m glad that I’m still alive

Why I’m glad that I’m still alive

2 years ago to this month, I was admitted to general hospital for a suicide attempt, nearly passed away, and when I was eventually deemed physically stable, was sent to a CAMHS psychiatric unit where I was sectioned and sent to a PICU (mental health intensive care). It was the single worst thing that had ever happened to me, and it was the result of years of struggling. Years of ‘less severe’ suicide attempts, self-harm, self-hatred, anxiety, and instability. Years of inadequate treatment and being turned away by people in my life.

The reason why I went so downhill at first when I went into PICU was because I had reached the point where I had wanted to die, and I was angry that not only was I still alive, but I was being locked up in what felt like hell. It was suffocating to have staff constantly on my back, watching my every move, restraining me to stop hurting myself. Suddenly all my rights as a ‘free’ human being were taken away and I felt stuck. All hope for a bright future promised by my A level grades vanished. I had had enough, big time. I felt done.

I eventually turned a corner whilst inpatient. This was due to the right combination of medication, but also because I was given what felt like a second chance. I was given a lot of support to continue studying for my exams on a ‘casual’ level, and I received 4 university offers, 2 of which were unconditional. When I realised that I had an unconditional offer from the University of Nottingham (the only feasible option for me at that time), I felt immense relief. I felt hope that I could move forward with my life. I honestly feel like if I hadn’t had the prospect of university on the other side of my admission, I would probably still be in hospital now. My assessment changed from low-secure personality disorder treatment (12-36 months), to an acute adult ward step-down from PICU, in which I only stayed for 8 weeks.

It’s scary to look back and to realise that things could have turned out very differently. I could have died in August 2015. I could still be in hospital right now. But I’m not. And as difficult as the past two years have been, I feel so grateful to be alive. My life has changed so much for the better in the past two years, especially in the last year. I spent almost the entirety of my adolescent life feeling I was worthless, that everyone else was better for me, that I didn’t deserve happiness. Comments from people at school would send me into a meltdown. I cared immensely about what other people thought, because I was taught to believe that what other people said about me was a reflection of me, rather than a projection of themselves and their own insecurities.

I always achieved good grades at school. I worked hard and especially at A Level, I loved my subjects. English was always my favourite. I have always loved reading, and I’m not just saying that. I’ve found that often, books can be kinder than people. But, in my English lessons during sixth form, and in seminars in the autumn term of my first year at university, my lack of confidence kept me from being able to contribute. I could write, I could think, I could perceive. But I couldn’t talk. My English teacher tried so hard to convince me that it was alright, that I had no need to lack self-esteem, but it never worked because it didn’t come from me.

So, I’ve learnt to stand up for myself. Being in hospital and in intensive services taught me that. I didn’t have my parents or my friends or anyone on my side when I was arguing with staff on the ward. I had to voice my own opinions, tell them what was wrong, tell them how to help me. In assessments and meetings, I had to often fend my own corner. I couldn’t afford to be quiet anymore. In order to get anything from mental health services, usually you have to push really hard for it.

Other girls walked all over me at school. I was slut-shamed, isolated, and essentially shunned for things that hadn’t happened. I was casually sexually assaulted by boys. Constant comments about my breasts. Hands up my skirt. Told that I was a slag, that I was easy, that my body was ‘fit’, as if that’s really a compliment coming from a horny little boy. People spread rumours about me, stopped talking about me. I once went to meet one of my best friends to walk to school with her, and when I came up to her she straight up ignored me and carried on walking to meet other people. Friends would laugh in the changing rooms and joke ‘It looks like you’ve been self-harming. I heard ‘friends’ saying horrible things about people they thought were ‘crazy’, about students who had come out as LGBTQ, about ‘sluts’ in the year. And when I got really unwell, people didn’t want anything to do with it. Oh, Rosie is attention seeking. Rosie is so dramatic. Rosie is copying behaviours. Rosie probably just wants one of the guys to ask what’s wrong. Why is it always about Rosie? Why is she doing this all the time?

Not anymore. I’m done with being pushed around and belittled, and I’m so much happier for it.

I’ve learnt what I should have learnt when I was 12 years old: the only person who can make you feel shit about yourself is you. People say and do nasty things and it’s painful, but it’s up to you to block off the suffering. It’s not worth giving your time or energy to people who make you feel like a burden. People who are struggling with their own sexuality or relationship troubles so take it out on you. People who are jealous. People who don’t understand how someone their age, just like them, can become mentally unwell. I’m not bothered anymore. Only the people closest to me could ever break my heart like that again, and the reason why they are so close, is because I know that they never won’t. And if I hadn’t of gone through this horrible journey, I would never have experienced this freedom from the snare of toxic people.

So, here it is. Reasons why I, Rosie Wildman, am glad that I have spent the last two years alive, when I could have completed a suicide attempt.

  1. I would never have met my best friend, Victoria. I can’t even imagine what life would be like without her. With some people you just click, and she’s one of them. She has taught me more about life than most other people I know put together, she’s brave, and she’s strong. She also doesn’t put up with any of my shit. She tells me how it is. She reminds me of how far I’ve become. That I’m different from the people I compare myself to. That you can live a relatively happy life with borderline personality disorder.
  2. I would never have seen my family grow. My sisters are now 16 and 17 and they are intelligent and beautiful young women. I was never close to my sisters when I was a bit younger, and I’m happy to say that I now am. Over time, things patched over and I can always rely on a hug and a chat with Joni or Poppy. I have also been able to see my brother go to big school (secondary school) and continue showing everyone what a kind little soul he is, even if he gets angry at me sometimes.
  3. I’ve read so many books, especially over the last year. When I was feeling really depressed I couldn’t concentrate properly on the words, but thankfully I have been speeding through books at the moment and I love it. It’s such a great distraction when I’m feeling shit, and it maintains my good mood when I’m feeling happy. It makes me feel pretty sweet that there will always be another good book for me to sink my teeth into. All these stories change me slightly. They give you insight into different worlds, different literary dimensions.
  4. I would never have been so self-confident in myself and my appearance. I am not just a pair of boobs. I have soft shoulders. I have sparkly eyes. My whole face lights up when I smile. I have dimples in both of my cheeks. I can run pretty quickly and I dance like nobody’s watching (usually in a club, embarrassing myself) and my brain is brilliant. I’m aware of my imperfections, but they don’t define me. I’m not some heinous beast. I’m just me. I’m excited and friendly and energetic, when I’m not struggling. I can make other people happy. When I glow, it feels like all the other people around me are glowing.
  5. I would have never have become so independent. Although I am probably less independent than most people at my university, as my family live pretty near to the campus and my Dad actually works there, it’s been a massive step from being on 1:1 in psychiatric hospital. I’m not scared to be in an empty house anymore, I can go to sleep without worrying that I’m going to be attacked, I can make myself meals. I look after my surroundings and I look after myself.
  6. Finally, I would never have connected with so many people who have been through the horrible and draining ordeals of mental illness that I’ve been through. The friends I had on the inpatient ward: late night conversations sat at our doorways, sneaking into each other’s rooms, playing XBOX in the quiet room with the lights off so we could pretend we were somewhere else, group leave. And, the friends I’ve made through the recovery network. My beautiful Lauren. Rhianne. Cora. Emma. Megan. Shauna. Sophie.

 

Life isn’t perfect and it would be pretty futile to claim that I’m ‘recovered’ by any stretch of the imagination. But I am moving forward and I have come a long way. I am not a victim of mental illness anymore. I am a fighter and I’ll continue to fight for as long as I’m still here. This chance to live has shown me why the world is so beautiful and it has made me fall in love with it all over again. I’ve grown, and I’m still growing.

 

To my beautiful friend Sophie

To my beautiful friend Sophie

I was just 15 when I experienced my first mental health crisis. Despite the fact that I had been struggling with bouts of anxiety and self-harming behaviours for years leading up to that, the summer of 2013 was the first time in my life where I thought it would never get better, and I therefore reasoned that it would be better, and less painful, to end it now.

It was around this time that I joined the Instagram recovery network. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a whole little sub-section of the Instagram world in which (mostly) young people struggling with mental illness, create a sort of update diary on how they are and what’s happening in terms of their wellbeing. It can be very comforting to have other people messaging, supported, and relating to you.

The recovery network was toxic to me for numerous reasons. I subconsciously picked things up by reading them, I got upset when I read that my friends, the people who I had grown to know and love, were in a shitty place themselves. It did trigger me at times, but in those years when my mental health was neglected not only by mental health services but by basically everyone around me, it was solace. It was a private place where I could open up and let it all out.

Sophie Payne was one of the first people who I became friends with on the Instagram recovery network. We then went on to have each other as friends on other social media sites. She texted me when she was upset. She gave me advice about inpatient life and the general struggles of having BPD. I read her poems for her and sometimes gave her feedback (which was always, always positive. She was super talented). She was beautiful, brave, extremely talented, and above all, she was kind. She was kind to everyone who knew her.

Sophie was let down by mental health services. She had been inpatient many times and had sometimes been discharged before she was safe. In her last admission, she was waiting for a personality disorder unit bed (she was excited and hopeful to finally be able to recover properly), when she sadly passed away. In the unit that she was in, Queen Mary’s Roehampton, other people had died on the ward since 2010. It’s negligence. This could have been prevented.

Sophie was passionate and always voiced her opinions on problems with mental health services. Part of her really wanted to get better, and she wanted to help other people. She was really bright. She was insightful. When I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, she talked to me about it. She helped me understand.

It’s such a shock to lose a friend like this. When someone you know is sent back to inpatient, it’s distressing to know they are in a crisis, but you feel comfort. You feel like in the unit, your friend or family member will be kept safe. That they will be looked after. That they will be able to come out of the process much happier and healthier. You expect them back. Nobody should be able to take their own life inside the walls of a psychiatric unit. This is supposed to be the one place where psychiatric patients are indefinitely safe. This is the second time year that I’ve sadly been proven wrong.

Sophie Payne will remain to me always as a beacon of kindness and immense bravery. She fought (and won) many battles, and was always there to help support her friends. She was a fundamental part of the recovery community and someone who will be missed by all of us who were lucky enough to know her. You gave me hope Soph, and I’m so sorry the world couldn’t give you more.

Love always,

Rosie x

SAMARITANS UK 24/7 LINE – 116 123

 

 

The difficulty of presenting mental illness in mainstream media

The difficulty of presenting mental illness in mainstream media

Recently there has been a lot of controversy on my news feed about To The Bone. For those small few of you who don’t know, it’s a depiction of a young woman’s struggle with anorexia nervosa and attempt to work within a sort of ‘halfway house’ in order to avoid being sent back to an inpatient unit or becoming fatally unwell. For many people, it seems like a ‘mental illness follow up’ to the hit Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, which explored different elements of mental health: depression, self-harm and suicide.

People have subsequently accused Netflix of capitalizing on the romanticization of mental illnesses so commonly seen on sites such as Tumblr. The site has been accused of putting vulnerable lives at risk by portraying such sensitive and ‘triggering’ issues. It seems to be virtually impossible for Netflix, or any other label, to ‘get mental illness right’.

The unfortunate truth is that those who are most affected by these issues are the ones most likely to become upset or outraged. Having suffered with issues seen in these shows myself, I found myself getting annoyed because ‘that wasn’t like my experience’ or ‘I don’t want people to think that’s what depression is’. I was worried that these films would cause more issues. That they would make suicide seem romantic, or anorexia seem beautiful.

This isn’t the right way to look at it. We have to face these issues. We can’t hide away mental illnesses. They can’t carry on being ignored, shoved into the back of people’s minds. We need people to understand the scope of suffering that rushes through someone when they are dealing with these things. We need to get people talking about mental health, we need to get people showing support to others, we need to get the conservation started. And this is what these TV shows are doing.

  • It is always going to be an imitation. 

What we see in shows is never, ever going to be the real thing. It doesn’t matter if the actor has struggled with this issue in the past: they are putting on a performance. They are being directed and no matter how much emotion goes into it, it’s always going to be artificial. That is the case with all TV series and films, over all issues. But with mental illness, it’s hard to get it right without it being ‘real’. This has to be accepted.

  • Mental illness affects everyone in different ways. 

No one person has the same experience with mental illness. Even with the same illness, people experience different symptoms. You might not understand how sexual harassment, bullying and loneliness could push someone to commit suicide and lash out at everyone else (because you know, mental illness isn’t always sweet and nice), because that wasn’t how you felt. Maybe you were pushed to the edge by something else. But that doesn’t disqualify other people relating to Hannah Baker.

Similarly, no two of my friends or family members with anorexia are the same. People have different triggers, different perceptions, and different attitudes to their illness. Some people do use humour to lighten a shitty situation. Some people are angry and bitter. Some people seem happy on the outside but are actually keeping a harrowing storm within.

  • People also have different experiences with treatment. 

This is especially true with services in different parts of the world. Many people from the UK have kicked off about these two series, complaining that the depiction of treatment ‘wasn’t realistic’. However, this is assuming that everyone in the world has the same healthcare as those of us who live in the UK. This is obviously wrong. When money is so much more closely involved with health services in the US, things are bound to be different. The section system that exists here is not the same as there. In some ways, you can’t be forced to get better.

  • It’s impossible to go into complete depth. 

The presentation of mental illness at any one point is only the tip of an iceberg. A whole life full of events and thoughts can contribute to an illness, which would clearly impossible to present in a film or even in a long TV series. It would be time-consuming and boring to go through every single factor of a complex illness. This is therefore up to the viewer to understand what could have possibly contributed, and to get that all characters in TV shows are to some extent, simplified.

  • To sugar coat is to reduce, to present realistically is inevitably to trigger.  

It’s a lose-lose situation. If you don’t show the triggering and unpleasant elements of mental illness, people say that it’s not realistic and that it’s romanticized mental illness. That it’s not offering a rounded view of an illness, and is belittling those who struggle.

On the other hand, if you show the illness completely unfiltered, you may then be accused of triggering viewers, or blowing things out of proportion. This may be seen as detrimental to viewers.

Most TV series and films depicting mental illness come somewhere between these two extremes, and are thus condemned both for sugar-coating and for triggering.

 

I know a few years ago I would have found 13 Reasons Why unbearable. I would have fuelled my depression and urge to self-harm on it. It would have validated me. But that was a projection of my illness. And I didn’t have 13 Reasons Why so I ‘fuelled’ my self-hatred and despair on other things. And unfortunately, there are always going to be other things. We can’t stop talking about mental illness in case it ‘gives people ideas’. That’s not how it works.

But please, Netflix.

  • Please put detailed trigger warnings on films and episodes.

It’s not that difficult to simply alert people of the nature of what they are about to watch. This doesn’t mean putting ‘This episode/film may be upsetting for some viewers’. TV shows and films, specifically those revolving around mental illness (and are hence more likely to attract vulnerable people), need to have more detailed trigger warnings.

It wouldn’t take much to have at the start of the episode ‘This episode/film contains… (insert list of the most common triggers)’. They could even put the timings on so people can still watch.

  • Please show us that people can get better. 

The reality of mental illness is that people do die. People do die of complications, people do take their own lives. But please give people some hope to hold onto. Show us characters who battle through and come out the other end. Show us that not everyone is a sad story and that we can get better. Stop this love story nonsense, and give us characters with real inner courage. Give us male characters battling the emotional conditioning of our society, give us characters who aren’t conventionally attractive. Give us people, as real and as hopeful and as you can.