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I’m from a small area of Dorset known as Poole; yesterday, for the second time in just under a week, there was a woman threatening to jump from the roof of a local shop.
It goes without saying that the hospital deeming her to be in a suitable state of mind to be released was a grave mistake: she needed help and protecting, and the lack of action by the hospital last week is what led up to this tragic event. But, besides the obvious failings of the system that caused her to be in a hopeless position such as this in the first place, what I am concerned with primarily is the lack of compassion and care from the public during what is meant to be a week devoted to mental health awareness.
All over social media, I am seeing the amazing work of individuals and companies trying to raise awareness of mental health in a world where statistics of suicide are higher than ever. Furthermore, I am seeing individuals open up about their own mental health stories and how this effects them. Sharing stories is important, it’s fundamental in raising awareness. However, the reactions I have seen to this event, especially by those who claim to have been through a mental health experience, suggest that there is only a concern if it happens to them or someone close to them. Otherwise, it is seen as nothing more than an inconvenience to their own lives and tunnel vision.
For example, there were severe traffic issues as police tried to prevent this woman from taking her own life. Is this inconvenient? Yes. Is it frustrating? Of course. Feeling frustrated with the situation is a valid feeling to have, but when that frustration is directed towards the individual in question it becomes a problem. I’ve seen comments such as ‘She should just jump off!’ because, apparently, a human life ending is worth it if it means you can get to the shops that little bit faster. You should not direct your anger towards someone who is evidently in pain, but rather, the people who put them in this position in the first place. The aforementioned failings of the system, insufficient therapy (which I have personally experienced) and waiting lists are all to blame: not the person in question.
Considering the resources we have are so sparse, I would argue that saying there is a ‘waste of resources’ in situations like this is not only wrong, but absurd. The whole point of the emergency services is to help people where their life is in danger – and just because this person is doing this to themselves does that make them any less deserving of help? Are we still in the medieval period, where suicide is considered to be a crime? It certainly seems that way. If it were somebody you knew on top of that building, would you consider it a waste of resources if they went to save their life? Of course not, but when it’s not happening to you, your perspective is skewed and your priorities change. The care and compassion you would employ to someone you know should, in my opinion, be employed towards those you don’t know personally. It would certainly make the world a better place.
To finish, I am going to quote a comment that I found particularly troubling when I discussed this with someone: they said that this person ‘shouldn’t have to be babysat’ by the emergency services or hospital to ensure this doesn’t happen again. First of all, the term baby-sitting is in itself demeaning, because it suggests that this person is an incapable burden that others must watch. This is harmful because the feeling of being a ‘burden’ is what pushes many people to feel suicidal in the first place. If you’re reinforcing this toxic thought pattern, then you’re contributing to the problem. In fact, I would argue that these people should be babysat by mental health professionals. These people need round the clock care. They need to be on suicide watch, they need protection, they need help.
Maybe the system isn’t giving them that because it’s broken. Maybe we have a long way to go before the system get fixed. But, in the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Week, having some understanding and educating yourself if not is a good way to start.