Escaping the ‘black dog’ of depression
THERE was something terribly ironic about the theme of last week’s St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin. Writer Roddy Doyle was commissioned to pen a story that would be relevant to the Ireland of today and that would lend itself to the biggest, most colourful parade in our St Patrick’s Day parade history.
And so he did. Doyle wrote a story called ‘Brilliant’. The tale, as you probably know by now, is the story of two Dublin children who overhear their parents speak of the country's perilous state, take their comment about a ‘ black dog of depression’ to heart and enlist scores of children in a citywide hunt to find that dog and reclaim the city's lost funny bone.
The ‘ black dog of depression’. Ironic, isn’t it, that on the day when all of us should be celebrating our past and our future, we feature the big elephant in the room which happens to be a dog – the black dog? Travel to any city or town or parish in Ireland and ask people about the black dog. Chances are, most will not admit to knowing what it is – despite the fact that depression in all of its forms is responsible for taking more lives in this country every year than road traffic accidents.
Every year in Ireland, about 600 people die by suicide – far more than the number who die in road traffic accidents. Yet just €5 million is put towards suicide prevention, compared to the €40m invested in reducing the number of people who die on our roads. Every cent of that €40m is well-deserved. In fact, it’s not half enough. But the amount of funding given to reducing the number of deaths by suicide is paltry by this or any comparison. I’ve attended more funerals of people who died by suicide than by another means. Any sudden death is awful, particularly when it involves a young person or a parent who departs this world leaving children behind.
Young deaths are unnatural. They defy nature. They pose more questions than they provide answers. They leave us confused, angry, dismayed, cynical and sometimes hopeless. They force us to dig deep – perhaps deeper than we’ve ever done before. They make us ask the awkward questions that nobody seems to be able to answer. There are always questions. Maybe there are no answers.
And that’s the awfully sad thing about suicide: no answers. That's not to say there are no solutions. First things first: we decriminalised suicide, and not before time. And we’ve made great progress too in trying to deal with it, or least talk more openly about it. But we’re still struggling to understand it and we’ve still such a long way to go in trying to curb it.
For most of us, suicide is an act completely alien to our most inner-instincts. If you believe that man’s most basic instinct is to survive, then suicide smashes that instinct to pieces. It takes power over our most inner sense of being. It defeats hope. It tears families asunder. It beggars understanding.
Yet, for many, suicide makes perfect sense. In this country, we are struggling with the glorification of suicide. By trying to understand it, we fear we might be accused of justifying it. By showing compassion for those who fall at the hands of suicide, we risk being accused of giving the thumbs up to what happened. Neither is true. Without compassion and understanding, we will never get to grips with suicide. We may as well face up to the reality, and the reality may be far closer to home than we’d like to think.
There are thousands of people all around us who are in a black hole. For whatever reason – be it because of a medical condition or conditions they find themselves in – they just cannot see a way out. More importantly, they don’t feel there is a way out. There may not be an incident to blame, there may not be a person to be held responsible – it’s simply just because death offers a solution to the way they feel; a way out of the black hole, a means of ending the constant and unbearable mental or emotional pain; an escape from the black dog that has chased them into a dead-end, cul-de-sac.
Imagine if you or I could get to just one more person in time and postpone their intention to take their own life. Then, if that time comes around again, we help them to postpone it further, or better gain, help them scrap the idea altogether. Imagine, if by our actions, just one family was spared the awful, lifelong, daily penance of having to ask ‘why?’. Imagine if just one community was spared one more funeral of a person who has died by suicide.
I have no answers. I’m not sure anybody has. But at least we could try to increase funding for research and help so that we learn more and take this problem head-on. We cannot defeat the enemy until we understand its ways. The black dog is running riot in this country. Let’s not try to dress it up or put it off any longer: the black dog needs to be shot dead and stopped in his tracks.
By showing compassion for those who fall at the hands of suicide, we risk being accused of giving the thumbs up to what happened
I’ve attended more funerals of people who died by suicide than by another means.