Es­cap­ing the ‘black dog’ of de­pres­sion

Bray People - - OPINION - AI­DAN O’CON­NOR

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.

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