Clinical psychologist and trauma consultant for the Red Cross, Dr Rob Gordon, says the best way forward in a mental health crisis where incidences of self harm are increasing, is for people to communicate.
Dr Gordon said mental health illness rates are increasing and the stresses and strains of society are far greater today.
“The pace and intensity of life is enormous and everyone is under greater pressure so there’s a whole range of reasons why,” he said.
“But we are also far more aware and the culture is more accepting of mental illness … and it is better that we talk about it (suicide) than not talk about it”
“The important thing is to understand is: If we have a source of suffering and pain that we cannot communicate, it closes us off into a world of just ourselves and our pain and then we lose the basis for meeting and connection and connecting with other people.”
“So we know the thing that helps people is to connect with them and with the real core of their pain.”
He says, “we all have a deep instinct for self preservation that is hardwired in our brains. We have all sorts of reflexes designed to protect ourselves … it is the human response.”
“Suicide is an emotional pain”, he said, and the distress and conflict leads to a “progressive narrowing of the person’s world until they get to a situation where the bad feelings override the survival or preservation instinct.”
Most people do not get to this point where survival instincts are overidden, he said, which is why suicide is very disturbing, because “it violates our instinctive assumptions.”
Dr Gordon said when a person is in this state they “cannot see anything good in the future and feel isolated and alone with their problems and that is why it is important to talk or try to connect.
“For people at this point, they get caught up in a place where they have lost the reference point of a larger world.”
“Usually they have things way out of proportion. They think they are the most terrible person or there’s no way out of a situation, or they can’t live without a person if a relationshiop has just ended … but we know that people survive these things.”
As human beings, all we want is to be able to connect with other people.Clinical psychologist - Dr Louise Du Chesne
Melbourne psychologist Dr Louise Du Chesne agrees with Dr Gordon and also advises people to "connect and communicate. “The prevalence of suicide is certainly not decreasing," she said.
“In the past we used categorical models to assess risk, but unfortunately those models are ineffective and this makes it very difficult. What is better is to try and engage with the person and understand from their point of view.”
“It is absolutely better to talk about it because with at-risk people there’s often a real sense of isolation and hopelessness and the feeling that no one can help.”
Dr Du Chesne, who works with military and many minority groups, says it is no surprise that isolation can be one of the worst forms of punishment.
“As human beings, all we want is to be able to connect with other people.”
Dr Du Chesne said dying by suicide should not be glorified or romanticised. She referenced the film 13 Reasons Why as being particularlly unhelpful.
“The way the main character is presented is wrong because in the film she is still around and in people’s lives. The paradox or irony is that she has (after her death) the relationships she craved and this is not what happens in real life.”
Dr Du Chesne said the reality is that there are grieving families and friends who are left to cope with the loss of their loved one. “It is always devastating for those left behind.”
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