A couple of nights ago, I watched the Emmy Awards. I didn’t watch the whole thing. I just watched as I was flipping channels. To be honest, I am not a massive fan of the Hollywood award circuit. It is far less about the acting, than who is wearing what, and don’t get me started on how many awards a particular actor has to win for the same role year after year. It all seems so, well, contrived to me.
I was flipping channels, when I came across the “In Memoriam” segment. Sara Bareilles sang “Smile” whilst pictures of those involved in the film industry that had passed away this year filled the screen. As I watched it, I felt something in me slip away. I had grown up with a lot of those actors – Mickey Rooney, Ralph Waite (from The Waltons), Meshach Taylor (from Designing Women), James Avery (from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air), Ann B Davis (from the Brady Bunch), Peter O’Toole, Shirley Temple, Harold Ramis (from The Ghost Busters), Lauren Bacall, James Garner, Bob Hoskins. All of these actors held a special place in my heart, not least because my mom would play me their movies time and again where we would laugh and cry together. My heart ached with the realisation that the light had faded just that bit more.
Then there were those who had been taken far too soon – Paul Williams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and of course the wonderful Robin Williams. Billie Crystal paid tribute to Mr Williams at the end of the song and by the end I was a mess. I could not stop the tears and snot from flowing. My husband put his arm around me and hugged me tight.
“You feel the pain of the world so much, Sarah,” he said to me.
It’s true. I do.
Robin Williams meant such a great deal to me. He helped me find my bravery with The Dead Poets Society and I was watching Mrs Doubtfire at the cinema when I was given news that my first husband had passed away. It would take another decade before I could watch it in its entirety, but I am so glad I did. I loved him especially in The Fisher King and The Bird Cage.
He was such an amazing light, such an amazing gift, such an amazing concept (thank you Billy). But in all of his tributes in the last week, I found there to be one thread – that he derived his sense of self worth from what he could give to others – to make them laugh. Time and again, people would say how he would be energised when people laughed, so much so that he never really switched off. And we took, we took until he clearly had no more. And so he took his own life, leaving us all stunned and asking the question “why” when he was so clearly utterly loved. Indeed, why does anyone feel the need to take their own life?
I read an article over on The Philosophers Mail about a sociologist by the name of Emile Durkheim who was born in 1858. He had witnessed massive change in France, going from a largely agricultural society to very much an industrialised one. He studied Capitalism, the driver of industrialisation (and now technology), and what he found was startling.
He found that in countries that had become industrialised and where Consumer Capitalism had risen, suicide rates had also risen, dramatically. There was a distinct correlation between the wealth of a country and its suicide rates – in the UK it had doubled, in Denmark, a richer country still, it had increased four fold. Out of these findings, he published a book, Suicide, in 1897.
Sadly, things haven’t improved. I cannot say if there continues to be such a stark correlation, but I can say that the US comes 34th in the world suicide rankings,UK 37th, New Zealand 38th, Canada 40th and Australia 49th – all really wealthy nations with that you would imagine would bring a great quality of life. Yet in Grenada, Saint Kits and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Haiti and Nepal there are no suicides.
The richer and more affluent a country is, it appears, the more suicides there are. Something is deeply wrong here. We are losing people all over the place. For over 120 years the suicide rate has steadily risen. We have known about this, yet nothing, really, seems to be done. Certainly, not enough is being done.
I once applied to be a Suicide Educator. I had no experience in this field,other than my qualification in Community Development, and the fact that I knew acutely what it felt like to want to die, but the ad said that training would be given. This was our local council’s response to a spate of young children who had committed suicide by throwing themselves in front of a train. The idea was that a preventative measure would be applied, talking to high school kids about the finality and consequences of suicide and where they can get help.
When I phoned, the woman on the other side was very curt. She sounded like the tired and proverbially underpaid, overworked government employee. I didn’t get the job and apparently the program never saw the light of day. As I said, not enough is being done.
Depression drives suicide. Those that take their own lives have become so depressed that they cannot see the wood for the trees. They see no alternative. More has to be done to help these people see an alternative.
What that is I do not know. But I do know that I am going to try. I hope you will too. If you know any of your friends or family are depressed, please don’t avoid them, don’t get tired with them, don’t imagine for a second that they are “wallowing”. People who are depressed would be anywhere else rather than in the depths of the dark place that is inside their mind, believe me. Offer to help, offer friendship, offer to listen. Just listen.
Here are some ways you can help:
Beyond Blue is a great organisation that helps people with depression. They have a number of activities throughout the year that you could get involved in.
Life Line is that place where people in desperation can call, anonymously, to seek help. Training as a counsellor is possibly one of the most important things a person could do.
Headspace is the national youth mental health foundation. They do some amazing work with the young people of Australia.
Sane Australia is another organisation that assists people with mental health issues. I particularly like how they have a section called “Stigma Watch” which keeps an eye on how mental illness is stigmatised in the press.
Black Dog Institute are pioneers in the management and treatment of mood disorders. They have plenty of opportunities to get involved and are seeking people to speak about depression. For a bit of fun, they have also partnered with Inspired Adventures to do the Cycle to Happiness tour in Cambodia. To do one of these tours (they did it in Bhutan last year), is definitely on my bucket list.
Take care of yourselves, and each other.