Are we listening? | Iggy Fenech


    In a developed society, suicide is failure of the collective: we have not listened, we have not identified the problem, and we have not offered solutions.

    Getting to the point where the unknown becomes less frightening that the known is a very scary place to be in. Yet people make it to that precipice on a fairly regular basis, and, according to data released by the Commissioner for Mental Health just two months ago, two to three of them will tragically decide to let go.

    The figures have now got even scarier: there has been a 50% increase in the number of suicide attempts by women this year, from 32 attempts per annum between 2016 and 2019 to 47 this year. That is expected to take the total number of attempts to around 127 and the number of deaths by suicide to 20 for all genders by the end of the year.

    “We need to stop glorifying happiness…Sadness, anger, grief and despair are human emotions, too”

    Now, people could argue that this was to be expected in a year when jobs are on the line, our health is at risk, and when the feeling of loneliness has increased. But if it was foreseeable, then why aren’t we fighting harder to make sure that those who believe they are at the end of their tether don’t feel alone?  

    I am not pointing my finger at the Commission for Mental Health or at NGOs. I have no doubt that they do the best job they can. But they can’t be with everyone all the time. And so, it is down to us to help out, and I feel that the best first step is to learn how to listen.

    • We need to listen when people open up about their struggles and stop downplaying their reality – something which may seem easily surmountable to us, may be someone’s Everest;
    • We need to listen when people ask for help and, even if we can’t offer them the help ourselves, we can hold their hand as they seek help elsewhere;
    • We need to truly listen to the words people use: as the Commissioner for Mental Health himself told us on World Suicide Prevention Day this year, phrases like ‘You’ll be sorry when I’m gone,’ and ‘I can’t see any way out’ are telltale signs;
    • We need to listen to our gut feeling when we think someone is not acting like their usual self: sometimes, people’s actions speak louder than their words; and
    • We need to listen to our own minds. What is it telling us? How is it reacting to situations? If you notice your negative thoughts taking over, don’t go through it alone. Help is always at hand, just not always visibly so.

    In the end, I feel that we have a lot to learn as human beings. We need to stop glorifying happiness as the only destination worthy of celebration. Sadness, anger, grief and despair are human emotions, too, and being able to identify them, feel them, and work through them is a success in itself. But how can we be expected to do that openly when they are seen as weaknesses or when they are seen as an unnatural move from the constant state of happiness we are told should be the norm?