Statistically, the thing most likely to kill me, is me #WILTW

This is the 157th #WILTW

During, and since leaving school, three of my fellow pupils have died by suicide. I can not claim to have been best friends with them but sudden loss of life puts into perspective even the most briefest contact or interaction.

Suicide remains one of the last taboos. While public awareness of mental health issues has hugely improved it remains a difficult topic of conversation to have with others. What are you more likely to bring up over a coffee: your fleeting dyspepsia or the fact for the last week you’ve just not been able to see the positive in anything? Neither of these things mean you definitely have serious illness, and both may well be transient conditions, but the latter is often perceived to carry an implication about you.

Mental Health Organisations and individuals dedicated to improving outcomes have had a huge part to play in reducing the stigma of mental health. But the sharing of honest stories, sometimes from unexpected sources, probably has had a sizeable impact on cultural perceptions.

Recently the wife of a doctor in Brisbane who had died by suicide wrote a short, and extremely powerful letter, to the medical community. She didn’t want it to be a secret that her husband, Andrew, had died and wanted people to know how proud she was of him. In response an ENT surgeon, Eric Levi, had some insightful perspectives on the impact that work can have on your mental health, in his words, “..through the dark seasons“.

The blog has been shared over 150000 times.

“I delivered my third child with my own hands because the obstetrician was stuck in a traffic jam. The following morning I went to work because if I didn’t 12 patients have to miss their surgeries, 2 anaesthetists and about 8 nurses will miss out on their day’s income. More importantly, admin would not be happy because a cancelled operating list is a huge financial loss to the hospital” Eric Levi – The Dark Side of Doctoring

I found Dr. Levi‘s piece quite challenging on first reading as his theme of loss of control grated with me. I entirely get the bureaucratic inertia that plagues healthcare professionals. The weight of targets, heavy handed communication and silo mentality at times a maelstrom. One that I have ranted and raved about as much as anyone else. But these are joint problems to sort. I am sure I am as much a part of the problem as I perceive others to be. But if the administration of the hospital will not let me off a clinic the day after the birth of my new born child the system is so rotten as in my mind to not be tenable.

But that attitude makes me as guilty as the system itself.

Andrew Tabner writing powerfully on physician suicide reminds us:

We need to abandon the macho persona that is often evident amongst doctors, especially those in acute specialties, and embrace well-being initiatives, wellness drives, career sustainability interventions, psychological tool-kits and anything else designed to help us cope with the inevitable stresses and strains that come when your job involves seeing birth, death and every facet of human existence in between, within a single shift

I am not immune from being in dark places but am lucky, through no action on my part, not to have ever been so low as to consider harming myself.  If we are to impact on the rate of suicide it is going to take continued dialogue within, and between, employees and employers to ensure that early signs of distress are recognised and can be acted on in the most appropriate and facilitative fashion.

What have you learnt this week? #WILTW

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I have taken a slight liberty with the title of this blog. The actual statistics relate to the 20-34 year old group. The title itself inspired by Christoper Young’s comments in Soul Music: A review of Waterloo Sunset 

Post Release Note:

I was contacted by Alys Cole-King (who I had linked to as an individual with a passion for improving outcomes in Mental Health ) post the blog to correct some of my language regarding suicide. Died by suicide has replaced committed suicide.

The following provides information and support on the issues raised above:

Resources for people in distress and those supporting them Staying safe if you’re not sure life’s worth living on line resource for anyone struggling to offer hope, compassion and practical ideas and suggestions on how to find a way forward connectingwithpeople.org/StayingSafe

U Can Cope film and resources The U Can Cope 22min film shares the three inspirational stories of Matt, Anthony and Cathy for whom life had become unbearable but who, after seeking help, are now leading fulfilling lives connectingwithpeople.org/ucancope

U Can Cope was designed to help young people develop resilience and cope with any current/future difficulties in their life but is just as helpful for adults. If Feeling overwhelmed and staying safe and for anybody struggling to cope when bad things happen in their life and includes advice on how to make a ‘Safety Plan’

Feeling on the edge helping you get through it:  for people in distress attending the Emergency Department following self harm or with suicidal thoughts connectingwithpeople.org/ucancope

Dear Distressed: Poignant and compelling letters of hope and recovery written by people with lived experience to reach and help others who are struggling with some much needed hope connectingwithpeople.org/wspd16

Tips on self-care connectingwithpeople.org/content/mhaw17

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