It's not the end: Neither are you
Suicide in Ireland
Adrian O’Sullivan was standing at the Londonderry Bridge over the River Foyle one night in the summer of 2017 at 1am. There was no one on the bridge but him. He was waiting for a rider who was meant to cycle through that night. Adrian is the organizer of the Transatlantic Way Bike Race, a self-supported road cycling race around Ireland. The first checkpoint of the race is at the Londonderry Bridge. Adrian leaned over the bridge and looked at the calm, tranquil water. It was a peaceful night. Suddenly two men walked on the bridge, chatting, and as they passed Adrian, asked if he was alright. Adrian responded affirmatively. The two men walked on. A little while later, they turned back and approached Adrian again. ‘Are you sure you’re alright, mate?’ they asked. Adrian assured them he was. The three men started talking. From them, Adrian found out that they were part of a voluntary suicide watch. A little hut at the foot of the bridge is equipped with CCTVs installed along the bridge to look out for potential suicide attempters. Adrian, being the only person on the bridge at 1am and looking contemplatively out onto the water, certainly looked like a suicide candidate. Except he wasn’t.
More people have died from suicide in Northern Ireland than The Troubles.
The Troubles was an ethno-nationalist conflict that rampaged the country for thirty years from the late 1960s to the Good Friday Peace Agreement of 1998 because Unionists/loyalists, who were mostly Protestants, wanted Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom while Irish nationalists/republicans, who were mostly Catholics, wanted Northern Ireland to leave the United Kingdom and join a united Ireland.
Why is suicide prevalent in Ireland?
The country has long been plagued with poverty. This goes as far back as 1649 with the invasion by Great Britain. Led by Oliver Cromwell, fervent Irish Roman Catholics were executed and Irish children were sent to work in sugar plantations in the West Indies. Irish population decreased and Great Britain gained control. By the 18th century, the Irish were stripped of their land and found themselves at the mercy of English landlords who imposed high taxes while expecting high crop yield. Next came the Great Potato Famine of 1845-49, during which the main Irish staple crop, the potato, failed for successive years and drove families deeper into poverty and starvation. The famine caused more than a million deaths and reduced Ireland’s population by half. Today, one in six Irish live under the poverty line.
Driven by poverty, people turn to substance abuse, further exacerbating a social problem which perpetuates into a vicious cycle of seclusion and isolation. Left to their own devices, suicide seems the only probable solution.
Northern Ireland has the highest suicide rate in the UK, with 230 cases in 2016 alone. That’s an average of 20 suicides per month. The city of Derry/Londonderry has the highest suicide rate in Northern Ireland. Men between 15-34 form the highest suicide group.
Why are some people prone to suicide?
I open this article mentioning Ireland because Ireland represents the one of the highest suicide rates in the world; however it is worth noting that suicide is prevalent all around the world.
According to the World Health Organization, close to 800,000 people die from suicide every year. That is a frightening number as this means one person die from suicide every 40 seconds. Suicide is a global phenomenon and occurs throughout the lifespan.
According to Denver-based suicide psychotherapist Stacey Freedenthal, the pattern of chronic suicidal thoughts is similar to that of a person with any other kind of chronic condition. For some people, there are flare-ups where the condition is far worse than normal, and then the symptoms subside, but only temporarily. And for other people, the symptoms never subside - they live with their symptoms, in this case, suicidal thoughts, every day.
Most of our perceived troubles, including suicidal thoughts, are conjured in our heads. They may not necessarily be real - they are what we perceive to be real. The troublemaker here then really is our mind.
Silver lining: You are not predetermined at birth
If suicide, like depression, isn’t a one-time occurrence but lasts throughout a person’s lifespan, then the remedy for it would not be a straightforward one-time application - it would have to be an ongoing, conscious decision everyday to choose to be uplifted and positive.
The cure is a lifelong journey of choosing to live a purposeful, joyful and grateful life.
Making a choice to be uplifted in joy and positivity when the natural tendency is to be down and out is hard enough; making that choice each and every day for a lifetime seem too onerous, too long a road. How could a depressed or suicidal person keep that up without caving in at some point in their lives?
Here’s a hope, a silver lining: we are not predetermined at birth. Nothing is fixed, not at birth, not during childhood. It's how we think, behave, adapt and change that determines how we get on in life. Our brains are constantly changing, we are constantly evolving. We can change every second, minute, day.
This is really hopeful because if we call into reality what we envision in the subconscious through the wonderful neuroplasticity of our brains, and change happens inside out, then we can call out a love-filled, people-surrounded, stability-granted and purpose-walked out life. You don't have to fear tomorrow or to be enslaved to our perceived troubles - wherever you are, you are always surrounded by love, friends, stability, and purpose.
Daily, conscious choice
So we have a hope now - we are not fixed at birth, we are not captive to our thoughts, and we can change ourselves and our circumstances inside out. How exactly do we do that?
We build new thoughts every day. Good, positive, life-enhancing thoughts to replace the negative, toxic and life-robbing thoughts.
An article from Psychology Today sums it best with several wonderful anecdotes on appreciating the gift of life:
1. Life is an invitation to learn, a school. We can learn something from every moment, good or bad.
2. Life is not static, it's in constant movement, much like the waves of the ocean. Each wave that comes brings with it new experiences, and each one is different. So just like the bad ones can sometimes show no mercy, the good ones also come and refresh us. Nothing lasts forever.
3. Life is a gift; some depart too soon and don’t have the fortune to know life. Those who have it should enjoy it.
4. Life is not only our own. It also belongs to those who surround us. We should take care of ourselves because we are important to others, even when sometimes we are not aware of that.
I hope you choose life. Because as the late Beatles, John Lennon so wisely said, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end.”