Saturday, 17 May 2014

The dark underbelly of mental health

I believe there's a space in between where unspoken words hover un-uttered, un-written and unheard. Maybe they shouldn't be said then, maybe there's a reason for not saying them out loud. But I am curious…what might happen if I start to talk about the things that hurt - where it hurts? I have few answers, but I have a lot of questions.

Oh right! That might mean a diversion from my familiar and comforting "look on the bright side" platitudes and slopping around in buckets of statistics to take a risk and poke about in the underbelly of mental health, the dark side of suicide and the edge of self-harm. Anyone interested in coming along…




Let me explain, I've spent the past 10 years talking almost every day about suicide - with people, for people, about people. I train, I talk, I read, I write, I study. I listen. I repost all the wonderful amazing efforts of those I know around the globe who also do this work, but I realised that I also want to talk, I have something to say about how it feels to be this person who spends a lot of her time surrounded by death and pain and struggle and survival - and I suspect other people might have something to say about this too. So that's the stuff that hurts.

The where it hurts - is maybe a little more controversial. I'm interested in this because of the chasm that is often portrayed between personal and professional interest in these topics. There seems to be a grand canyon between survivors, service-users and the professionals who get paid (or sometimes not paid) to help them. This spans everything from statistics that tell us barely anything about anything, not least why suicide always has been and continues to be part of the human condition, to a consistently harsh treatment of people who self-harm by certain groups of professionals.

What's up with that? Why is there still such a lack of understanding for people who try to take their lives, or hurt themselves? Why is it so hard to listen to death and pain - do we think we're going to catch it? Are we scared that finding empathy for someone in that darkest place will touch our own buried pain or cast shadows on the illusions of our lives? For me, personally, it is about acknowledging our own humanity and fragility and that sometimes when we are in that deep dark pit with someone that we can feel it tugging at the edge of our own consciousness.

There are training courses to tell us what we should be doing, what's helpful, what works - I know, I deliver them, I believe in them completely. I am all behind the research that is looking at protective factors and the resilience that keeps people on this planet alive every day, despite pain and unbearable circumstances. But I am also interested in all the spaces in between, what are we not saying - maybe there's some gold dust in there?


“Irrespective of any external, regulatory force, our capacity for feeling is in itself an insatiable and bottomless abyss.”

Émile Durkheim


And I'm not going to feign altruism for a moment, that I'm blogging for the greater good. I am curious about what I have to say and what anyone else out there has to say too and I am hoping that getting into the habit of writing regularly will kick my ass into gear to produce at least one of the books I claim to have hiding inside me - the current idea is dark and twisty and all about death and funerals - ah the lure of exploring an entirely fictional world…
Dr Murphy - signing off

13 comments:

  1. An excellent post, Dr Murphy. I'm interested in the continuum that seems to exist between self-harm and suicide. Is it really the case?

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  2. Thanks Ellen - I'll have to do a whole other post to answer that question! It's complex - yes it's on a continuum, but sometimes the motivations for suicide attempts and self-harm are very different. More to follow...

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  3. I admire you for covering what is a very hush hush subject. I do not and maybe never will understand why my eldest son self harms, or my friends daughter for that matter but the pain for them is very real and more people do need to be tolerant of it. It is not as such a lifestyle choice any more then depression on PND and people are coming round to accepting them so who knows the next generation may be more tolerant because of people like you.
    Sharing this blog with a couple of friends

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    1. Thanks Emma, there are so many facets to this. I will definitely be saying more about what people get out of self-harm, but I do think this goes hand in hand with an acknowledge of the effect it has on other people. It is very painful to watch and be a part of, which is the real paradox and people who self-harm are aiming only to hurt themselves, they struggle to see the fallout around them because we are trying to be supportive. Share away :)

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    2. Sorry Elaine!!! that's what I get for multi-tasking :)

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  4. Great to hear from you Marie and it appears that life is treating you well! I'll dip in and out of your blog ( I like to keep my spare time lightweight!)
    All the very best
    Dawn x

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    1. I'm laughing Dawn - no, I guess it's anything but lightweight. Good to hear from you and dip away x

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  5. Think and believe you are the only person I know who can cover this painful subject with equal amounts of knowledge and compassion x

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  6. Lovely to hear your thoughts Marie. Like you, I'm a trainer & share your curiousity n passion for the work. I'm looking forward to reading your blog. Go girl! Aggie

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    1. Thanks Ag, more to follow soon :)

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