let’s talk about mental health & suicide prevention


farrel-nobel-108567

Anytime the topic of mental health or suicide (my fundamental stance is that suicide is not just a mental health issue, but a societal problem, however in this post I talk about the suicide due to mental illnesses) is brought up, people get quiet and wish to leave these taboo subjects in the shadows. Unless a celebrity commits suicide or admits having a mental illness. Then people talk, then people show support, then people push the governments and policy makers to train specialists, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and anyone else that would take the “burden” from their private lives. People want “others” to improve the situation, yet never seem to be passionate enough to take matters into their hands.

I have seen this pattern in my native country of Lithuania countless times. The community does not wish to speak about suicide or mental health because it is frowned upon, it is taboo. Regular people, who open up to their friends and families about suffering from depression are quietly shut down for “being too spoiled,” “having too much free time,” or have to listen to another story from the “childhood, where sadness was healed by beating and house chores.”

And I am not even talking about suicidal thoughts.

Oh, aren’t those people selfish? No.

How do I know? I was once one of those “selfish” people.

***

From my personal experiences and several years of suicide research in Lithuania and East Asia, I have come to a conclusion that, although legislative attempts to prevent suicide are beneficial for the most critical stage of suffering, the increase in hospital beds will not improve the well-being.

Then what helps? Well, firstly it would be great to start talking about these issues in the public domain and raising the acceptance of people, who are often marginalised.

Sounds simple, right? Not really.

***

One recent example of suicide prevention in Lithuania comes to my mind. A prominent politician and the Head of the Suicide Prevention Commission worked on a book that would include stories of people whose relatives committed suicide. These stories were supposed to portray the suffering of individuals, who were affected by suicide. In turn, this ought to prevent people from committing suicide by showing how many people they would hurt. In other words, how selfish these people are for thinking of killing themselves.

However, were individuals who attempted suicides included? Unfortunately, no. The premise of the book is correct and promising. It is true that any kind of death affects family and friends, however making the unfortunate people feel guilty for this is neither right nor helpful. First of all, the family members often have nothing to do with the illnesses, thus blaming themselves will not be healthy for anyone. Secondly, when one is at the bottom of mental distress, there are no thoughts of other people, there are no thoughts of “self” either. There is just a dark abyss of pain and suffering. There is no rational thinking or motivation to wonder what others are feeling. Especially, if everyone around you is dismissing what you’re feeling and not providing any support. The illness eats the person up and sucks out all the will of continuing the painful existence.

It is vital to remember – psychological illnesses kill people. Suicide in this case is no longer a wholly personal choice, as there is no “person” left.

***

I do not wish to romanticise suicide or mental illness, as there is nothing romantic or mystical about it. It is horrible. It is as awful as any other physical illness.

However, when a person dies from pneumonia or other physical complications, nobody talks about their selfishness and inconsideration towards others. People praise them for fighting this long and being resilient till the end. Then why are individuals who die from depression, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder are treated as selfish, and their fight with their own brain gets dismissed? Yes, it is often easier to hide and quietly battle with mental illness, while functioning as a normal human being. However, that is usually because of the continuing stigma and a deeply rooted belief that “what happens in the brain, stays in the brain”.

***

Then how can we help people who suffer from mental health problems and/or have suicidal thoughts without shoving psychiatrists and hospital beds down their throats?

I propose two things – education and dialogue. The best thing is that both can be done on a personal or local level, without any governmental involvement.

It is not difficult to watch a couple of videos on bipolar disorder or simply ask the affected person about their issues or what they’re going through. These human beings have the first-hand experience and are much more willing to explain how they feel instead of having assumptions being made about them.

For instance, I also live with bipolar disorder and would rather tell someone what it is, instead of being asked whether I have taken my medications, just because I feel down one day. It is just rude.

I believe that having mental health as part of the school curriculum would be the best step towards a better understanding of these issues. When I was in Lithuania, we never spoke of mental health problems and ways to deal with them. We had a social worker at the school. However, anyone who saw her was perceived as weird and ended up being isolated or bullied. (Another step for Lithuanian biology/health curriculum would be to introduce gender and sexuality studies, maybe hatred towards LGBTQ+ would subdue…) The lack of discussion and education leaves the society ignorant and alien to their emotions. And nobody wants to talk about it in the long-run.

As for the second point, I also believe that dialogue and integration are the best way to show support. I feel much better whenever someone wholeheartedly asks about my mental state without judgment or false affirmation suggestions (I am looking at you “just be positive” or “your life is great, don’t be sad”), as they rarely work. We simply wish people to understand that mental illnesses are legit diseases that need to be taken care of.

***

People with mental illness do not want to die. However, sometimes the society and the isolation forces the people to stop seeing the purpose in their lives. Sometimes finding a new interest helps, and sometimes a heartful talk over a cup of coffee saves a life.

As long as we start a discussion, we can progress.

roller coaster 


Must have bought the wrong ticket at this amusement park.
Wanted to ride the roller coaster with friends,
With exhilarating rises and falls,
Full of joyful shouts and mild turns.

Must have gotten on the wrong ride,
One that has no exit.
A roller coaster that takes you up to the highest of skies,
Where you feel all the worries wash away under the ecstatic light,
And then,
Out of nowhere,
It falls deep into the darkest of depths,
Where no one hears your screams,
Where all the shouts for light are muffled.

Got on a roller coaster against freewill
With several other damned souls.
Our only choice is to hold on tight to our seats,
To each other and endure the ride
Or unbuckle the safety belt and jump.
Jump from the skies, because you can fly.
Before gravity catches you and pulls you down.
Can even fall from the depths that have no limits,
Where under the tracks there is a bottomless abyss.

Got on the wrong roller coaster.
Someone offered the wrong ticket
And gave no heads up or instructions.
I got on the wrong roller coaster
That I will ride till the end.
Up and down, back and forth…

broken populace 2.0


Life diagnosed by search engines
Standardised lists of symptoms
Duration from 2 weeks to 6 months
Explained by a string of unrelated letters
Population 2.0
Everything from A to Z and beyond
Disorders of miniature minorities
That don’t even show up in the systems
So peculiarly compiled manuals
Edition number 5, released in 2013
Still in need of updates
Internet said it’s real
That it is like everything else – probably fatal
Sensing sadness and confusion?
That’s PTSD
OCD
BDD
Or maybe GAD
Take a prescription of mental enhancers
Improve your cognitive abilities
Increase your serotonin levels
Unique cases undetected
Not yet in the handbook
Not yet affecting 1% of your broken –
Such a broken populace


“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

– Martin Niemoller

dismantling the right to marry


The discussion on the institution of marriage comes up any time it is challenged by various social groups that have been (or still are) discriminated at some point of the time, be it women, people of colour, or most recently the LGBT+ community. I have attempted to do some deconstruction and research to find out the most recent definition of marriage, figure out whether it is a human right, and give my opinion on the way toward marriage equality based on one’s sexual and gender identity. Apparently, there is much more controversy and Christian influence in the legal matters than I imagined.

First of all, how is the “marriage” defined in the dictionaries used by both regular folk and lawyers in the highest courts? The more traditional and legal definitions of the marriage can be tracked to 18-19th century dictionaries. I would like to stay in the matters of secularism and keep religion out of the discussion, as that is a wholly different matter. However, one explanation from 1828 by Noah Webster still puts religion as the central focus. He described marriage as a union between a man and a woman for life, an institution “instituted by God himself for the purpose of preventing the promiscuous intercourse of the sexes, for promoting domestic felicity, and for securing the maintenance and education of children”. Clearly, this definition is not suitable for our age, because secularism, divorce, and childless family. Nevertheless, a more recent definition of 2003 from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary has a different, more inclusive feeling:

(1) the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law

(2) the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage

The same with the Oxford English Dictionary:

Persons married to each other; matrimony. The term is now sometimes used with reference to long-term relationships between partners of the same sex

Nonetheless, despite the fact that dictionaries change with the society they are not created based on the law, but based on how the people use certain terms and words, thus in order to find out whether universal equality of marriage can ever be reached the law should be brought in. And my personal favourite is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Before delving into the words of the Declaration, it is useful to know what human rights actually entail to. According to the wide web, human rights arise simply by being a human, they are seen as necessities of the human existence. Furthermore, they are inherent, universal, and cannot be taken away. Based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) of the United Nations, first of all

Article 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

This article clearly states that all the rights pronounced in the declaration are universal and people cannot be discriminated based on any kind (race, sex, language, etc.). Furthermore, no matter the country these rights apply to everyone equally. It is well known that this is not the case in many parts of the world, otherwise we would not need so many human rights organisations and activists. Now, as for the marriage, the Declaration states

Article 16.  (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family.

Once again, the most important matter is the non-discrimination based on race, nationality, religion. I have highlighted “men and women” intentionally, as it does not say “a man and a woman” or “two people of opposite genders”. No, it says “men and women”, plural, which can be interpreted as “a man and a woman”, “a man and a man”, or “a woman and a woman”.

Still, despite the rather obvious clarity on the non-discrimination and universality of the right, many arguments rise. I would like to give two different opinions on the matter – one from Amnesty USA and one from the European Union Court.

Amnesty USA has been working hard and long for the equality of marriage and to quote one of their statements “the right of adults to enter into consensual marriage is enshrined in international human rights standards”. They also quote the Declaration to strengthen their point. The organisation clearly states how preventing same-gender couples from entering into a civil marriage denies them of the right to something that is universal and also prevents them from accessing a range of other rights that married couples acquire, such as letting a partner to make decisions on partner’s behalf when he or she is sick. It also stigmatises the relationship, discriminates against its validity and value.

On the other hand, a certain website claims that the European Union Court stated gay marriage is not a human right. I do not want to take this claim for granted, as I could not find any more proof on such a statement, especially when one looks into the overall progress Europe has made in regards to LGBT rights (Western Europe to be exact, Eastern Europe is still lacking behind with Lithuania having laws that restrict freedom of expression and association of the LGBT groups). Nevertheless, the website clearly being pro-traditional family gives some insights into the other side of the argument. According to them the courts are ought to protect the traditional institution of marriage, therefore there is a view “that relations between persons of the same sex are not identical between a man and a woman, and may be treated differently in law”. They base the claim on the definition of the traditional marriage. Some other predominantly Christian websites also used this claim saying that sexual relationship is the base of a marriage and distinguishes it from a business venture or any other domestic union. Completely disregarding people who feel no sexual attraction or due to some reasons are unable to engage in sexual relationship.

In addition, I have found sources saying that a civil union should be enough for the same-sex couples. However, if the rights given to both couples in “marriage” and “civil union” are basically the same, why have a different law? The institution of marriage is not a sacred matter, but a social construct, thus laws and norms around it should be flexible and adaptable. Moreover, “civil unions” take away the emotional meaning of a marriage, making it more similar to a business venture than a loving union.

Finally I would like to draw some conclusions and give my opinion on this whole matter. I have known for a long time that anything having to do with LGBT+ rights is a controversy, especially in my home country, but after looking at all the definitions and legislations it seems more and more mind-boggling as to why it is this way. I believe that marriage is a human right, thus it should not discriminate against gender or sexual orientation. Furthermore, marriage is not a sexual relationship, marriage and love can exist outside sex, just like sex can exist without love. Once again, children are not the ultimate goal of a family or marriage, besides not everyone can or want to have off-springs, that is why adoption is a possibility (of course, restricted for same-gender couples…). Through the research I have encountered a number of arguments coming from more traditional, usually Christian people. They often claim that if we were to allow homosexuals to marry, polygamy would become legal again. Well, it is in many parts of the world even today. And it is not renounced by the Bible, look at the Mormon families with several wives. Further, people say that after homosexuals we will start marrying animals and inanimate objects. That goes outside the realm of human rights that only attain to humans, leave your cat out of this.

In the end, progress and society change laws and social constructs, they are not and have never been written in stone. Otherwise in developed countries slavery would still be legal, interracial marriage would not be in discussion, and women would be stoned to death from extra-marital relationships. Times change, institutions should adapt.