NOVEMBER is upon us once again, and the evenings are getting shorter. It's a dark month, and we often hear people talking about the 'November blues'. I think it's no coincidence then that this time of the year we hear a lot more than usual about people who are down or depressed, and it even seems that there are much more tragic events than at other times of the year.
Last week I attended the funeral of a young man whom I would have known quite well, who sadly took his own life. That same young man, only 20 years old, was friendly, and happy, and outgoing, and yet it seems he encountered a darkness in his own life of late, a darkness that it he simply couldn't manage to shake off. Too many young people die in tragic circumstances, and not just young people – too many people of all ages get caught in a gloom that makes it next to impossible for them to continue on.
Sometimes people think those who die by suicide are selfish and inconsiderate, because it appears they don't think of the loved ones they have left behind. Sometimes people think that they are weak or stupid because they have made such a bad decision rather than choosing to get help. Sometimes in trying to understand why someone has taken their own life, people judge unfairly.
When someone gets cancer or has a heart attack, or when they contract some kind of disease, they go to the doctor. Their illness can be seen, it can be measured and it can be treated. Depression and mental health problems are no different in any way whatsoever to cancer or heart disease or any other illness, except that is, for one way. We can't see it, we can't measure it easily, we can't diagnose it easily, and we can't treat it easily. In many instances it's something that remains completely invisible to everyone except the person who suffers from it. And that's the reason people tend to apportion blame to those who have died by suicide, rather than truly trying to understand or see it from their perspective. I think that of all the illnesses anyone could suffer from, depression must be the worst. None of what I've said here is new, society's understanding of depression and suicide has come on leaps and bounds in the past while, but yet we are still far from where we should be. Too many people have died. These are preventable tragedies.
Last week a Cork woman, whose husband, in November two years ago, took his own life after he had killed their two daughters, called for changes in the way mental health patients are treated. I think we need even more than that, we need to ask for more to be done to try to help those who are suffering from depression, and have supports in place to help people when they need it. At present we simply don't have the support structures and resources in this country to offer help where it is needed.
The economic policy of our times of course is austerity, but many eminent economists have warned repeatedly that austerity does not work, it has never worked, and it will never work.
In the upcoming budget there will be a stark choice for the government: more austerity leading to further hardship and suffering and people snapping under the strain, or instead, taking a step back and seeing what's really important – the health and well being of all members of society, something surely more important than appeasing bondholders and bailout troikas. It might seem folly to some people to put it in those terms, but as far as I'm concerned, one life saved would make the whole thing well worthwhile. I'll say it again – these are preventable tragedies. We can do better, and we must do better, and (hopefully) we will do better.