Tuesday Tales: The Words That Saved My Life – Donna Thistlethwaite

“I’ve been speaking to someone on the phone about coming to stay”, I gingerly announced to the kind faced brunette who responded to the buzzer on the reception counter. She smiled softly and deftly entered my details into her computer then instructed me to go to a door on the right where she would meet me on the other side. My partner and I said our goodbyes, not sure how long I’d be gone or when we’d see each other next.

Everything still felt somewhat surreal to me. It had been eight days since my suicide attempt and I was searching for answers. How had I got to this point? Do you have to be depressed to attempt suicide? Where do I go from here? I hoped that in-patient treatment at the nearby public mental health clinic might help me to make sense of it all.

The door clicked as it closed behind me. Ahead a series of doors dotted the well-lit hallway. The woman, who I had discovered was a nurse, marshalled me to a room to our immediate left.

The room looked like a customary office with desks and chairs and a few light grey filing cabinets. We sat across from each other and she commenced what I guess was the standard admission process. Her gentle voice asked question after question, enquiring about how I was, my life history, the lead up to my suicidal crisis and the attempt.

As I paused and drew breath, she said to me “It is so great that you survived your attempt. Had you died by suicide, your child would be at 50% greater risk of suicide during his lifetime”. The impact of those words was deafening. At the time of my crisis, I felt like my family would be better off without me. I felt that I wasn’t the role model my son needed, that he and his dad would be able to access my insurance money and that they would go on to live a happy life.

From that moment I realised that no matter what happened in my life in the future I would never again make an attempt on my life. While I haven’t actually been able to find the evidence for that exact statistic, experts I have spoken to in the suicide prevention space have confirmed that the children of those who die by suicide are at significantly increased risk of suicide themselves.

It makes sense now I think about it rationally. Our children don’t have access to all the information around a parent’s death. They could very easily think that their parent didn’t want to be with them any more, or even worse, that they had caused the suicide in some way, ie. “If I was more” “… or less …”.

My experience has been that even when we know at a conscious level that we haven’t caused something, or recognise there are other explanations, our subconscious mind can embed some very unhelpful stories that play out in how we act in the world without us even realising. Additionally, my time as a volunteer telephone crisis supporter taught me that a suicide death in our family, or close network, increases our own risk of suicide.

Finally, the nurse looked up from her notes and placed her pen on the table with a tap that signalled our interview was over. Continuing in her calming voice she explained that the next step would be a short tour of the centre enroute to my room. I don’t think that she had any idea of the profound impact she had on my life that day.

I now wholeheartedly believe that no matter the problem suicide is never the answer. Everything is “figureoutable” and good times will come again.

If you have been affected by this story, please reach out to someone for a chat. Lifeline provides 24 x 7 support on 13 11 14 or at Lifeline Chat.

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Donna Thistlethwaite is a Brisbane-based speaker and trainer specialising in mental health and resilience. She is an accredited Mental Health First Aid Instructor and Resilience at Work Facilitator with a passion for suicide prevention and for helping individuals, teams and organisations to THRIVE. You can find out about her next Mental Health First Aid courses here.

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