Suicidal Ideation, “The Darkness”, and Men’s Mental Health
by Jamie Loyer
Listen to Executive Director Gabriel Nathan read this post aloud:
I have developed an ability to contemplate and ruminate about death for copious amounts of hours daily since I was a child of around eight. I remember my father disclosing to me, in 1993, that he was HIV positive and that it would kill him. This news hit me like a wet fish slapping you across the face on a cold, fresh morning. I was shocked and petrified; no one to talk to and completely isolated. In one chilling instant, I learnt that my job as a male was to protect my mother. I must be strong, stoic, get on with life, and that “life was not made to be fair.” I watched my father fade away and eventually die in 1995.
Speaking to my father for the last time, we shared loving words that reassured the other that we would see one another in heaven and we both held back the tears, because it is not okay for men and boys to cry. Even knowing that my father was on death’s bed, I intuitively knew that I could not shed a tear; that this would be weak, and my first response was to repress my feelings. At the funeral, seeing my father’s coffin, sleeping in his death bed; still no feelings expressed, no one to talk to and complete dissociation. Looking back on these memories, it is no wonder I was suicidal, and diagnosed with major depressive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder at age twenty-one. I woke up in a hospital post a medication overdose—(suicide attempt) and having not eaten for six weeks and lost eight kgs; I had completely lost my drive to live.
Suicidal ideation had turned into an obsession—a twenty-four hour panic attack; an anxiety-provoking reality. I would think of all the horrible things in my life that would make me worthy of not being alive, I would recount all the negative things in my life, all my failures, all my embarrassing moments. Everything, all the lies, all the secrets. I found that my desires and dreams were nightmares and negative dark thoughts. My life had become “The Darkness” and the only way I could think to escape was to end my life. I was in and out of the hospital for a few months, initially in the public service in Adelaide until my mother could afford Private Health, and then over to private care.
Throughout this period of time, I became dependent on hospitals and inpatient stays, I enjoyed the safety of the nurses and care teams. I was completely disabled in the community and overmedicated with a bevy of anti-psychotics, benzos, sleepers, anti-depressants, mood stabilisers, etc. When I left hospital I would soon return unable to remain safe at home, I attempted suicide via medication overdose and was kept in hospital for a two-month admission. This is when things started to change. I took part in an eight-week cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) program. I learnt skills and practical thinking. My psychiatrist took me off all the medication and placed me on one anti-depressant, so that I could focus on the therapy. I learnt that I needed to find resilience and make changes.
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The first thing I did was change my environment; I moved out of Adelaide and went to Melbourne. I found a job, a place to live, and a girlfriend. Never looking back and only focusing on the present and future has helped. Now I work for a Public Health Hospital and am a Peer Support Worker and focus on suicide prevention and intervention. I was married, now divorced, and have two beautiful children and am about to remarry and have two beautiful step-children. I hope my story can show that The Darkness can shift, we can get better and that it is okay to “rely” on the safety of services for a period of time. In fact, that is and should be why they exist. Unfortunately, today we see certain people who “want” support as problematic or dependent. We need to shift this thinking and start realising that people need to be treated with respect and care regardless of their diagnosis or behaviours. Everyone deserves support and everyone can recover and the The Darkness can lift.
To address the stigma of dependency I believe we need to provide more options and diversity of care. In the current public system, we use the GP for initial diagnosis, and the Emergency Department as a gate keeper into mental health services. We don’t utilise community services. If we were to shift the order and focus on addressing and educating the community first, I believe that the community would be able to have insight into mental health and be able to support those with mental health challenges. This could be achieved through using a step-up service rather than step down. An example would be to establish community mental health hubs/drop-in centres in which people could access 24/7 and seek support. This would alleviate the pressure on Emergency Departments and Hospital triage.
As a man growing up with no father or real male role model it is difficult. It is isolating and often confusing as you tend to go through development with a lot of questions and no answers. This ideology of the man being the strong, stoic, hardworking, emotionless leader of the community is something that you will see at any local sporting club, pub, town, school, church everywhere in Australia. On television I am referring to the familiar characters of TV shows like Home and Away, Neighbours, etc… It is really setting up our young generation for failure and feeds into certain issues such as domestic violence, family violence and AOD misuse. How often do men say that they cannot communicate or express their feelings and, hence, use violence or lash out?
CBT could have value for teaching men to open up and communicate. It could also teach young men about how to appropriately think about their choices, actions and hopefully respond appropriately to feelings and express themselves. I would love to see a shift in the way society in Australia talks about men’s health, suicide and how we discuss these topics and eliminate stigma and this hidden pressure that is placed on men by men. Unfortunately, suicidality is a major issue for men in society and the numbers are only increasing. This needs to be addressed today and not tomorrow because, for some, tomorrow will not exist.
If you are in Australia and you are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, please call, text, or chat 13 11 14. In the United States, call, text, or chat 988.