There is an epidemic in our beautiful little country. New Zealand, despite its idyllic status, has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the OECD. Last year, 668 Kiwis from our small population took their own lives.
I find this very disturbing, because the suffering is not restricted to those 668 people. It extends out to affect family, friends, schools, workplaces, and often the whole community.
I can understand depression, having experienced it myself. I can understand feeling like perhaps you’d be doing the world a favour by not being around. However, the leap to actually taking your own life seems immense to me, and I can barely imagine what it would take to push someone to this point.
So I often ponder why we have such significant and increasing issues with suicide and mental illness. I wonder if there is a nutritional cause, or an environmental cause, or if it is simply a reflection of this crazy world we find ourselves in? There are a lot of statistics available and clearly there are some common reasons – bullying, cultural issues, poverty etc – but the death rates continue to rise.
Recently, the surprising suicide of a prominent Kiwi affected me very strongly. There was mention in the news of a charity group that was educating young kids in our schools on this issue.
Feeling sad and helpless, I simply did what I could.
I had written The Little Bullying Book to help others who were being bullied to regain their self-esteem and confidence. Writing the book was one of those things that I couldn’t not do. It would be worth the time and effort if it could stop one person not taking their life, or one person might have a better life because of it.
So I emailed the charity and expressed my grief about the loss of that Kiwi, and offered my book to them for free (in any format they wanted) to distribute to anyone who may find it helpful – no strings attached. I felt elated at the idea of helping more people!
Their response? Yes, we too were shocked by the recent suicide and “keep up the good work”. That was it. I was dumbfounded, and a little deflated to be honest. Did they even read my email? Their response was so unrelated to what I had written.
And then it hit me.
Lifeline and other helplines are currently inundated. They cannot cope with the volume of calls coming through. They are even now developing virtual computerised counsellors to meet the need. So there are increasing numbers of people that are reaching out to be heard, but may not be getting through.
And then we have a suicide charity that is not even able to “listen” to a simple email!
I know that when I feel like someone is not actively listening to me, not hearing what I say, then I clam up very quickly.
I’m not trying to trivialise this issue in any way or apportion blame, but maybe as a society we are just not listening to people anymore? How often do we ask people “how are you?”, but then we don’t even wait for a reply. Does the fact that distressed people are turning to a stranger on the phone instead of friends or family an indicator of how much time and attention we give those close to us? And how effective is it to have people who are not listening teaching our kids to open up?
I’m not saying this will make a difference, but next time you ask someone how they are, look them in the eye and listen to their answer. Take time for people. And look a little deeper. Listening is not just about words.
Maybe you won’t save a life, but maybe you will. Chances are you are going to make that one person feel like they matter and that there are people around them that will listen and care. Have faith that the ripples of your actions in the world will be felt, even if you don’t see their effect.
If everyone in the world did this for just one person today, wouldn’t that make this a wonderful world to live in, and a great day to be alive?