The Stigma of Suicide
In the Asian community, the man is seen as the head of the household. So much is expected of him from the instant he takes on the responsibility to provide for his family.
My father was a proud and gentle man who always tried to do his best for those closest to him. My father was a good man. He was not a criminal; he did not commit a crime. He did not 'commit' suicide, but my father, Mohinder Singh Dhindsa, did die by suicide on March 1st 2006, resulting from a mental illness that had corrupted his mind thus silencing him forever. It also silenced many more around him who were also deeply affected by his death
Suicide stops people talking. Whether it is the person who has just taken their own life or the loved ones bereaved and left behind to pick up the pieces. The lack of engagement with the bereaved is a serious problem in our community due to the apparent fear of upsetting close family or just not being able to approach the subject or not knowing what to say.
Another factor in this is the issue of shame and dishonour within cultural groups. All these factors further diminish the good memories of the loved one who has passed on, resulting in a paradox in which as they are no longer talked about – they could possibly be forgotten in time forever.
Suicide stops people in their tracks. On March 1st 2006 that was definitely the case for me. It took me a long while to finally get back on track. An uncertain journey that eventually saw me on the straight and narrow, almost nine years later which was developed upon hearing about what led to the death of Robin Williams. The man who set me free and provided me with a form of closure and an acceptance to understand. This then allowed me to try to do my utmost best to help others who have also travelled a similar path.
But before that life affirming revelation I chose to open up to myself first and foremost. Immediately after my father’s death, I knew that I could never allow my memories of him to be lost in time. Therefore I decided to write down all the feelings and memories I still had of him in my life, up to that point. The memories I still retained within my mind took me to places only I could find and recall within the deepest corners of my mind. They had to be written down for posterity. The memories needed to be kept safe from the fear of one day losing them altogether should my own mind also be corrupted in the same manner as my father’s.
It was difficult to talk to anyone at the time; a cloak of silence seemed to have masked all attempts to understand why my father’s death occurred. Religion mixed with custom soaked, in culture. Suicide was taboo, a stigma to be avoided at all cost.
Eventually I began to seek some professional help. Thankfully, I was referred to a Mental Health Therapist who helped me set foot onto the road to happiness. A person who listened without prejudice, unblemished by society’s taboo.
Pain was the motivator for my change. An opportunity to question my life and move on. There had to be no time to stop and contemplate the darkness. I needed to be distracted. Thankfully writing came to my rescue.
But what of all those who can not see a way out? Who are not able to communicate their thoughts or feelings? No energy to engage? No ability to seek help? How do we help them? Anxiety and depression saps their spirit. Suicide will amputate it.
If the answer to the suffering of our people does not lie in our own community then we need to show these people a different pathway. Secrets can destroy lives. Especially for those that try to convince the world and themselves that they are not suffering. These people need to know there is no need to hide and that there is a way out if they seek to destroy the stigma of mental illness. There are agencies out there that they can talk to who will understand what they are going through. You are not alone. It’s time that our community stopped ignoring the most vulnerable that are obviously in need of help. We need to accept that mental illness corrupts the mind. Let us all take the onus if we see someone in difficulty. We can not leave it in the hands of those that suffer. We need to show them the light. Help is out there if only we can help them to ask for it.
Keep talking. Keep moving on. Keep the faith. Disown the stigma of suicide within our culture.
Incredibly brave writing from Kal and we're sure his father would be so proud of him. Do your own cultural, religious or societal beliefs affect how mental health is viewed? Do you feel is makes it easier or harder to talk about your own mental health because of this? Let us know in the comments below.
You can also order the book Kal wrote all about the death of his father right over here.