Simon Parke: Different paths to suicide

13 February 2008

WE HAVE all sat in meetings, slowly losing the will to live. But on leaving, we chose not to shoot ourselves. Why the change of mind?

Garry Weddell shot himself. As reported recently, this ex-policeman had been accused of murdering his wife. His first two applications for bail were turned down, but six months after his third application was granted, he killed his mother-in-law and then himself. The bail judge said it had been a “borderline decision”. Yet a length of aerial cable had been found hidden in one of Mr Weddell’s socks while he was on remand, and he also told police he wanted to “go to sleep” — so the clues were there.

But the psychiatrist advising on the case, experienced in these things, saw before him a professional man, who was not considered a risk. Mr Weddell had explained the aerial cable as nothing more than a means of entertaining himself while he sat in his cell. Asked what he felt now, the psychiatrist said: “I am simply shocked.”

To kill someone before immediately killing yourself is a meaningless and spiteful act, and can only add strength to the accusations already made against Mr Weddell. His suicide, therefore, will probably evoke little sympathy. But what of others who have reached a similar decision — but walked a very different path to get there?

As a recent report reveals, there is a bleak equality to suicide: it seems to favour neither rich nor poor. Across 17 nations studied, of high, middle, and low income, money was not an issue, it seems, when people chose to end it all. The only difference discerned was that in richer countries depression was the most significant cause, while in poorer countries impulse disorders — the inability to control destructive urges — were more prevalent.

As for gender, women are more likely to have suicidal thoughts, but men are more likely to act on them.

Most of the suicides I have attended have been hangings, and my first thought has always been for the one who finds the body. Life is hard enough without finding your son or father hanging on the end of a rope; and it is a long and sometimes impossible road back to happiness from that, as many will testify. There is a degree of selfishness about suicide — a selfishness that counts others as nothing, in order to make its stand.

But, of course, despair is selfish, and only despair brings a human to that point. When emotional night descends, and you possess no inner light with which to proceed; when, truly, you are the fox at the end of its run, with the dogs howling and nowhere to turn — you tend to become selfish in your decisions.

It is those who are left behind who must find the light that you could not.

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