A Matter of Life and Death

A young woman sat outside a psychiatrist’s office glaring resentfully at the floor. She wasn’t alone; in fact she was almost dragged there by her friend and housemate who was, perhaps, the only thing stopping her from walking out before she was called in for her appointment.  A housemate who not only drove her there but also paid for the session.

“I’m not sick,” she insisted, “this isn’t illness this is just my own stupidity.” Her friend said nothing but smiled and commented vaguely about the furnishings of the room.

This would be the beginning of a long, exhausting journey which would not only save a young woman’s life but transform it. It was a journey she could not have taken on her own and one in which progress was impossible to track until she had finally emerged at the other end. The woman’s house mate was my dear good friend and the young woman was me.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, a day dedicated to saving lives by helping people to reach out to those suffering mental illness and also a day to help those suffering to seek and find help for themselves.

Suicide Prevention Australia have run a campaign leading up to today called “Vote 1 Suicide Prevention” in reference to the federal elections held last weekend. The campaign was mostly symbolic, while also generating awareness; there was, of course, no Suicide Prevention party running in the Senate.  What I did see instead, however, when I went into the polling booth on Saturday was the newly formed Voluntary Euthanasia Party.

The stark difference between these two messages hit me with a pang. Both are dealing with very similar situations: an adult seeking an end to their pain by seeking death, and both suggested very different methods of support.

Help is available for those who are suffering; Palliative Care Australia, claims that less than half of Australians who would benefit from palliative care receive those services. In a 2005 study 76% of palliative care patients reported experiencing a heightened sense of dignity after undergoing “Dignity Therapy” and 47% reported an increased will to live. Those who felt a greater level of despair before the therapy seemed to experience the greatest rates of improvement.[1]

I would like to see our society prioritising research in this area so that people who are suffering or who are at the end of their life can receive the health care, both physical and mental, they require.

It would be many months before I could see it, let alone be grateful and appreciate it, but my housemate saved my life- she did so without my permission and she did so against my wishes. She did so because she could see a dignity in my life, a dignity which I simply could not see and would not acknowledge. I hope that I could do the same for those in pain or dying who are temporarily unable to see the dignity, not in their death, but in their human life.

[1] Chochinov HM, Hack T, Hassard T, Kristjanson LJ, Mc-Clement S, Harlos M. Dignity therapy: a novel psychotherapeutic intervention for patients near the end of life. Journal of Clinical Oncology 2005; vol. 23 no. 24.

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