“You aren’t going to do anything silly, are you?”
“Can you promise you won’t do anything stupid?”
A member of staff at my secondary school asked me these questions countless times during my sixth form years.
They weren’t talking about me bunking off lessons, getting into trouble or talking back; they were talking about suicide and self-harm.
Suicide is the leading cause of death for young people – it’s not silly or stupid – it’s despair.
And when those thoughts and feelings were branded stupid and silly – I heard that I myself was stupid and silly.
The language we use when we’re talking about suicide matters.
Phrases such as “committed suicide” hark back to when suicide was a criminal offence; whilst those like I was faced with fail to recognise the distress and torment that self-harm and suicidal thoughts wreak through someone’s mind and life.
It was over a decade ago, and I hope and pray that no-one struggling with thoughts of suicide and self-harm is met with such language, because the fight for life from those depths is hard enough as it is, without the stigma that can stalk it.
Every year, when the 10th September arrives I’m filled with a mixture of the heaviest grief and a flaming hope that thing can change.
Because my experiences with suicide when I was younger, even though I survived them, have marked my heart. And those marks on my heart fan the flame of hope – because I believe that light does win – that suicide is preventable.
I can speak of hope alongside speaking of suicide because I live with suicide as a part of my story and hope as my daily reality.
If there is someone in your life who is struggling, let your words spark hope rather than cause spirals of despair.
Think about the language you’re using, listen to their story before you rush in with answers and imagine with them what the future can look like and hold their hand as you point to it.
The people who made the most difference in my life during those darkest of times, were the ones who believed in a future for me that I could not conceive of. They were persistent in their belief that hope was real, that there was a life for me to live and yet they allowed me to voice the hardest of words.
It is no exaggeration to say that I would not be here without them and the hope they pointed to.
The hope they pointed to was not an abstract “things will get better”, but rooted the One who walked to His own death for our sakes.
That Jesus’ took on our despair and sin, died on the cross and walked out of the grave with His scars remaining, that’s the hope I looked to through my tears.
It’s the hope I live for today.
That we are saved by a Creator God who willingly gave Himself for us, to endure the worst of humanity so that we may experience the glorious closeness of Him.
That we can speak of hope, on a day which highlights despair, is the work of the One who marked the night’s sky with stars and the Saviour’s hands with scars.
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