Unanswered Questions and Mental Health


imageYesterday we went to a memorial function for a friend whose daughter suicided, Sam was 36. These are always very troubling occasions with many tears and many more unanswered questions. We went to a local restaurant/bar which was a favourite for Sam and many friends came, the place was flooded with empathy and love.

Sam left behind our friend Barb her Mum, and three siblings. We all gathered amongst nibbles and drinks to remember Sam and support Barb. Sam was an amazingly talented young woman; highly intelligent, musical genius and philosophical. After the lighting of candles each sibling and Barb spoke with blunt and frank, loving comments about the tension-love of holding someone with mental illness in care. They spoke about how hard it was to stay connected and talk.

Sam had not been well for some time and this worsened after institutionalization in ‘the system’. Barb and siblings were extremely critical of ‘the system’ and indeed of science that came in for a huge hit. The attacked a kind of science that turns a human into an object for projection of DSMV5 theories and the yo-yo dynamics of the human shuffle. There was a lot of talk about Sam not being Sam, but rather the outcome of a system that commodifies, turns people into ‘patients’ and ‘clients’, medicates and marginalizes.

As Barb and others spoke they personified the mental illness and spoke about how hard it was to love Sam for all that the mental illness projected. It reminded me very much of how my own Mum deteriorated in dementia before her death. Then when death came we were not burying the Mum I knew, she had died 10 years earlier. Similarly, this eulogy for Sam. It is testimony to the resilience of this family for what this mental health had put them through over many years.

As we all gathered it is amazing how help was sought in all the resources of poetics and semiotics. No-one was interested in diagnosis, simplistic aphorisms, blaming or projections. When you are in the reality of such occasions dumb down nonsense like zero, ‘resilience engineering’ and ‘dumb ways to die’ look disgusting, sound sick and smell putrid.

As we held hands and hugged, people were interested in matters of the heart and soul, matters of hope and love. There was much music, poetry and symbolism that connected with people who all had similar unanswered questions. It is only in such poetics that we can meet the unanswered questions that comprise the reality of fallibility.

The time together concluded with the singing of a song which spoke volumes for what Barb and the kids wanted to say. As the rhythm and melody of this Cranberries song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEaxoSMUgXI) resonated through each person we knew, not answers to questions but the heart of Barb and kids and the pain of suicide.

This is the mirror we need to hold to mental health, the helplessness of the helpless in the face of no answer. It is in no answer that we find the faith of others and mutuality in fallibility that energizes us to resilience and helping. The best way to conclude this blog is with the lyrics of the Cranberries song.

There’s no Need to Argue Anymore

There’s no need to argue anymore.
I gave all I could, but it left me so sore.
And the thing that makes me mad,
Is the one thing that I had,
I knew, I knew,
I’d lose you.
You’ll always be special to me,
Special to me, to me.
And I remember all the things we once shared,
Watching T.V. movies on the living room armchair.
But they say it will work out fine.
Was it all a waste of time.
‘Cause I knew, I knew,
I’d lose you.
You’ll always be special to me,
Special to me, to me.
Will I forget in time, ah,
You said I was on your mind?
There’s no need to argue,
No need to argue anymore.
There’s no need to argue anymore.

If you need support, understanding and care re mental health you can call Lifeline; 131114 or https://www.lifeline.org.au/

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

3 Replies to “Unanswered Questions and Mental Health”

  1. Unquestioned Answers….

    Thanks for sharing the story Rob.

    In my relatively short time of working with people who have experiences of suicide, it is a common theme that sharing stories, perhaps as a way of ‘being’ together with others, is important and helpful; especially when faced with this confronting example of our fallibility as humans.

    I agree that there are many unanswered questions and everyone seems to come to such conversations with them.

    On reflection of both your story and of those shared with me by many others, I wonder also, whether there are many ‘unquestioned answers’?

    Perhaps this contributes to the institutionalization in ‘the system’ that you describe? When the system goes unquestioned, how does this impact on those who seek help (as well as those who don’t)?

    One thing I’ve learned over the past 7+ years is to be alert to simplistic answers to complex, multi-faceted and layered challenges and, questions. Suicide being one of these.

    For example, I hear and read regularly, people suggesting or insinuating that the reason a person ‘decided’ (the most commonly sited definition of suicide is; “the deliberate act of taking ones own life”) to take their own life was simply because they were mentally ill, or because they were severely depressed, or because they were in incredible pain or some other feeling that they could no longer live with. I accept that these can, and will, be factors in suicide.

    It stands out to me though that a person making such claims seeks a simplistic understanding of suicide; although this not a problem that a person experiences on their own.

    For it also stands out to me that as a society we crave simplistic, unequivocal and clear answers, even when we know the challenges are not not clear and simple, as it is with suicide. It’s almost impossible to resist though in our modern culture, so seduced by individualistic, reductionist and instant answers and responses.

    Perhaps this is why we are easily drawn to ‘suicide prevention’?

    It’s as if we can make a clear and simple diagnosis, attach a label and off we go, because it makes it so much easier to process people through the system once they’re labelled.

    With this at play, is it any surprise then that “Sam was not Sam”, after being churned about in a system fixated on reducing people to a label in order to make it easier to (create an illusion of a) fix. It sounds like the pain her family are experiencing has only been amplified, rather than supported by the system, and all the expectations that it creates. Sad indeed.

    We know though that there are many and interrelated factors, some; biological, psychological, social-psychological, societal, historical, political, time and/or place-related, situational or circumstantial, etc… that when combined together, (may) contribute to suicide.

    The pain of Sam’s family and friends will no doubt continue, as will the questions. How can they not, unless of course there is faith…. another challenge in our modern society.

    Maybe paradoxically, the only way toward ‘suicide prevention’ is to focus less on answers to unanswerable questions as you note; while at the same time challenging some of those ‘unquestioned answers’?


    Rob Sams

    1. Hi Rob, thanks for your response, yes unquestioned answers indeed, so true. and in the face of much ‘orthodox’ deliberations on these matters any questioning is demonized. In many ways the suicide prevention industry reminds me of the safety industry – head in sand simplistic aphorisms and fear of critical thinking. Last thing to chat about would be wicked problems.
      When my daughter came in the kitchen yesterday she saw the program given out at the ceremony for Sam, just a picture, date of birth and artwork of roses. She said: ‘whose that?’ and I told her the story. My daughters simple response was: ‘she’s where she wants to be’.
      When I was in my 20s a mate suicided after years and years of torment and struggle, he gaslighted people, upset anyone close, self-harmed, pushed people away in so many ways, it was near impossible to get close, love or talk to him. Its so hard for humans to persevere in the face of endless strategies of self loathing and rejection. … and we have no time for the energy it requires to hold on to such people.
      One thing I do know is that ‘dumb ways to die’ is the most offensive rhetoric I’ve ever heard and Safety loves it.

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