Dignitaries from Ireland, the UK and North America will be attending a dinner in Dublin tonight commemorating the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Given that the agreement helped to resolve the 30 year conflict in Northern Ireland, it’s a worthwhile commemoration indeed. It’s not Irish politics I want to write about though. I’m much more interested in the charitable cause being supported by the dinner in Dublin Castle. The beneficiary of the get-together is 3TS – Turning The Tide of Suicide. Their spokesman, Noel Smyth, spoke eloquently on the radio this afternoon about the stigma and the prevalence of suicide in this country and the initiatives in place to reduce it. It’s a noble aspiration and I wish them the very best in their efforts.
In my view, the task ahead of them is daunting in the extreme. It makes the resolution of the Troubles seem easy in comparison. Irish society is now structured in a way that makes suicide much more likely than ever. We have moved over the past three decades from a communal culture to a highly individualistic one, where only the successful seem worthy of love, respect and acclaim. We live now in a society where a person’s economic contribution is the prime determinant of how society views them. It’s now acceptable to look at those who have had reverses in their lives or who have failed to live up to the standards set for them by others as losers. While this approach may seem good for our economy, it has failed to take into account the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of individuals who feel left behind by it all. Messages of self-worthlessness are reinforced each and every day through their workplaces, the media and perhaps even their friends and families. It’s no wonder therefore that people seek extreme solutions to their problems.
Many modern workplaces are absolutely draconian in the way they manage their staff. The side effect of initatives such as talent management, bell curve assessments and high performance management is a reinforcement of the message that economic value equals self worth. Subliminal messages such as “Failure Is Not an Option” have become part of the modern zeitgeist. This is all very well, but as one gets older, one begins to realise all too painfully that failure is part and parcel of the journey through life.
From a conversation with a medical professional recently, I learned that the number of people taking anti-depressants in this country is staggeringly large. A recent report has shown that suicide has tripled since the 1960’s. It seems to me therefore that we are surfing a massive suicide tidal wave that has yet to fully break.
So what can be done? Well, I’m no specialist, and I appreciate that bad feelings will differ depending on the person, their age and the situations affecting them, but it seems to me that we can go a long way if we work on breaking (or at least lengthening) the link between between perceived economic value and self worth. In addition, anything we can do to destigmatise issues such as depression and suicide will help enormously.