Is there Room For Blame or Guilt in Suicide?
First Published 19th February
It’s been impossible to escape some emotional triggers this week as the desperately sad news of beautiful Caroline Flack has shaken us all; to see such a vibrant and vivacious young soul, ironically so full of life, so suddenly not living at all. The parallels with Michael so obvious. Not just to me but to all my friends who checked in on me just to see if I was okay.
I feel fortunate that a last minute twist of fate meant I wasn’t alone when the news broke. I was at my friends house. It was one of those complete disbelief moments. Surely not? Check online. Again. And again. And the the reality that it really is true. And then how quickly we jump from feelings of utter shock and sadness, to deep feelings of anger and blame. Myself included as I lashed out at the brutality of how hounded that poor girl must have felt; every wrong move magnified and berated by the tabloid press. It’s a life I cannot begin to imagine and one that must take its toll on the emotional well-being of anyone in the public eye.
And I wasn’t alone in looking for someone or something to blame. Then the irony of social media hounding everyone who’s ever had a bad word to say about Caroline, somehow searching for some kind of cause and effect. Blame. The CPS to blame? The Police? The tabloids? Twitter? Her management team? Her ex? The list goes on and on.
But what does that really tell us? With suicide it’s all too easy to point the finger in one direction, when in truth it’s probably more likely to be the outcome of many many layers of contributing factors and people over many many months or even years. Some big, some small, but all eating away at the stability of someone’s mental health and in Caroline’s case, her ability to see a way through the final awful pressures she was facing in her life. She could have got through that court case. It would soon have become old news. But that poor girl just couldn’t access that clarity of thought at that time.
There is no question in my mind that the tabloid press in this country and the way they assassinate someone’s character is both deplorable and damaging. And while a complete hypocrite as I suck up the mail online on a daily basis, I would love to see some change in tabloid press conduct. But I also think we really do still need to be mindful of pointing our fingers of blame.
I can all too clearly imagine how those closest to Caroline will be feeling right now. Scrutinising every last conversation, text or significance of a missed call. Sadly I’ve learnt the hard way that feeling guilt is a natural reaction as a survivor of suicide too. It’s a natural overplay of our own significance. The truth - from what I’ve learnt through months of therapy - is that suicide shouldn’t be about guilt or blame; but it is about responsibility. And that responsibility can sadly only ever lie with the person who carried out the act, however hard that is to accept. I mentally fought really hard against this when my psychiatrist talked me through this theory. How can the man I loved more than anything in the world be in any way responsible? He’d lost his life. He was the victim. He’d reached a point where it wasn’t really even a choice. He wasn’t responsible... But slowly I began to realise that every single survivor of suicide is actually a victim too. And that leaves behind heartbreak and devastation but also anger. And I was angry, so angry at what had happened and anger needs somewhere to go. So there it gets directed; outwards at others (with blame) or inwards at ourselves (with guilt).
I guess whichever way we look at it suicide is just all so bloody horrible and complicated. But, just as this Foundation has risen to hopefully help others out of tragedy I hope the goodness that comes out of this devastating news is the stretch of the BEKIND message that is now finding its strength across both written and online media. Her life won’t be in vain. Just as Michael’s won’t be. And we can all look at these two beautiful lives, seemingly so pointlessly over, and take responsibility for our own selves. We can all ask for help if we need it, we can talk about how we feel and we can always be kind.