Dr Tom: Life getting on top of you? You need to tell someone
Every day it seems we learn of another suicide. Given that every 40 seconds someone in the world takes their own life, it's not surprising our news feeds – however you get them - are full of bad news. Recently reading about a Brisbane gastroenterologist and father-of-four committing suicide shows what we have known for a long time: It can strike from the shadows at any time and at anyone.
In my experience, there are a number of reasons people commit suicide. Mental illness, depression and burnout can all affect the brain's electrical circuits, which can result in making irrational decisions. An Antarctic storm rages in your head and you can never imagine the sun shining again. But the sun can come out again – if you seek help, get treatment and treat the causes.
One of the main causes can be an excessive workload and a lack of sleep. In my view, other causes of suicide include the loss of a relationship, a business, health and, sometimes, social status.
The wife of the Brisbane doctor wrote an open email stating that she didn't want his suicide to be a secret. The family photos of him with his four children made you feel some of their pain and horror.
Despite the fact both his parents were psychiatrists, he was surrounded by doctors (and was a doctor himself), he still took his own life. His wife writes, although no one had seen it coming, they knew he had been working a lot. She described a very rough weekend of call-outs, and how he had missed his son's birthday party. From reading the article, it suggests the doctor was extremely burnt out and had some financial problems at his practice.
Burnout is when the brain becomes so exhausted, the mind can't take it anymore. You can lose faith in yourself, and everything can become a lot harder. It's the feeling you get when you have no time to do the things you enjoy, feel constantly under pressure, and do not even have the time to properly rest. Self-doubt can rage like the an Antarctic storm and is just as frightening if you have never experienced either.
Doctors and vets have alarmingly high suicide rates, for a number of reasons. Being up constantly in the middle of the night, being so emotionally involved with patients and their lives and death, then having to run a business during the day with financial pressures all take their toll.
The mantra that we need to look after ourselves before we can look after others, has never been truer. We all need help when depression and burnout strike from the shadows. They are just as fatal as heart attacks and cancer, but just as treatable if you have the tools and support to do so.
What seems insurmountable in the dead of night can be solved. There are no problems, only solutions. Accountants can help with the finances; psychologists and doctors with the mind and the brain. Family and friends can offer the reassurance and support needed to navigate through the storm.
Like any storm, it will pass – the wind will drop and the sun will shine again. People can't help if you don't tell them. The first step is to ask for help. We would all rather help than read about another tragic case that could have been prevented and the ongoing hurt it can cause.
Where to get help:The Mental Health Foundation's free Resource and Information Service ph (09) 623 4812 will refer callers to some of the helplines below:
• Lifeline (open 24/7) – 0800 543 354• Depression Helpline (open 24/7) – 0800 111 757• Healthline (open 24/7) – 0800 611 116• Samaritans (open 24/7) – 0800 726 666• Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.• Youthline (open 24/7) – 0800 376 633. You can also text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.• 0800 WHATSUP children's helpline – Phone 0800 9428 787 between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays, and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at whatsup.co.nz.• Kidsline (open 24/7) – 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who ring between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline buddy. These are specially trained teenage telephone counsellors.• Your local Rural Support Trust – 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)• Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) – 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.
Dr Tom Mulholland is an Emergency Department doctor and GP with more than 25 years' experience in New Zealand. He's currently on a mission, tackling health missions around the world.