The recent popularity of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why has started an unprecedented conversation about mental health and suicide in pop culture.
As a result, however, we have one particular narrative of suicide sitting front and centre – one that paints the act as the ultimate form of revenge, and focuses on the apparently tangible ‘reasons’ that lead a person to choose to end their life.
But earlier this year on the ABC, a particularly powerful (and timely) episode of You Can’t Ask That aired.
The show, which was then in its second season, aims to lift the lid on difficult conversations by asking misunderstood Australians the questions we’ve always wanted to ask. The questions are anonymous – and are therefore posed without the reverent, politically correct filter we would usually adopt.
The demographic for this particular episode is suicide-attempt survivors, and they’re asked everything from ‘why are you still alive?’ to ‘do you think what you did was selfish?’
Many individuals describe the method by which they attempted suicide – a topic usually avoided at all costs, due to ‘suicide contagion’ research that suggests information about method leads to copy cat behaviour.
Listen: Jacqui Lambie speaks to Mia Freedman about her suicide attempt. Post continues after audio.
But the entire point of You Can’t Ask That is to not shy away from topics that are hard or awkward or problematic. And in wholeheartedly committing to this approach, the show offers a raw, real and deeply emotional perspective on what it means to attempt suicide.
When the eight people are asked why they attempted suicide, their responses are exceptionally diverse.
“When you get to that absolute low point, your brain makes you think certain things that aren’t quite rational,” says one woman.
“There was no other way out in my head,” says another man.
There does, however, seem to be some cases where people can identify a ‘reason’ for their decision. One man, named Bill, says that when he was a kid, he was involved in a shooting accident on a farm. He accidentally shot his best friend. Bill says the only way he felt he could make up for his friend’s death was to die himself.