The “suicide face” does not always correspond to a sorrowful face with tears running down it. A person can seem happy on the outside, can lead an apparently normal and satisfactory life, while hiding inside all the sadness and emptiness carrying the weight of a smiling depression.
Globally, suicide has already become a problem, especially among the very young. Approximately 800,000 people take their own lives each year around the world. For every one of those deaths, there are about 20 more suicide attempts.
In spite of everything, suicide continues to be an invisible and avoided epidemic, often hidden behind an appearance of normalcy and even a smile. For that reason, the suicide prevention organization Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) launched an exhibition on London’s Southbank called “The Last Photo.” In the emotional open-air gallery, it shows smiling photos taken in the last days of people who took their own lives.
Suicide has many faces
Giancarlo Gaglione lost his brother Lanfranco, when he was just 26 years old. Lanfranco was in a seemingly happy relationship, had a successful career and had just completed a triathlon in London when he committed suicide.
That seemingly perfect and happy life “Went against every stereotype you have about a person you think might commit suicide. He hid his emotions so well that no one suspected that he was suffering underneath,” said his brother.
His story repeats itself. Many family and friends are taken by surprise by the suicide of a close and loved person, a person with whom perhaps a few days before they were sharing laughter.
It is very difficult to detect the signs that something is not right. A study carried out by YouGov in collaboration with CALM revealed that only 24% of people believe that someone who has suicidal thoughts can smile and joke. 78% thought that those who have suicidal ideas would not share happy photos on social networks.
However, reality is different. Often the smile is a mask to hide the inner struggles and turmoil before taking their own life. In reality, suicidal behavior can take many forms and does not always match the typical picture of depression.
The story of Paul Nelson, who took his own life at the age of 39, follows that pattern. “Paul was the perfect image of someone you would never imagine him taking his own life: he was happily married, had a beautiful daughter, a perfect home, a successful business, a vacation home, financial security,” his wife said. The photo was taken just a few weeks before Paul took his own life.
Unfortunately, the stereotypes, myths and stigmas that still exist around suicide prevent many of these people from seeking help and receiving the support they need. A third of the people interviewed confessed that they felt too uncomfortable to ask if someone was thinking about suicide. More than half admit that they do not know how to help someone experiencing suicidal ideation.
The ‘The Last Photo’ exhibition is part of a new nationwide campaign in the UK that aims to break down stereotypes surrounding suicide to encourage people to speak more openly about it.
Sophie’s family said that “Her suicide was a complete surprise to all of us, nobody saw it coming. If Sophie had told us how she felt, we would have done our best to help her, but she didn’t give us that chance.”
Instead, “Throughout her life, Sophie was open, happy and extremely sociable. She was very funny and always made you smile. She loved being outdoors. Four days before she died, she had gone mountain biking before going to a party for Christmas.”
It is true that sometimes the very word suicide paralyzes us and that we do not always know what to do, but the most important thing is to understand that anyone could be having suicidal ideas, even those who seem happy.
In 2020, there were 3,941 suicides in Spain, the highest figure since data began to be compiled, in 1906. That means that exactly 11 people took their own lives every day, exactly one suicide every two hours and 15 minutes. Although perhaps the most alarming thing is that the suicide rate has practically doubled among children and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 14, whose mental health has been severely tested during the pandemic.
It is important to break the veil of silence surrounding this issue in order to support and help people that are thinking about suicide. If we have preconceived ideas about how someone with suicidal thoughts should look or behave, it is more difficult for us to see it coming and do something to save a life. This exhibition is a necessary reminder of a problem that exists and will not disappear because society looks the other way.
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