I have never been much of Sinead O’Connor fan. Of course, I have nothing against O’Connor — she is beautiful woman, a beautiful person, a beautiful performer, and her voice is beyond compare — it is just that her rise to stardom was a bit before my time.
She was (and is) the voice of a different generation.
But lately, I have been watching O’Connor closely. So closely, I cannot turn away. Why? Well, because she is hurting. Because she is struggling — and doing so very personally and very publicly.
She is showing us not only the tears in her eyes and the pain in her heart, but the difficult reality of life with mental illness.
Specifically, she used Facebook Live to talk about the suicidal thoughts, feelings, and ideations she was experiencing. And while the support she has received appears to be overwhelmingly positive (at least initially, at least at first glance) many have questioned the singer’s intentions.
“She is sick.”
“She is dramatic.”
“She is an attention whore and an emotional manipulator … she is a drama queen.”
And make no mistake: These comments suck. Plain and simple, they suck. They are cold, cruel, and full of both judgment and hate. But despite the malice behind them and the ill-intentions with which they were made, these commenters did get one thing right: O’Connor does want attention. Your attention. But she also wants your help. She just doesn’t know where to turn.
She doesn’t know how to ask — and I would know. As someone who has survived suicide (and who still struggles with occasional ideations) I understand.
You see, when you are suicidal, you feel a lot of things: Sometimes you are overwhelmed by feelings and other times you are void of them. You are drained, empty, and numb. Completely numb. You are confused because, logically and “on paper,” life may seem to be good.
It may look good. Hell, everything may be better than good — it may be great — but inside things seem hopeless. You feel helpless. Your situation has never been more dire or more desperate.
And no matter where your family is — whether they are close or distant, near or far — you feel like a burden. You feel like a bother, and you believe they would be better off without you.
You believe the whole world would be better off without you, and so you shut down and shut up.
You do not reach out for help. (Well, at least that’s how I was. That’s how I am.)
But O’Connor is doing things differently. Very differently. I mean, sure, Facebook Live may seem unconventional, but it doesn’t matter where she is having this conversation — what matters is what she is saying. And, IMO, she is crying out. She is reaching out. She is asking for help. Yet despite doing everything she can and should do to help herself, she is being met with judgment. She is being humiliated and shamed, and that is not OK.
The way we talk about suicide is not OK. Because the truth is, right now, we only talk about suicide “after the fact,” i.e., we only talk about suicide after a singer, a celebrity, a family member or friend loses their battle — and their life. But why? Well, because suicide is painful. It is scary, and it is hard to talk about.
Many of us don’t know what to do or say or how we can help. But it NEEDS to be talked about — because suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for adults between 15 and 64.
Because one person dies by suicide every 12.3 minutes.
Of course, I know what you may be thinking: How will talking about suicide help? How will speaking out about suicide prevent future attempts? How will it save lives? Well, because in speaking out, we destroy the stigma. In speaking up, we are able to take control of the uncontrollable. And our words — our collective voices — can make a difference. If suicide becomes a regular part of our vocabulary, it loses some of its secrecy. It loses some of its shame. And that matters, because people in crisis — like O’Connor — need to feel comfortable reaching out, without fear of being judged or deemed crazy.
So let’s listen to the living. Let’s help the living, and let’s sit down, buckle down, and get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Let’s start talking about suicide.