« Back to "Practice blog"

Care warning: suicide, suicide ideation, domestic abuse, sexual violence

On this ‘World Suicide Prevention Day’ I would like to start the conversation about how prevalent suicide and suicidal ideation is among victims of domestic abuse.  Here is my story:

As a child my home life was dominated by domestic violence.  Not only did I witness my father being extremely controlling and abusive towards my mother, but I too was also a direct victim of his abuse.  Sadly, my abuse wasn’t limited to just within the family home and I found myself being sexually abused by multiple men.

The sheer amount of constant and never-ending abuse led me to believe that the only way to end the on-going trauma was simply not to be alive anymore.  Suicide was the only viable option I could see to put a stop to the abuse.  At the age of 17 I took an overdose; I survived, albeit being very physically ill from the effects. I can still clearly remember my father’s angry words echoing in the corridor outside my hospital room as he yelled at the doctors, “my daughter is so useless she can’t even kill herself correctly”.  The medical staff strongly suspected I was being abused and dutifully notified the authorities however, they simply asked my father if he was abusing me, and when he naturally denied any abuse was occurring, I was discharged from hospital and sent right back home where the abuse intensified as punishment for my suicide attempt.

A year later I met the man who would go on to become my husband.  He was quite a few years older than me, and although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, he was fully aware of my vulnerability and took advantage of it.  By age 19 I realised I had simply swapped one abusive situation for another, and once again, the overwhelming desire to end my life to put a stop to the abuse resulted in another suicide attempt.  Sadly, my abuser found me just after taking another overdose.  Knowing I had previously been treated in hospital for a prior overdose, he was wary of a pattern being detected.  He therefore drove me to a different hospital outside of our local area where medical staff would not have access to my medical records.  My abuser convinced medical staff that this suicide attempt was as a result of childhood trauma and that I was not at risk of further harm.  He promised the doctors that he would look after me and make sure I accessed psychiatric help. Once again, I was discharged home into the arms of my abuser.

Some 20 years later the abuse had become unbearable.  By this stage my husband had involved other men in my abuse.  My abusers taunted me, laughing, and saying if I ever tried to seek help or disclose what was happening in our home, no one would believe me because of my previous suicide attempts. “No one will believe a mad woman over us” is what they said whilst carrying out their sexual assaults.  They went as far as goading me to take my own life because it wasn’t worth living.  They even offered to help me kill myself.  I knew I couldn’t take it anymore and finally took the step to reach out for help. 

As soon as the statutory agencies became involved, the first question professionals asked my abuser was: “does she have a history of mental illness”.  He was all too willing to share my previous suicide attempts and my suicidal ideation.  Words such as “unstable; disturbed; difficult; insane; crazy; sick in the head; she’s not quite right upstairs” were either said in multi-agency meetings or written in case notes.  I was less than a human being.  My suicide attempts were used to discredit me and prove that I was lying about the abuse which had occurred.  Not once did any professional involved in my case ask me why I had attempted to end my life or view my attempted suicides as an escape from all the abuse.

Unfortunately, disclosing the abuse did not mean an end to my suicide attempts.  Sadly, the lack of a coordinated and effective response by statutory agencies led to horrific failings within the system, which put our lives at greater risk and became so distressing and overwhelming that I simply couldn’t cope.  Again, I saw only one option to end the repeated and on-going trauma.  This time my suicide was prevented when a member of the public phoned police.  I was removed from the scene and taken for a mental health assessment where I was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), severe depression and severe anxiety as a direct result of all the abuse I have endured.  Ironically, I have been unable to access NHS mental health treatment as my NHS Mental Health Trust only offer one specific type of treatment for PTSD and the Psychiatrist determined that this type of treatment was unsuitable for me because my risk of suicide is too severe.  I find it inconceivable that someone who is considered to be at such high risk of suicide is then unable to access treatment to reduce that risk, because their risk of suicide is too severe.  There are alternative treatments available however they are not offered by my local NHS Mental Health Trust, and I do not have the finances to access them privately.  

I hope this small insight into my story of suicide can help start the conversation and be the catalyst to raising awareness among professionals:

  • to have the curiosity and bravery to ask that all important question when they are faced with a victim of domestic abuse who has attempted suicide: why
  • An awareness and understanding that victims of domestic abuse will often see suicide as the only available option or solution to stopping the abuse. 
  • The realisation that abusers will sometimes encourage victims to attempt suicide and use failed or unsuccessful attempts to paint their victims as “mentally unstable or disturbed”.
  • Finally, we need to ensure that no barrier is placed in the way of victims accessing treatment and support from NHS Mental Health Trusts.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog today.

 

If you need to talk right now

Whatever you're going through, there are people you can talk to any time. You can:

These services are for anyone who's struggling.

They won't judge you.

They're free, they're anonymous, and they're always open.

 

If you are experiencing domestic abuse, are worried about a friend/family member, or would like more information about spotting the signs of abuse, immediate help is available. Click here for details.