Sunday, 31 January 2010

Suicide of an Innocent

I wasn’t going to post this and in fact had deleted it before it was scheduled to post last week.  It is uncharacteristic for this blog as it is drawn straight from the vault of my personal experiences.  I’d like to thank Cher at Ask Cherlock for having the courage to speak out about her ssues and for inspiring me to do so too.

Seven years ago today, my friend Angela committed suicide.  To me, the lowest point about that whole time was that I was not surprised and I did not blame her.  There were so many issues at play but I very much knew that something like that was going to happen and yet I had felt powerless to stop it.

"Self Portrait 2" originally uploaded by Skaletto

During my studies in psychology, I learned a couple of very important things.  The first is that not all depressed people are suicidal.  In fact, most of the planning and organising that goes into a suicide is simply beyond the capabilities of a depressed person.  One of the most dangerous times is when a person is emerging from a state of deep depression. 

Many people think instinctively that you should never challenge a depressed person or ask them if they are thinking of suicide.  That is not true.  It won’t put the thought into their head if it wasn’t there already but a person will inevitably falter and not be able to lie convincingly if they have been thinking of it.  Ask them, “are you thinking of hurting yourself?”.  I asked Angela many times and she did not answer, several times.

I knew.

There are lists all over the web about what to say and what not to say to depressed people.  I really liked this list over at Wing of Madness: When Someone You Know Is Depressed.  I love the advice in that list and I especially love the part about “take care of yourself”  Yes, it is good for a depressed person to have positive role models.

I feel that there were no positive role models in Angela’s life but I felt utterly powerless to help her. One of the reasons was that I was actually friends with Angela through her husband and it was him and her family that were the problem.

Her mother had berated and belittled her for Angela’s whole life.  Many people suggested that she got married at such the young age of 21 just to get out of home.  I wouldn’t be surprised.  Angela’s father seemed to think that marriage was all she was good for anyway, despite the fact that she had gone to college and was qualified in her profession.

We all knew how depressed she was and that she was not responding to medication.  Then over Christmas, the staunchly religious and suicidally depressed Angela was left at home alone while her husband was called away on business.  Her story didn’t end there but the seeds of hopelessness and despair germinated. 

The excellent site Metanoia has a wonderful resource to visit if you are feeling depressed called Suicide and it is stated there that "Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain."

I believe that at Christmas time, Angela’s pain hit new depths and I don’t think she ever recovered from it.

Angela’s friends all tried to invite her over and keep her company over the festive season but to no avail.  In mid-January rumours reached Angela that her husband was having an affair.  This was something he denied vehemently at the time but he is now married to the woman in question so I will let you make up your own minds.

Many South Africans carry guns and the law is that you must safely stow your gun away in a gun safe at the end of the day.  Angela’s husband did not.  They fought about the rumour and she quietly went into the other room, picked up her husband’s gun and shot herself in the head. 

It has occurred to me many times in writing this that he might read it.  I have changed the names and kept private an identifying factors but the story is still recognisable.  I cannot deny that I feel Angela’s death could have been avoided and that many people failed her.  At the end of the day though, no one pulled that trigger but Angela.  The lessons to be learned are clear:

  1. Do not think that you can endlessly berate, belittle or take a depressed person for a fool.  All people have breaking points.
  2. Do not take lightly a person’s depression and know that certain times of the year are worse for depressed people than others.  No depressed person should be left alone at Christmas or other major holidays.  This goes for anniversaries and birthdays too.
  3. Do not keep guns in the house of a depressed person.  If you have to, make sure it is stowed securely the minute you get home and make sure they do not know how to access the safe.
  4. Depressed people are more likely to be paranoid and confused.  Deal with any conflict reasonably and quickly.  Call in a neighbour or family friend if necessary.
  5. Modern medicine works more often than it doesn’t.  I know we don’t like to believe it but anti-depressants work for more people than they don’t work for.  If a person is not responding positively within 6 to 12 weeks, try something else.
  6. Challenge a depressed person and arrange that they are never left alone whilst in a suicidal mood or whilst they cannot deny that they intend to harm themselves*.

Another consideration while writing this was Why?  Why am I writing this and sharing this with the world?  There are a couple of reasons:

  1. People do not understand the nature of mental disorders.  A very controversial example has been the bipolar man that was put to death in China recently.  My own mother, who has seen schizophrenia and bipolar disorder with her own eyes and who studied undergraduate psychology said that if he was well enough to travel, he was well enough to stand accountable for his actions.  I disagreed and not in a very respectful way either.  I will write more on this at a later stage.
  2. In South Africa, there are laws to prevent discrimination against people.  Full stop.  In the UK, it is just dandy, in fact the order of the day, to prevent the  mentally ill from getting jobs, fostering or adopting children or taking jury duty.  I have been shocked and appalled by how the English get away with discrimination here.
  3. That is not okay and I hope to finally have the courage to discuss all of these issues this year.  Mental health issues will therefore feature regularly on this blog in the future.

Do take the time to read the Samaritans’ Myths About Suicide.  There is so much we don’t understand about suicide and yet are we always that surprised when it happens?  Not always…

* Yes, I know, it is not always that easy and suicidal people are often incredibly resourceful and manipulative. Plus, there is the whole issue of whether it is ethical to force anything on a mentally ill person. If possible, speak to the person once the episode is over though and they may tell you that they do not in fact want to die. It is possible then to agree on a plan of action for future episodes.


Thursday, 28 January 2010

Invisible Children: Legacy Tour

It is at times like this that I wish (more than usual) that I lived in the US. 

They are no longer children but they are no longer invisible: former child soldiers, abductees, street children and orphans will be touring the US from February 17, 2010 and May 7, 2010 sharing their experiences and inspiration to audiences around the country.

Visit the Invisible Children website to learn more or download the PDF file of their proposed Spring 2010 Tour Routes and Dates.


Wednesday, 27 January 2010

My interview on Blazing Minds

Blazing Minds

Karen from Blazing Minds is one of my newest blogging pals and has a wonderfully eclectic blog featuring a 365 photo a day project; interviews with both other bloggers and musicians; competitions and technological tips and tricks.  Her Weekly Roundup and Saturday Six features are really popular too.

Tomorrow, Karen will be featuring an interview with yours truly about this blog so why don’t you pop over and share some comment love with her?


Thursday, 21 January 2010

Genocide Deniers


Last week a genocide denier commented on my blog and effectively denied that the Srebrenica massacre had occurred.  Actually, a couple of years ago before the mass graves were discovered, they denied there had been a massacre at all.  They claimed that the 8,000 men and boys were cowards who had cleverly fled town to avoid the conflict.  Unfortunately, in their expression of grief, the families and survivors were unable to accept that their loved ones were dead and so the situation perpetuated until the graves were discovered and unearthed by the UN.

With the discovery of the graves, the tactic of hate had to be altered.  When this person commented, he claimed that the Bosniaks, the Bosnian Muslims, were tired of not getting their own way in the Balkan war and so they orchestrated the massacre to force NATO involvement.  These deniers in fact can’t really make up their minds precisely how to spread their hatred as the links he posted suggest that the Bosniaks were holding Al-Qaeda training camps and therefore, in the name of the War On Terror it is only right and true that 8,000 men and boys were killed at Srebrenica.

That is right – six years before the attacks on the US and the start of the War on Terror, the Serbs magically thought to purge the world of the Al-Qaeda terrorists.  The problem with that kind of hatred is they simply aim to make our blood pressure rise but their arguments are always fundamentally flawed.

I have expressed my revulsion at genocide deniers before in my entry Right and Wrong.  This time I felt quite appalled afterwards as I had replied to the comment and that means that anyone who had previously commented would have received my reply full of fury and vitriol in their inbox.  I feel that I should apologise.  Not for what I said but for the manner in which it was executed.  Calling a commenter “scum of the earth” on your blog is not exactly the way to engender the respect of your readers or encourage further conversation and discourse.  My aim therefore will be to continue doing what I do and to weed these people out and expose their actions until the whole world knows that there is no use in them denying what they have done.


Sunday, 17 January 2010

UK Organisations Aiding Haiti

I feel I need to apologise for my slow response to the Haitian crisis.  I’ve been rather like a hare caught in the beam of a car’s headlights as I’ve watched the true extent of the horror unfold. 

Much of the blogosphere is alive with ways that you can assist the appeal if you are living in the United States but what can we do here in the United Kingdom?


iTunes Red Cross appeal

I learned from the blogger over at Not From Around Here of the brilliant and easy iTunes initiative.  From within iTunes you can simply go to the iTunes Store and donate anywhere from £5 to £100.


TripAdvisor list

I think TripAdvisor deserves kudos and special mention for sending UK residents a special list detailing where they can donate money locally.  I assume they did a tailored list for each country and I think that is great.  Here is the list:


ActionAid -

British Red Cross -

Oxfam -

World Vision -

Save the Children UK -

Action Against Hunger -

Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) -

Merlin  -

Salvation Army  -


South African appeal

The Sowetan newspaper has details of the Salvation Army Southern African region appeal.


US Appeal

Naturally, most people in the blogosphere are not in the UK so in the US you can text 90999 to donate $10 to the American Red Cross or click below to go to the Whitehouse Appeal:

Help for Haiti: Learn What You Can Do


If you don’t live in the UK, South Africa or the US, perhaps you can draw up a list for your own country?  If you don’t have your own blog, I would be happy to post it here.


Monday, 11 January 2010

National Human Trafficking Awareness Day

Slavery Still Exists

Today is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day in the United States.  many people worldwide, like myself, have chosen to draw awareness to this day as slavery and human trafficking is a worldwide problem.

In my travels today, I have come across a great many links that I would like to share with you.

1) Blog: Stop Child Slavery

Link: Make someone aware of human trafficking today

I don’t think Jeff’s efforts have been anaemic.  I think he has an amazing and important blog and recommend that everybody spend some time going through his articles and learning about the spectre of child slavery worldwide.  Jeff is among the growing number of people who makes me want to be a better blogger and activist.

2) Organisation: Polaris Project Action Center

The Polaris website states that slavery is the second largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world.  They remind us that it is happening in our midst and give information on human trafficking and modern-day slavery and they also advise on how to make a direct impact in the lives of victims and survivors.

One of the greatest featured of their website is a Recommended Reading List on the topics of slavery and human trafficking.  I can’t wait to get my hands on some of those books!

3) Twitter list: Demi Moore’s ‘End Slavery’ list

The more I hear about how Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore work to raise awareness about important issues, the more respect I have for them.  I respect all celebrities who take part in social awareness projects an pursuits.

Click on the wonderful sites in Demi Moore’s list and spend the afternoon learning about slavery and reading up on the various topics and issues.

4) Twitter list: Missus Emm’s ‘activism’ list

You can also subscribe to my ever-expanding list of Twitter users promoting activism.  If you’d like to suggest links to me, simply reply to @missus_emm.

5) Organisation: End Slavery Now

The website for End Slavery Now has a very simple format telling people how they can Learn - Tell - Report – Act.

6) Article: 40 Ideas for Action is a fantastic website and Amanda Kloer is an amazing writer. 

40 Ideas for Action on National Human Trafficking Awareness Day: From Facebook to Legislation is a must read article. 

7) My personal tip: Don’t buy pirated DVDs.

If I had to think of one change that any normal person could make it would be to stop buying pirated DVDs. 

The Guardian ran a piece last year titled: Fifth of Britons unknowingly aid child trafficking and the British anti-pirating body F.A.C.T. has also drawn links between human trafficking, the drug trade and pirated DVDs on its news page.  Never, ever, ever buy pirated DVDs and report the crime to the police.  Who knows, you may free that vendor from forced labour too.


Friday, 8 January 2010

FXB International

FXB Rwanda
Image source:

François-Xavier Bagnoud was a helicopter pilot who was involved in several rescue operations and who dedicated his life to providing assistance to others.  He was only 24 when he died during a mission to Mali in 1986 and his mother set up FXB in his name in 1989.

Their aim is to deliver sustainable results for children affected by poverty and aids.  They do this by advocating for their needs and basic human rights and by providing direct support for the communities and people that care for them.

They invest in families and as you will see from the video below, they provide a three-year training programme to assist caregivers in becoming self-sufficient so that they may care for their children.

The video's above are narrated by Susan Saradon. If you visit her Look To The Stars page, you can see that Susan does a lot of charity work. I think that is fantastic.

FXB support us

If you would like to support FXB, you can click on the image above.  You can make once-off or recurring donations or you can help to publicise their efforts.


Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Excellent article on campus rapes

"Sad Silhouette" originally uploaded by Glendali

Link: Rape victims offer advice to today's college women [CNN]

This is a really excellent article that deserves the traffic it is getting on Twitter today. 

“One in five college women will be raped, or experience an attempted rape, before graduation. Less than 5 percent will report these crimes to officials on or off campus, and, when they do, there's a good chance the system will let them down” - CNN

Rape on campuses takes many forms from an acquaintance who puts his desire first and uses force to a group of athletes who repeatedly beat and rape a girl.  It is so easy to forget that rape is rape and no means no and I don’t believe campus rapists should be viewed any differently from those in the “real world”.  An all-star athlete who participates in a rape on campus is as much a predator and danger to society as any of the drug-crazed monsters that hit our newspapers.  A small-minded, insecure man who decides to exert what little power he has over a woman and rapes her is still going to carry that insecurity and lack of power into the workplace and beyond.

What little doubt I had that perhaps some instances are true “misunderstandings” was forever silenced when I read this:

"And if you are a friend of a person who has been assaulted, all I can say is that though it might be hard, please listen and support that person," continued the former student, who said she was "met with a response that I never expected -- laughter and disbelief. Because of that, I kept silent until my attacker assaulted a friend of mine almost a year later."- CNN

All that happens when you are silent or when you let someone get away with a crime like this is more pain, suffering and violence. 

The article examines the need for trained, dedicated personnel on campuses to deal with such assaults and provide support to victims.


Sunday, 3 January 2010

Closing Guantánamo

Guantánamo [Photo: picture-alliance/dpa]

I’ve just watched the BBC 2 programme This World: Closing Guantánamo presented by Michael Portillo.  He interviews a man from the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and asks what he would do if he were president and he freed all of the men from Guantánamo only for one of them to commit an act of terrorism and a huge loss of life to occur.

It seems to be an interesting and logical question at first.  A clever one.  At the end of the show, Portillo asks whether it is possible to fight the fight against terrorism without breaching the concept of “innocent until proven guilty”.  My first reaction was to question whether it is possible without breaching any human rights or civil liberties at all.  I certainly don’t think within my realm of knowledge and experience that it is. 

That is possibly because terrorism (an act where a group of people attempt to achieve their goals by terrorising innocent people) defies logic and reason in every possible way.

So I am the first to admit that I do not have all the answers.

But whatever happened to the respect for the process of law?  Prisoners are being held at Guantánamo without trials and as a South African, I have no qualms in admitting that I think that is one of the most evil things a state can do.

The Western world is committed to due process of law and concepts such as “innocent until proven guilty” and “beyond reasonable doubt” through legislation and practice dating back hundreds of years.  Our fascination with the process of law and the gathering of evidence is demonstrated by our long-standing obsession with the crime and detective genre from Arthur Conan Doyle through Starsky and Hutch and Kojak to the massive explosion of the CSI and Law and Order franchises. 

Surely then our acceptance of the state of affairs at Guantánamo and our acceptance of the impending failure to release of prisoners by the deadline of 22 January 2010 is as devoid of logic and reason and as opposed to our natural interests, traditions and ideals as terrorism itself?

Our biggest tool against chaos is chaos itself.  No wonder we are losing the fight.

© A Passion to Understand

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