Thursday of this week – September 10 – was marked as World Suicide Prevention Day, and a very good cause this is. The prevention of suicide is heart-breakingly necessary, as anyone who has lost someone they loved in this way knows.
The fact that families often cling to the view that a tragic death was accidental, rather than suicide, is itself witness to the hurt, distress and emotional torment of those bereaved by suicide.
Up until 2017, Ireland had one of the highest rates of youth suicide in the EU – fourth after the Baltic state of Lithuania, Finland and Estonia. Thankfully, last year, Ireland’s suicide rate dropped, which indicates that awareness of, and campaigning against, suicide can help prevent it.
But the isolation and depression caused by Covid-19 lockdown conditions could well be a prompt that increases the conditions for suicide and self-harm.
In Britain, suicide among young women – those under 24 years of age – has doubled over the last ten years. Social media, which can increase anxiety, has taken some of the blame.
The propaganda that advances death…inevitably gets to vulnerable young people”
Yet there is, surely, a contradiction between the excellent campaigns to prevent suicide, and the dubious publicity for assisted suicide that promotes death as a ‘choice’. This is sometimes flagged with the euphemism ‘death with dignity’.
There are difficult cases where people with a terminal illness want to be spared the last phases of their illness, and this surely calls for understanding and compassion.
But the propaganda that advances death as just another form of autonomous ‘control’ and personal ‘choice’ inevitably gets to vulnerable young people. It promotes the very idea of suicide as a solution to problems.
We are urged to prevent suicide by the International Association for Suicide Prevention: indeed so. Prevention not promotion.
My son once thought of writing a book called Imaginary Irishmen (and women, presumably): renowned individuals who identified themselves as Irish while not having a drop of Irish blood.
The actor Michéal MacLiammóir was an example – born Alfred Willmore in East London he turned himself into an imaginary Corkonian, with an invented Cork accent. Peter O’Toole was another. Peter always claimed to be from Connemara – actually, he was from Leeds.
Maud Gonne MacBride was the daughter of an English colonel and the family connection with Ireland was tenuous. The writer Patrick O’Brian, author of the Master and Commander novels always allowed it to be supposed he was Irish – but the link with Ireland was remote.
Well, what harm? If some people feel it is more romantic to reinvent themselves as Irish, isn’t that a compliment? And MacLiammóir, who mastered the Irish language brilliantly certainly deserved to be honoured as Irish.
But identifying with a nation or tradition which isn’t quite in the DNA is now called ‘cultural appropriation’, or even racism.
An American academic, Jessica Krug [pictured], is in terrible trouble for claiming, over a number of years, that she was essentially a black woman – when in fact she’s a white Jewish girl from Kansas.
She’s now been cancelled from her teaching posts and has had to grovel apologies for insulting people of colour with her pretence.
Maybe she shouldn’t have carried on the charade, but you could look at it another way: isn’t it a positive thing if people want to be considered black? Isn’t it better than the bad old days in the Southern States where ‘one drop’ of negro blood was a stigma – the narrative in the musical Showboat?
The Irish attitude of welcoming ‘imaginary Irishmen’ strikes me as both kinder and more optimistic.
No masking the Church’s opportunity
Face masks are now appearing in a thousand different designs, shapes and sizes, costing anything from a fancy designer price to a budget couple of euros.
The variety in texture as well as design is remarkable. I have a face-mask which feels like silk, and another which feels as though I’m slowing being garrotted.
I’ve already purchased a considerable range, in an effort to get comfortable with what some critics of the mask movement call a ‘muzzle’. (My GP has also recommended a face shield, which he says is better for anyone with a pulmonary condition – it allows more breathing-space. So I have one of those too, costing around a tenner.)
The proliferation of masks is a prime example of capitalism’s opportunism and nimbleness. Capitalism will always see where there is a buck to be made, and will grasp the opportunity to benefit from a new market.
Yet maybe it’s something the Church could learn from: where there is an opportunity to evangelise – do it! Seize the chance and don’t hang back! After all, the New Testament counsels us to be gentle as doves, but wise as serpents.
Those who are merchandising designer masks certainly know how to alert us to healthcare and social responsibility, while charging €35 for a small but prettily-made piece of cloth!