The Diary of Dr. Sharon McDonnell

Aged 53 and 3/4

June, 2020

Dear Diary

‘It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.’

                                                                     Irish proverb

I was recently interviewed on Voice of Islam radio station , to talk about male suicide and its impact on those bereaved by suicide.  This was a wonderful opportunity as it enabled me to engage with Muslim people about this taboo issue.

This is the third time the radio station have permitted me to talk about this topic and losing my brother to suicide, on their show.   Engaging with Voice of Islam listeners, enables me to describe the grief responses of those who have lost someone in this way (regardless of religion and culture) and the need for their communities to support them, to help prevent further suicides.  Arguably, this radio station should be commended, as they enable their listeners to learn more about this taboo issue and are potentially helping to reduce stigma and save lives in this hard to reach population.

This positive experience, made me reflect on an interview conducted a couple of years ago, by Unity radio station, which use their station to provide engaging outreach work to their listeners. This is especially important, as their listeners tend to be young people who live in a deprived area of Manchester.  The aim of the two hour Sunday Speak out Show, hosted by Lee Gueller and Jeannie Owens, is to focus on mental health issues and educate and signpost their listeners to key resources.  Each week they focus on a specific topic and invite relevant experts in the field to discuss it.  I was invited this particular week as the show would focus on suicide.  Yes, you heard correctly, a two-hour show discussing suicide.  How many radio stations would dare do that?  I am guessing not many.  Credit to Unity radio for probably being the first to do so. 

The first hour Chris Jefferies from the Samaritans focused on suicide. I was interviewed the second hour (fast forward to 44:23 on the recording) and talked about the implications of being bereaved by suicide.  You might think a two-hour show about suicide, would not be engaging.  Let me tell you, something very special and totally unexpected happened during the show.  It was as though a thread of vulnerability and hope was weaved throughout both interviews.  Talk about tackling a taboo topic head on.  They deserved to be congratulated from the onset. 

As the show commenced both Lee and Jeannie informed their listeners about their anxieties about hosting this live show about suicide (big tick in the box  – Listeners are made aware that it is okay to talk about taboo issues even if we are nervous). 

Lee and Jeannie are a great duo.  A perfect combination of banter and music for their young listeners.  Alright I admit it, I did not like the music, but that is another story and a post worth reading if you want a laugh!  However, whilst I didn’t like the music, I absolutely loved the message they were sending out live on radio, and that is

‘It is okay to talk about suicide’

As the discussions progressed Lee spontaneously disclosed that he had been suicidal many years ago, describing how he felt, and that he is okay now (wow, another tick in the box –  There is no shame in being male, feeling vulnerable and that it is possible to overcome your difficulties).

However, unbeknown to Lee, his poor dad was listening to the show and learnt for the first time of his son’s difficulties on live radio!  His dad immediately texted him, to make sure he was okay and to say that he loved him.  Lee refers to his dad’s text on the show (another tick –  People/family will reach out if you tell them how you feel).

Fast forward to my interview, I disclose losing my brother to suicide and its impact.  I chose to disclose this as I am mindful that some of their listeners will be bereaved by suicide and for some, it will be the first time they have heard someone outside their family/friendship group talk publicly about losing someone to suicide (another tick:  Talking about suicide bereavement helps to raise awareness of the difficulties people face and reduce stigma). 

I have to say I enjoyed being interviewed on this show; where actions spoke louder than words.  The ultimate way to reach out to yet another ‘hard to reach population’, who are more likely to listen and engage with their favourite radio station, talking about suicide, than reading literature on suicide prevention.

It is evident that some radio stations are actually engaging in this taboo topic with their listeners.  Yet little attention is being paid to this priceless and important contribution to suicide prevention.  In my view, it is a missed opportunity.  Arguably, those responsible for developing suicide prevention strategies should explore how such mediums could be potentially utilised to raise awareness about suicide, reduce stigma and help to save lives.