On Suicide and Activism

This article was copied from the National Union of Students  website and written by Hannah Paterson. I have chosen to re-blog it as it covers an important topic

A message to all activists

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day and it’s got me thinking about all the people across the movement who we have lost too soon. I wrote the below blog after the death of a prevalent activist in Manchester last year but the message still remains strong and is one that should be talked about on a regular basis. This topic of suicide is one that is not spoken about enough but it impacts so heavily on those within community circles and these situations often throw into light the importance of looking after yourself and those around you.

So here is my message to all activists…

It’s been a ridiculous year for activism within the student body and activists in general. With the cuts starting to bite on local levels and more and more absurd bills and policies coming through government at a rate of knots, it is inevitable that the activist community will be seeing each other at more regular and regular opportunities. We will be bumping into each other at demos, meetings, squats, actions and rallies. Organising and mobilising online through social networks, blogs, twitter, planning, spreading the word, fighting the corner and feeding the trolls.

This circle of people is a weird one. It is full of acquaintances, the people you know, the people you recognise, the people you nod your head at; acknowledgement of the similarities between you. They become a fixture at all demos, you wonder where they’ve got to if you don’t see them. You may only ever share words when you’re on a picket line. They’re the people you know will be vocal at the meetings, the ones that can talk non-stop or the ones who do the background work. The ones who are creative, the ones with all the wacky off the wall ideas. The ones whose politics clash with yours, the ones pushing a party line, the ones who theorise and debate every issue and of course those selling the papers. I don’t even know there names, but they are always there. The backbone of a passionate, active and inspirational community.

But the death of an activist has thrown something into stark reality for me. I don’t know these people; there are very few people in the activist circle I class as friends, let alone close friends. It is a network of hard working dedicated individuals, but hard work and dedication on personal, political and emotive topics can take its toll. It wears you out. All that fighting, defending, defeats, the seemingly continuous banging of your head against a brick wall it impacts us all. In activist circles weakness isn’t discussed, it isn’t supported. There is the unspoken competition to be the most hardcore, if you’re not at the front all the time you are often seen as not as dedicated, looked down on, not seen as serious. Burn out and mental health problems are a huge issue within the activist circles and one that can have very real and damaging impacts on the people who devote there lives to try and make a difference.

It is so important for activists to look out for each other. Don’t just be passing ships in a sea of actions. Make friendships, actual lasting friendships. When you’re together talk about things other than politics, socialise, learn something about the people behind the cause. Look after yourselves, create support networks that you can rely on when you need them. TALK to people and LISTEN to others talking to you. Be grateful for the input that people make, recognise their effort, everyone is different and it may have been a big struggle/step for them to have engaged in the way they have. Don’t always think about what else they could have or should have done. Say thank you!

Don’t get me wrong it’s amazing to be in an activist circle and be pushed by each other to be involved and engaged, without the people power change will not be achieved. But look after each other and yourselves. Take time out when you need it. Speak to people when you need it. Ask for help when you need it. Talk about silly things, the things that don’t matter every once in a while. Remember to appreciate your friends and think about the good things in life once in a while.

If you are feeling suicidal please talk to someone, if you don’t feel you have anyone you can confined in please chat to the samaritains in the UK dial 08457 90 90 90 or in the Republic of Ireland dial 1850 60 90 90. You can also call Papyrus 0800 068 41 41 who also provide advice for people who are supporting those who are feeling suicidal.

The Disabled Students’ Campaign is in the process of writing a guide to looking after activist mental health and are looking for examples of campaigns that have considered mental health in there implementation. It only needs to be a short paragraph but if you want to share your experiences please email them to Hannah.paterson@nus.org.uk

Originally Posted on Monday 10 September 2012

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