To stay alive, we need to want to stay alive. If we lose the will to live, the light and colour drains from everything. Things which would otherwise shine, like the smile of a loved one, or a the sight of a sparrow flying through a fountain, scattering silver drops, or a winning score by a football team that rarely wins – none of it matters. All that matters is the feeling of walking through thick grey fog, exhausted by thoughts of letting everybody down (although we may have done nothing wrong). And for some, it’s too much to bear. For some who are totally alone, with their benefits cut by a heartless system: for others surrounded by love but tormented by their own private nightmares, the will to live grows so faint, that suicide seems the only path to take. And another precious person vanishes.
Today, articles came out in the press about rising suicide levels in Scotland. Dundee tops a league no one ever asked to play in. Austerity is killing our people. Cuts in mental health support, and diabolical benefits rules are removing safety nets that, at least, kept people alive. At best, broken and tortured souls can be helped back to health. They can be helped to see the sunlight again. But only if the services are there. No one should be left to suffer, with no offers of help.
In 2010, I asked the Tory politician Iain Duncan Smith to debate the likely effects of billions of pounds of cuts on the poorest people in Dundee. For a few weeks, he hesitated, and we used the time to get trade unions and disabled activists to support our campaign. I went to London and spoke at a meeting with my MP and other campaigners. TV, newspapers and radio gave us some coverage. Then, Smith said no. So did another Tory Minister : Chris Grayling. To this day, they have never dared to debate their cuts with anyone brutalised as a result. Not in Dundee, nor anywhere else. They kill us from a safe distance.
I shifted my attention (most days) from campaigning to stop cuts to serving on the front line in battered services to help hundreds of victims of the same cuts. Appealing against brutal stopping of benefits, sitting with men and women on the very edge of despair, urging them not to give up. Walking in step alongside their struggles to survive. And our team did great work, but we saw our numbers halved because Austerity has no mercy for those who care.
Fighting for change, and caring for victims of injustice can also take its toll on a person’s mental health. If you fight and you care, long enough and hard enough, you may in time get damaged. And you may even sometimes lose the will to live. But you shouldn’t give up, because this world needs people who care and people who fight. And there are always precious people who need you to stay alive, and heal when you need to heal.
I’m still here. Because of others who care. Inspired by others who fight.