With yesterday, Thursday 10th September, being World Suicide Prevention Day, I want to talk about a cause of suicidal thoughts that I feel is being overlooked. I’ve spoken about the fact that I struggle with the symptoms of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) before on my blog when I wrote this post on tips to deal with a day when you aren’t feeling like your usual self which is relevant to everyone as we all have bad days, but was inspired by my struggle with IBS symptoms.
Digestive issues can be quite a taboo and embarrassing topic but I wish it wasn’t because our digestion is so key to…well everything really! If your digestion is a bit out of whack it can leave you feeling very unwell and tired. And of course, we all have days where our tummy’s seem to a bit upset for one reason or another, but in the normal run of things, these days aren’t too often so they don’t interfere with our lives too much. But when you have a chronic gut issue such as IBS, these bad tummy days can occur more frequently than good tummy days, and when this continues over a long period of time, it can really start to take a toll on your mental state.
To give you an insight into how IBS can affect a person’s mental wellbeing, I’m going to share with you a bit of my own story:
I first started to notice that things were not functioning like they used to in the last year of school (when I was 17). It’s fairly common for someone to experience their first symptoms around this age. I didn’t have a clue what was going on and was doing a lot of desperate googling. I was confused about what was happening to me and it eventually led me to developing disordered eating because I became scared of so many foods and scared of eating certain amounts of food, because of how it might affect my tummy. During that last year of school, I was still eating, but eating rather minimally, in order to reduce the risk of getting symptoms which might put me out of action at a time when I desperately needed to be in tip-top form for studying for my exams. The summer after that final year was when I realised that this method of avoiding food wasn’t a sustainable way to manage my symptoms as I had lost too much weight which was now affecting other parts of my body. But even at that point, when I was seeing GPs and gastroenterologists, I struggled to get across that it wasn’t that I had any issue with food, food was the one who had an issue with me! I don’t think I even fully understand this at the time.
Fast forward to today and I’m now back to being a healthy weight as I’ve learnt that the uncomfortable symptoms are sadly just something I have to put up with and that I just have to keep eating despite them. But there is many a day when I just feel sick of feeling sick. I used to enjoy cross country running but never feel well enough anymore to do any exercise besides gentle walking. And I used to be pretty content with my figure but now I’m forever bloated and hide behind loose clothing. It’s been about 3 years now that I’ve been feeling this way, and though there have been periods when I have felt much better mixed in between those years, I do struggle with not being able to see a light at the end of the tunnel. And for me it’s here where the suicidal thoughts begin to creep in. When you start to feel hopeless and miss the person you once were. It’s like a feeling of grief for the girl I once was and I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to being her.
One day when I was feeling very low about it all I googled, “IBS is making me want to kill myself,” and I discovered that I was definitely not alone. As well as finding many personal stories from fellow sufferers, there were in fact a bunch of scientific articles on the topic (I’ve linked a few down below if you want to have a read at them.)
The conclusions of all the scientific articles were the same. More needs to be done. People suffering with the illness should be offered psychological support such as therapy. IBS can seem like an annoying but not very serious issue, but the feelings of hopelessness and despair that come with it can have serious consequences.
I was so glad to read that I wasn’t alone in what I was experiencing, but also angry that IBS sufferers the world over are just being given medication to alleviate the physical distress without ever being asked about whether they’re also experiencing any mental distress. After all, it’s rather difficult to have a happy mind when you don’t have a happy body.
Fortunately I have come across various resources to help me feel less alone in this daily battle with my gut. My two favourite Instagram accounts to turn to when I’m having a bad tummy day are My IBS Life who shares hilariously relatable memes about IBS, you’ve GUT this, and CISFA UK who are a UK charity supporting people with all types of chronic illness. My IBS Life has also recently started a YouTube channel which I would highly recommend checking out if you’re struggling with IBS.
There are also plenty of websites and charities that have been set up for those dealing with IBS which I will leave linked at the end of this post. I’ve also linked suicide helplines if any of you need to talk to someone. So as you can see, we are definitely getting somewhere with making gut health more of a discussion in society, but I definitely feel we’ve still a brave bit to go until the mental impact of IBS is looked at rather than just the physical side of things.
Articles and studies looking at the mental impact IBS can have:
The IBS Network, www.theibsnetwork.org
Guts UK, gutscharity.org.uk
International Suicide and Emergency Hotlines, www.opencounseling.com/suicide-hotlines