CW: chronic pain, suicide
Other Australians may have seen an advert by Lifeline cropping up on our bus shelters, billboards and other media over the past few months. I have a big problem with this advert.
This is it:
I think my issue with this as a sufferer of chronic pain should be fairly self-explanatory, but if it isn’t, please see the letter I have written to Lifeline below.
I have recently noticed a number of adverts for Lifeline with the slogan “HOPE: Hold on, pain ends.” This was also posted to your facebook page on 5 March 2019. I want to ask that you reconsider this slogan.
Whilst I am certain that your intention is good and that these words are important to many people considering suicide, I wonder if you have fully considered the potential impact of these words on the portion of the population for whom pain doesn’t end – those of us with chronic illness, disability or chronic pain.
In 2018 a study was done in the US examining the impact of chronic pain as a factor in suicides. It showed that chronic pain was a factor in 9% of suicides. Australian doctors have linked an increase in suicides amongst young women to chronic pelvic pain diseases such as endometriosis.
I am chronically ill and live with daily pain. One of my diseases is endometriosis. My illnesses are likely to impact me for the rest of my life, unless I have major surgery that comes with its own raft of difficult side-effects. As long as I have these diseases, I am likely to continue to experience daily pain. Every time I walk past your advert, I am reminded of this fact. My pain won’t end. It’s a further twist of the knife that is the reality of being chronically ill. Every time I see your ad, I feel a stab of bitterness, sadness and despair.
I wonder if it might not be even worse for someone with chronic pain who is suicidal. They might see your sign and think, “If pain ending is a reason not to commit suicide, perhaps the fact that my pain won’t end is a reason I should.”
Your advert fails to acknowledge those of us living in daily physical pain. At best, it ignores the risk of suicide amongst the chronic pain community. At worst, it suggests that lives with unending pain aren’t worth living.
I know from discussions with others in the community that I am not the only person who feels this way. On a personal level, I don’t know how many more times I can bear to walk past your advert without bursting into tears. There is one right outside my work – I see it several times a day and it doesn’t get any less hurtful.
I know that it wasn’t Lifeline’s intention to exclude or hurt anyone, but that is the practical effect of this advert and that is why I am writing to beg you to remove that slogan as soon as possible. Please consider the impact it has on disabled and chronically ill people. We are often forgotten and excluded in so many little ways that add up to a culture of discrimination and inaccessibility. Please don’t contribute to that.
Some people might suggest that I’m overreacting. Poo to you, I say. Poo to you. Words matter. Words can hurt. These words do.
Some might say, “Well, of course Lifeline didn’t mean that it applies to you.” That’s the point! They don’t say that! They just make a blanket statement that completely excludes the chronically ill.
If you share my feelings about this advert I would strongly encourage you to also write to Lifeline and ask them to change this advert and ensure that it is replaced with something with a better, more inclusive message. Please feel free to use my letter as a template.
I have requested a response. I’ll let you know if I get one.