By William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

Today, 10th September, marks World Suicide Prevention Day.

The poet describes the soul as “unconquerable”.  Often when we live with depression or anxiety or any other mental health challenge, we do not think of our souls as unconquerable. The next level for many people becomes “how” can I rid my soul from myself? Or, “what” is stopping me from ridding my soul from myself…

Having Suicidal thoughts are a reality for many.  When life has become too much, suicide seems to be the only way out.  The WHO reports that more than 700 000 people die due to suicide every year. In an article written by Mark Heywood – “Suicide Nation: We are humans, not numbers” (The Daily Maverick, 6 April 2021), he shares the following statistics of suicide in South Africa as prepared by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG):

  • “It is estimated that there are 23 suicides per day in South Africa (still very underreported) and for every one suicide there are at least 20 attempted suicides;
  • “South African men are four times more likely to die by suicide than women;
  • “SADAG helplines now receive more than 1,400 calls per day (before lockdown we were getting 600); and
  • “The youngest suicide has been six years old (Grade 1)… and it was a little boy who did it at school.”

When we learn about the daunting face of suicide, there seems to be little hope for the unconquerable soul.  The loss to family and friends through the suicide of a loved one, has a lasting impact of devastation as so many questions remain unanswered.  The grief and sadness linger on for years to come as everyone tries to get to terms with the loss through suicide.

As the poet of Invictus creates a sense of hope, despite the valley of darkness that was once trodden, we know that suicide is many times a cry for help.  The desperate one realizes that the crisis is temporary, although things seem to be out of control.  When the hand of help is extended by family, friends, loved ones and or professionals, “the captain of the soul” takes over and creates the still which needed to go on living.

Helping someone who threatens with suicide is helpful if we know what to notice.  There are sometimes subtle or overt cues in the cry for help.  If a person has gone through a recent major life changing event, then it is important to note.  Events such as losing a loved one, losing a job or a relationship, or having a big disappointment, any traumatic experience, financial problems or mental health challenges.  These can all be described as a major life changing event which cannot be ignored.

The following warning signs are recognized:

  • Extreme mood swings
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Giving away possessions
  • Losing interest in activities
  • Talking about death or suicide
  • Saying goodbye to family and friends
  • Saying that they are a burden
  • Withdrawing from friends and family

Tips to help someone who is threatening with suicide:

  • Don’t discount their feelings, speak openly about suicide
  • Be a good listener. Often people who are suicidal needs someone to speak with and more so, someone who can listen
  • Ask about their suicidal feelings without coming across as judgmental or directive over what should and what should not
  • Don’t leave them alone, get help from persons specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention
  • Do not swear yourself into secrecy – when you assist in finding help for someone who is suicidal, you may need to break this promise of not telling anyone about it
  • Encourage them to see a professional:

Vista Clinic offers specialized care for Mental Health

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) offers 24 hour-a-day Crisis Management Support in South Africa

I am reminded of the profound role we play in each other’s lives…

I then realize – It is in all of us…The Invictus of the soul…

N.B: (What is the meaning of Invictus? Invictus, meaning “unconquerable” or “undefeated” in Latin, is a poem by William Ernest Henley. This poem is about courage in the face of death, and holding on to one’s own dignity despite the indignities life places before us)


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