Suicide is a topic most people are uncomfortable with. When someone takes their own life, for whatever reason, it brings up very exclusive emotions that aren’t present for other types of death. Accidents, illness, old age - even murder, usually bring people together to comfort each other and grieve. But suicide seems to put a hush over everything. I’m not saying people are less sympathetic, but for many of us - a lot of other emotions are present. We see it as a different type of loss, we may not know how to grieve. And, inevitable people will call the victim “selfish” and be angry at them.
I was asked to write something about suicide because, unfortunately, I have known four people who took their own lives. I have a lot of compassion for anyone who finds no reason left for living and/or finds life to painful to bear. I also believe, it can be stopped in most cases.
You can’t generalize and say all suicide is selfish . Anyone who has considered it for even a moment knows that hopeless feeling of complete despair. I’ve felt that way myself on several occasions but knew from life experience that things would get better. Suicide is a preventable cause of death in many cases. I’ll share about the four men I knew that killed themselves. (FYI: men are five times more likely to kill themselves than women).
Armond was my cousin. He was 20 years older than me and he and his brother’s were drafted to the Viet Nam war. When they came back the other two brother’s manged their way back into society and are living productive, happy lives. Armond came back addicted to heroin. I was too young to remember the exact details, but from what I’ve been told, he became the black sheep of our very large extended family. Knowing what I know about heroin addicts, he probably stole, lied and became known as “a loser”. When he couldn’t take any more, he used a shotgun and killed himself at our grandparents home. I think symbolically that’s where he felt the most loved. (age 23)
When I was 17 years old one of my best friends, Steve, joined the Marines. There was no war on at the time, his best friend joined so it sounded like a good idea to him. Several months after bootcamp he went AWOL. I was there when the MP’s came and took him away, he put up a huge fight and it was violent and very sad. From that time on something was just not “right” with Steve. Our group of friends all partied back then but Steve started hanging out with a much older guy and using lots of LSD. The next thing we knew he was telling us crazy things, for example that he was the fifth Beatle, or that he was talking to dead people. Looking back its obvious that he needed mental health care but no one seemed to recognize that. He told me a few days before his 21st first birthday that he would not live to be 21. His brother and I tried to stay with him 24/7 during that time to make sure he didn’t do anything to harm himself, but he managed to fool us both and shot himself the day before he would have turned 21. (age 21)
My cousin, Tommy, was in his thirties when he chose to end his life. He had been drinking a lot and very despondent over a recent divorce. He was my favorite cousin, so strong and handsome and fun to be around. It was shocking to hear that he had attempted suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. His father found him before he was dead and he was revived - but the brain damage was so severe he’s been living in an institution for the last 30 years. He can’t talk, walk or care for himself. He doesn’t recognize family, although his mother never gave up (she passed away a few years ago). I still consider it a “suicide” because the Tommy I knew and loved stopped existing on the day he almost died. (age 35)
Lastly, and most painfully, one of my very best friends killed himself on October 29, 2009. It still hurts to think about Doug. We met because we had common interests and from there became like brother and sister. We talked almost daily and usually for hours. He was very open about his depression and both of us went through some very challenging times during our 7 year friendship. But, when one was down, the other one was always able to get them through to the other side.
Looking back after the fact I could see that all the signs were there at least six months before he actually did it:
- he sold his beloved red Corvette
- he sold his condo and moved to an apt.
- he decided to make each of his children books of their lives including every photo he had of them
- he didn’t feel like talking as often
I blamed myself at first. I should have known! He’d mentioned suicide several times over the years, but somehow it didn’t seem possible that he would actually do it. Those last few months of his life was the time period of me finding out my son was a heroin addict and all my attention was on that. I still carry guilt today even though the note he left me said there was nothing I could have done to stop him. He took a bunch of Xanax then covered his head with a plastic bag (age 51).
So, when someone chooses to end their life, I really believe that to them, its the only answer, its their solution to unbearable pain. They think we, the loved ones left behind, will be better off without them around once we get over the shock. I know that’s what Doug thought. His note said it was his time to go, that life had become too painful, too lonely, too difficult. He said that there was nothing anyone could have done to change his mind.
In each of these situations I believe an intervention could have saved them. A drug program, mental health care, in-patient treatment for depression. It makes me think of all the children and and teens that have killed themselves over bullying in recent years. Those deaths did not have to happen, but what parents imagines their child is so distraught over being bullied they would do the extreme act of suicide? I hope these days all parents are aware of how serious this issue is. My own son attempted suicide once. I will share about that at a later time.
To summarize my thoughts on this topic: Suicide is preventable, we each need to make it our responsibility to recognize when someone we love is showing signs of severe depression and despondency or erratic behavior. If someone threatens suicide, take it seriously. Get them help. You can have someone commited to a mental health hospital on a “5150” if they are a threat to themselves. Call 911 if they will not voluntarily go with you to the hospital. Sometimes the 72 hours required observation is enough to get the person over the impulse and into some treatment. After a suicide happens, please reconsider blaming the victim and calling them selfish. Some suicides ARE selfish, some are done in spite, or to escape punishment or debt, etc. But most seem to be sincerely depressed people taking the only road to peace they believe exists.
Barbara Legere writes about Heroin Addiction on her award winning Recovery Happens blog. Her son Keven has been struggling with his heroin addiction for over 3 years. Join Barbara on her blog or Twitter.