Mental Health Month Day #9 “Suicide”


The first time I was personally touched by suicide, a friend’s mom took her own life, her kids found her in the bath, I heard about it second-hand around the age of eight. I remember thinking how I would feel if I found a family member dead, and I tried to be nicer to my friend whose mom had died. I remember other kids said things about how the mom was selfish for doing it, I didn’t join in, there was even then, a part of me that didn’t see it that way.

The second time I was personally touched by suicide, my grandfather took his own life. He overdosed on Valium and was found the next morning when he hadn’t come down for breakfast. He was an artist and a long time Depressive, but despite that, everyone was shocked that a man still in his prime would consider death a better option. I remember people saying; “What a waste, he was so talented” and “How selfish, he had two children and a wife.” Although I didn’t think it at the time, I now wonder, does that mean it’s not selfish if you have no one? Is it more understandable or acceptable if you are not talented? Again, how things are phrased can stick with you.

At the time I saw my grandmother trying to come to terms with it. She ended up drinking the pain away, and developed an addiction to drinking for many years before she joined a cult and through this new-found sense of belonging quit drinking and became happy once more. Whilst we didn’t particularly like her being part of a cult we were glad for her restored peace of mind, but when I think back on it now, I also think we were relieved, we didn’t have to look in the face of grief anymore, everyone wanted to get on with things.

And that’s the hardest part of suicide, how people cope or do not cope after the fact.

Who is left behind, what fall-out carries on sometimes for generations.

One of the first questions a therapist asks is if anyone in your family has committed suicide, there is a reason for that. People whose family members commit suicide have a far higher risk of committing suicide themselves. Some have postulated whether this is ‘learned behavior’ or ‘permission granted’ or biological/in our DNA.

I can definitely see why people who have relatives who commit suicide would go one of two extremes. They are either going to be the last person to commit suicide, because they know first-hand its fall-out, or they may feel that because someone close to them did, it gives permission for them to follow suit. I can also see how some people are genetically at higher risk because something within their DNA makes it more favorable than for others. This doesn’t seem so very different from say, the God Gene.

There definitely are, as with addicts, two camps, the person who just won’t kill themselves under any circumstances and those who will. We may never quite know why, there may be many factors that go into that, but the people who are ‘at risk’ versus those who are not, are often hard to distinguish because in many ways they may both exhibit the same symptoms.

Many times I hear people say that those who commit suicide are ‘weak’ and ‘selfish.’ I have never thought they were. I see no good coming from condemning someone who was sad enough to take their own life. If we do it to discourage others, well it’s not really working, and whilst I would never advocating encouraging anyone to commit suicide or over-justifying those who do, I see no good in criticizing them after the fact. They made a decision, they chose to do it, who are we to say they are weak?

At the same time, we all hope someone will find the ‘strength’ or conviction to keep living. Nobody really approves of suicide except in extreme cases such as euthanasia for those who are suffering and in agonizing pain. Even then, in America, this is a very divided subject with those against, believing no murder is justified including the taking of ones own life, whilst others, often those who have seen it personally, can attest, some terminally ill people have the right to end their suffering.

So if we look at suicide of ‘healthy’ individuals, where do we place the depressed and the mentally ill on that scale? In some Scandinavian countries there have been people who have petitioned the Government to be euthanized based upon mental-illness. This has sparked outrage among those who believe this is tantamount to murder, and in no way qualifies as a terminal illness. Technically mental illness is rarely terminal although many ways, mental illness accompanies terminal diseases and exacerbates their symptomatology.

But even without being terminal, can mental illness ever be ‘bad’ enough to warrant or justify the taking of ones own life? And if we open that flood gate, how do we close it again?

I don’t claim to know the answer, I’m not sure anyone knows the answer yet but the side of suicide we don’t consider as often, isn’t just prevention or reason(s) behind suicide, but the aftermath.

Another friend of mine lost her mother to suicide. If I had to say, without hesitation I would say she became a more responsible, compassionate person as a result. But that doesn’t negate the extreme pain she still feels with the loss of her mom. Given a choice, every day she would wish for her mom’s return over any compassion she may have. The positives cannot outweigh the negative reality of losing someone you love.

If her mom had been deathly ill maybe she would have held a different view, I have never asked her, but either way, it is hard to imagine being ‘okay’ with someone’s suicide. That said, when Brittany Maynard committed suicide (euthanasia) in Oregon a while back I was profoundly moved by her videos and writing on the subject prior to her choice to end her life. Still very young and with a beautiful family, Brittany was terminally ill and knew in a matter of months she would be in excruciating pain and there was no cure and only awful suffering.

Many people condemned her for ‘taking the easy way out’ or ‘going against the will of God’ but I recall admiring her so much for her resolve and strength. I simply could not imagine making that choice, let alone going through with it. Her family moved to another State where Euthanasia is legal in order to be eligible and she made her plight and story public in an effort to educate people on the right to die. I believe in the right to die in part because of her efforts to show it is not the same as suicide.

With depression and other mental illnesses that are not responsive to treatment, it is not hard to imagine why people can be pushed to the brink and wish to end their lives. Should we consider euthanasia for severe cases of mental illness? Currently I don’t think we should but I recognize I may change my mind as more information becomes available. When I stop and think about living with say, Schizophrenia and other illnesses your entire life, in misery, without respite, and medications not working, I can definitely see why someone may wish to end their life. So why do I hesitate in condoning suicide or euthanasia in those cases?

Maybe because whilst we see mental illness as a disease, it’s not terminal and until something is actually ‘definitely’ going to take your life, we have this belief that there is hope, and we should not end our life based on feeling badly. Is this dismissive? I would say in some instances, yes, because there are chronic pain conditions that may include mental disease, that it could be argued, are as devastating to someone as a terminal illness. Perhaps we should give everyone the ‘right’ to choose if they live or die, and I would agree with this except for a worry that sometimes in certain mind-sets we don’t have the right objectivity to ‘choose’ without bias.

Mental illness is one of those biases. When you are mentally ill you can really see the world through a different lens. If you have not ever experienced that, believe me when I say, one day you can feel hopeful, the next it’s like the color was sucked out of the world and the pain you feel inside is unbearable and often without any cause. When that goes on for a prolonged period of time each day can be agonizing. It is definitely understandable that when people feel this way they may contemplate suicide.

The argument against this is – people typically commit suicide or attempt suicide when they are panicking or have calmly given up (the two extremes) they either panic that they will never feel differently and ‘stop the pain! stop it now! stop it any way you can!’ or they feel reconciled to their fate, they do not believe it will ever change, and so they give themselves permission to let go.

Perhaps that is why the very young and the very old are the two groups most likely to take their own lives.

As mentioned earlier, there are many who no matter how bad it got, would never commit suicide. That isn’t necessarily anything to do with personal fortitude or strength, it may be a genetic proclivity, or several factors, but they often perceive those who take their lives as inexplicable. They cannot and will not understand, and they feel understanding is condoning. I would argue, understanding is NOT condoning it’s understanding. We need more understanding.

Mental illness is not always visible, so we often do not know someone is suffering from it until it’s too late. Signs to look for include giving away what we own, a sudden sense of peace and feeling good, high anxiety and stress and the bequeathing of things previously withheld. Of course that’s not going to ensure you accurately predict whom among us is at risk, because just like in the film 13 Reasons, so many people exhibit signs and so many do not, and that’s no guarantee of anything. Additionally suicide can be a sudden choice, you literally realize in a moment and bam, it’s too late.

One population aside teenagers that I believe will increasingly be at risk for suicide is the elderly. More so because our grandparents social security and pensions were more robust than ours will be with some exceptions. It is simply more expensive to live nowadays and the money we will need to live even relatively well in old age, is often more than we can save and invest. Poverty and loneliness are two of the main reasons the elderly choose to take their lives. The third is illness. This can include mental illness. We sometimes believe the value of a person’s life diminishes with increasing age, but every life should have the same value.

The elderly have less resources than teens and in a way, less hope, because they are ageing toward death, whereas a teen has their entire life ahead of them. Sometimes hastening ones death can seem a good choice, to end suffering, loneliness, worry, financial concerns. The elderly can feel they are a burden, they can feel they are not wanted in our ever busy society that highlights youth. Additionally, are we ready as a society to take care of the many who will devleop dementia, which often carries alongside it, chronic depression? Is loading an eighty year old with heavy duty medications and antidepressants all we can to do help them?

Caregivers of the elderly will also experience mental health issues as a result of the hard work they do. Presently elderly patients are over medicated and have less resources for talk-therapy or other treatments. It is deemed simply easier to stick them on a lot of medications and hope they’ll die than treat their suffering compassionately and with an understanding their lives, however long, still hold value. Is it any wonder then that so many elderly are at risk of suicide and premature death? As long as we judge people based on their economic ‘worth’ and believe the elderly ‘had their time’ we will never improve this and rates of elder-abuse will grow.

So whilst we can do more to look out for people, we will never prevent someone from committing suicide if they are absolutely set on doing so. What we can do is save the ones who do not wish to and need a reason not to. It may seem absurd that anyone should really want to die, but there will always be people who do, they find different ways, they take risks, they drive their cars too fast, they may join a terrorist group. Often very unhappy people choose suicide by proxy, by putting themselves in danger and waiting to see if it will take them.

Suicide and mental health are always going to be interrelated and there is a lot the people around those people can do to prevent a successful suicide, but ultimately the best we can do is not judge those who die, for what possible good comes from that? Sometimes the hardest thing in the world is to try to understand why someone did what they did. Sometimes there is nothing to understand. But with understanding we can learn, whereas if we simply condemn, we learn absolutely nothing.

55 thoughts on “Mental Health Month Day #9 “Suicide”

  1. One of mine is entitled “Surviving The Dark Days” and is about this very subject. It is a tough row to hoe.

  2. Powerful writing! The issue is sensitive and I respect your opinions to understand the cause in association to radical basis, I will just add up that the act itself falsify any radical approach to understand itself. It is an abyss with no clear, cut to chase reason, better stay far away. You have the power to influence the world with your writing, keep writing such masterpieces!

  3. Gosh thank you for reading all of this I know it’s lengthy. I feel strongly on the subject as you can imagine! I do believe we need to understand as much as we can. You describe it well as an abyss I think that’s very accurate. Thank you for your appreciation it means a lot to me.

  4. One of my dearest friends committed suicide. It’s been 25 years now, but it’s still a hard pill to swallow. There was no closure. He left no note, never even gave any indication it was something he was pondering. It’s a sad, sad thing. 😕

  5. I believe you did well in presenting this difficult issue in a variety of ways, questioning the various aspects and reasons for suicide. I know it is personal to me because I have been in that place many times where suicide seemed to be the only way out of the pain.

    Based on my own experience, during those periods of my life, if I were to have a way to do it painlessly, such a euthanasia, I would have taken it. I wouldn’t be here today. That was the only thing stopping me, The method. I didn’t want to be a burden on others, such as having to find my body. And, I wanted it to be quick and sure. No suffering. Because these methods were not available to me, I endured.

    I’m not voicing an opinion for or against assisted suicide for mental health. Mental health is such a gray area in degrees of seriousness. Just as I won’t advise a person suffering from deep depression based on my experiences, because what they are experiencing could be far different than what I have experienced. I can only say that loving them for who they are, not judging them and caring for them no matter how they feel is the only way that many might be receptive.

    In my case, the moment someone starts treating me like I am sick or bad or that they need to change me, I will fall deeper into depression and anxiety. The causes for my depression and anxiety might be related to people who always tried to control me and make me into something that I’m not, always condemning me for being who I am. I understood what they were doing and the reasons for it, but they didn’t understand what it was doing to me.

    Like you said, there are no easy answers. it is all a personal choice and we should never judge the person for their mental health when they are alive and would should never judge them or condemn they for taking their own life. Remember them for the beauty of who they were and what they brought into our lives. A beauty that they might not have been able to see within themselves. Often those who struggle with mental health are very creative, beautiful and caring people.

  6. Well said, I was thinking about these questions and themes watching a Robin Williams movie—thinking about what kind of pain you have to be in. It is heart breaking. I’m sorry for your losses.

  7. An excellent post!! You are right that the key to the way forward is understanding. Criticism of others has no value when it comes to mental health, learning is the most beneficial.

  8. Very true. Constructive criticism is often used to justify judgement. No consequences is not the answer either, but one might query the necessity another person has to constructively criticize? Are they truly trying to ‘help?’ or levying their own sense of superiority? For the mentally ill, it can be a double-pain to be criticized or judged, leading them closer to giving up, for this reason I try to aim off except when I see someone hurting someone else.

  9. Dear Heidi, I have thought the very same thing watching his films. I think when a celebrity whom we all know, especially one who hid behind his brave smile, takes his own life, (or hers) it really wakes us up – but it should not take a celebrity. Then again that’s how our society responds, and I understand that, as long as the message is out there, it is helping others. xo

  10. A, I could not agree more. In addition I especially agree with what you said about the relationship between ‘falling deeper’ into depression through inadvertant or deliberate actions of others. What strikes me most, is the lack of understanding and/or empathy. What does it take? There are no easy answers. What is sad is people do not really care to make them or create more resources to help, I suppose unless they can profit from it, they figure ‘they should help themselves and I don’t want to pay for it’ which is a sad reflection, reminds me of what I once read, something to the effect of, you can tell the level of empathy and good in a society by the way they treat their most vulnerable’ I believe this so much and this is what I live by. Thank you for a great and very thoughtful response I really appreciated it.

  11. I agree. I only knew one person personally that killed themselves and years and years had gone by before I found out. It was still a shock. Some things you won’t ever truly understand until you go through it.

  12. Very true, and I am sorry you endured this. You never get over it. I am glad you remember them and care about them still. It hurts so many people you would think we’d do more about it but we are too busy making money right? Thank you for your comment xxx

  13. Thanks for reading it though that makes me glad for having written it to know it reaches people. I still miss my grandfather so I totally hear you – losing a best friend that way is agonizing. I hope that they at least had the joy of your friendship whilst they were alive. It is so sad to think that is the only option they believe they have, though I have felt that way so I do understand.

  14. It is in a way more shocking when you find out years later, because you realize you ‘assumed’ they were okay for years, as we all do, then to find out they have been dead for a long time. A friend of mine had the exact same experience it was awful. I’m very sorry. I think anyone’s death is sad, but a premature death by ones own hand, whilst I can understand it, is especially tragic.

  15. He definitely had our friendship, it was his family that disowned him, and, in large part, in my opinion, got that ball rolling. In the end, I suppose the friendship of us four wasn’t enough to make up for that loss. All because of sexual preference. I was never so angry as I was the day of the funeral. To see his parents all sad and shit. It all seemed so hypocritical.

  16. Truthfully unless someone has murdered someone or close to, I find it hard to understand a family disowning someone. I did quit talking to a relative who was a paedophile, but aside that I would never cut someone off especially in a time of need unless they were evil, that’s so very sad. Friendship is important but sometimes you’re so right, cannot replace or fill in for family. I would have been furious.

  17. We were. There were 5 of us that we’re as close friends as possible. We could’ve seen him through it. We could taken the slack left by his family. It wasn’t meant to be though. The family wouldn’t even let us be pallbearers, even though we were the closest thing to family he had when he died. They’d have been fine if none of us came to the funeral, I believe. We didn’t give them an option. Furious? Oh yes.

  18. I work on an acute admission ward for individuals with mental health problems. I have therefore had more than my fair share of such experiences. More often than not there are a multitude of factors involved in suicidal and parasuicidal behaviour.

  19. Thank you for sharing this. Also, for the work you do, as many could not and would not attempt such hard work. I have only worked in crisis centers, I have a best friend who worked acute admission and he found it harrowing. I greatly admire anyone who can do it, because it’s so essential and necessary but not easy, much like EMT’s but with the emergency being a mental as well as physical issue. I applaud you. Actually if I thought I could handle it, I would try a job like that, but I fear I could not. Truthfully.

  20. Good grief – what a story. You should write it out, I think it would really, really touch others. I cannot imagine, five friends. Then again I have heard of similar experiences, it’s just so very sad, but you TRIED AND CARED and that goes a long way I hope you know that? Of course you are furious though even now, I would be too!

  21. Your post is filled with compassion, and helps us to have the same, for all people. You’re right understanding may not always be possible, but attempting to, makes us human.

  22. My brother committed suicide years ago, It is a devastating situation both for the person taking his or her own life and devastation to those left behind. It rips you life apart and you are left there vulnerable asking yourself many questions and then the guilt of should I have done something more and that would have not happened. I don’t think it would have mattered maybe prolonged his or her life a little more. Maybe it is in their life plan. Who knows. Thought provoking write. Stay well

  23. I did write about it, to some degree, way back when. Titled Tarnished Silver, posted in July of 2015. It was around the 25th aniiversary of his death. Hard to believe nearly 2 years has passed since. Time may not heal all wounds, but it sure as hell does fly! 😃

  24. Too close to home right now for me to comment deeply other than say I love your thoughtful and deep essay.

  25. Such a complex issue with no clear way through. Here in Australia assisted suicide is a hotly debated issue yet to be resolved one way or the other. That is just one aspect. I can think of many instances where it would seem humane and respectful for it be legal – eg if a person has an incurable illness that slowly and painfully leads them to the inevitable death. Huntington’s Chorea comes to mind as one such condition. It is horrible to watch someone struggle to live and be helpless to do anything to alleviate the pain.
    But, as you so rightly point out, there are so many grey areas where a person’s decision making is compromised due to illness. Would they still want to die when they feel better? Probably not. I don’t think I would.
    What is hardest is the emotional pain and grief a sudden, unexpected and unexplained suicide leaves behind for family and friends. To mind comes one family from many years ago whose son violently suicided.No clues, no notes, nothing. Two years later another son in the same family – same thing. So tragic.
    Thank you for this very thought provoking post.

  26. This is such a complex issue and you explored it with sensitivity, compassion, and an open-mind. There have been several suicides within my family and circle of friends and the only thing I know is that every suicide is different and everyone reacts differently to suicide. It may be the most personal decision an individual ever makes, and as hard as it is to accept, judgment and speculation serve no one. Thanks for raising the curtain on a serious issue.

  27. I’ve been touched by suicide by 3 different people in my life, and there have been several occasions I’ve thought about it for myself as well. I have never looked at it as the easy way out it’s not easy nothing that has to do with mental illness is easy. I think easy is being transplanted when people really mean desperate. I think desperation is what brings people to that point and what we need to do is show others that there is help even in desperation

  28. I absolutely agree it’s not the easy way out at all – I’m with you on that. Nothing about mental health is easy, so true. It is absolutely the manifestation of despair and not feeling there exists a better option. I wish people could be more sensitive and caring when people experience these feelings, they need help. Thank you very much for reading

  29. Dear Donna. I try to be open-minded. Thank you so much for reading and appreciating what I wrote, I’m very grateful to you. Like you I think this is a serious issue we need to talk about more rather than less. I completely agree, every suicide is different. So very true and never mentioned. Thank you again for your support and for caring about this subject.

  30. Thank you. That nastigram said that I didn’t ‘do’ or ‘act’ but I think bringing awareness is acting just as I think your support of people is acting. Thank you D.

  31. Exactly right – I couldn’t bear to watch someone I loved dying in agony. If it was their wish I couldn’t sit back and just let them writhe in agony, but currently I would be ‘done’ for murder if I acted. I would hope there is a way through that, although obviously not where people are knocking off old relatives left right and center. The one that worries me is dementia, as it’s growing so much, what to do? So hard. But different to suicide obviously. Or rather, a different impetus. Very true about that – if someone does not leave a note that’s the hardest almost unbearable savagery. Thank you for reading I know it was a long one!

  32. I’m very sorry to hear this – big tight hug from me to you – as I know how this subject can deeply and searingly hurt people. Thank you for just – making the world better.

  33. It is what it is, Sister. I just step back and allow people the right to decide for themselves when it’s adults. It’s the children that have me in knots.

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