My friend Christine, a fellow AFSP Volunteer with whom I advocated in Washington, D.C. a few months back, is a suicide attempt survivor. She was recently asked to write an article for CNN.com about her attempt and survival. It was such a great article and I am so very proud of her and of what she is doing for suicide awareness. However, I made the mistake of scrolling down to read the comments that followed. There was a lot of encouragement, which was so great to see. But sadly, there were many disturbing comments made that reminded me just how far we have to go in educating people about suicide. Comments such as these:
“Only wimps try to commit suicide, no sympathy from me.”
“Your 15 minutes of fame is over, come join the rest of humanity in our struggles while you are trying to profit from your own choices of death.”
“I disagree that anyone benefits from any of the sentiments you have expressed – you really are flat wrong in everything you have said. Fine, so go kill yourself. Even better, kill yourself to prove me wrong. You need one, maybe two more excuses, right? There are two more, easily. Off you go. When you come back desperate for more sympathy and attention and threatening to kill yourself if you don’t get it? Just call this # for all the attention that you need: 1-800-GIVAFUK”
“I can’t help you with this excuse-mongering. Everyone goes through periods of depression, overwork, anxiety, feelings of failure. You either work through it or you quit and try to kill yourself. It’s really that simple.”
“Mental illness is a frightening thing. Sadly there is no cure for crazy and your best bet is to avoid involving yourself in relationships with people with mental illness if possible.”
“Studies show that whenever the media does an article about suicide, in the months that follow, there is an increase in the number of suicides.”
“Enough with coin-phrasing yourself with ‘I am a blah blah blah’ , no you’re NOT. You’re just like everyone else who’s had to endure this neurotic self absorbed and heartless society.”
“”Hi! I was a miserable twat, and I decided to kill myself, now I’m making money off of it.”
“Suicidal people are also homicidal people. Very dangerous indeed.”
“This article is disrespectful. I’ve had many friends that went all the way. Shut up. I don’t care about your cry for help. How much were you paid for this crap? You are weak, just do it already.”
By surviving her attempt and going on to open up and share her story with others she’s letting it be known that she doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of and she is doing her part to create a society in which people are not afraid of seeking help when they need it most. All of those hurtful comments do nothing but perpetuate the stigma surrounding depression and suicide! If that kind of response is what they can expect, why would someone seek help when they are hurting? They are in genuine pain and to have it met with comments like, “you’re weak” or “if you can’t deal with the pressures of life that the rest of us have to deal with then just do the world a favor and just finish yourself off” would only serve to hurt them further.
But then I saw the TED Talk video above and was again more hopeful. He was an officer that patrolled the Golden Gate Bridge for 20 years and prevented more than one suicide there. If only more people were as kind, understanding and respectful as he is! I was struck by a few things he said, in particular. When he talked about what to do if someone you know is suicidal: “It’s not just the talking that you do but the listening. Listen to understand. Don’t argue, blame or tell the person you know how they feel because you probably don’t– by just being there you may just be the turning point that they need.” He also added: “For most suicidal folk (or those contemplating suicide) they wouldn’t think of hurting another person, they just want their own pain to end. Typically this is accomplished in just 3 ways: sleep, drugs or alcohol or death.”
I don’t need to remind you that I’ve never been angry at you for your choice to end your life. I know there are many in my position who are angry at their loved one for leaving that way… but as I’ve told you I know exactly how it feels to be in that mindset and to know that when you are in that dark place that there truly seems to be no way out. To those who would say, “You simply need to change your thoughts– just think positive thoughts,” I would say this– exactly how do you change your way of thinking when the very organ in your body required to do that is what is failing you in the first place? Unless someone has experienced a depression like no other that leaves you feeling as though the only way to escape it is to die, they couldn’t possibly understand. I’m not talking about just a bad day, or bad week, bad month or even bad year… but a soul-crushing darkness that weighs so heavily that you can’t possibly imagine it ever NOT being there. I started having suicidal thoughts around the time I started self-injuring– at about age 5. Would you tell a 5 year old, “Hey, buck up” or “pull yourself up by the boot straps” or “life’s hard, deal with it?” There obviously was so much more at work there than just a “bad attitude” to cause someone so young to want to end their life. There’s also the heredity factor, I’m well aware. We have a robust family history of major depressive disorder and substance abuse on both sides of our family. Suicidality is also very present in our family history as you well remember our father’s attempt in 1995 along with several attempts made by his mother, our grandmother, in earlier years. I wasn’t aware until just yesterday that our aunt attempted twice to take her own life, as well. Even among family, suicidal thoughts and attempts are kept a dark secret… so how can we expect people to seek help outside their family?
I look forward to the day when depression (or any mental illness, for that matter) is considered by the greater population to be a legitimate, treatable illness rather than a character flaw. I am grateful that people like Christine who have lived through that horror are willing to step up and talk about it because people like her, who managed to survive an attempt on their own life, can provide invaluable an insight to suicide, mental illness and the hope that it can be treated. And, hopefully, can keep spreading the word that it is OK to ask for help and create a world in which that help is readily and lovingly provided.
I really wish you had survived your attempt, Brian. But sadly until a short 5 months before you succeeded in taking your life I was made aware that you’d already survived two previous attempts. It isn’t lost on me that I was lucky to have had you around for another 10 years but selfishly I’d ask for another 60. I miss you, dude.