I have a hard-earned respect for suicides
ability to undermine, overwhelm, outwit, devastate, and destroy.Kay Redfield Jamison, M.D., from Night Falls Fast
National Suicide Prevention Month, and according to the Center for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide has increased in almost every state since
1999. For more than five decades, I’ve been preoccupied with those who have
taken their own lives. It all began when I was ten years old and my grandmother
committed suicide in my childhood home. I was the one who found her. My first
memoir, Regina’s Closet: Finding My
Grandmother’s Secret Journal, was based on that traumatic
Ironically, my grandmother took her life during the
month of September, a time when suicide is at the forefront of many peoples
minds, but back in the 1960s, there was little talk or awareness about this
subject. Today, theres an effort to raise public awareness about suicide, in
addition to connecting survivors with post-intervention services. The largest
event held during September is the Out of Darkness Walk held in cities across
the United States
In recent years, not only has suicide been on the
rise, but its also discussed more openly. Statistics indicate that in the United States, more than one million Americans attempt
suicide annually, and approximately 45,000 will succeed. Its been reported that
suicide is the tenth-leading cause of death in the United States. Over the past few years, the
suicide rate has skyrocketed among youth, as well as those between the ages of
55 and 64. For many of us, the recent suicides of Robin Williams, Kate Spade,
and Anthony Bourdain have brought this subject to light.
When someone has chosen to take his or her own life,
the most common question that arises is Why? Its impossible to know for sure
why someone has made this choice; however, those of us who are left behind find
ourselves entangled in speculation. We also wonder about the victims state of
mind at the time of the suicide and ask ourselves if there was something we
could have done to prevent this irreversible act.
According to Jamison (1999) in her timeless book Night Falls Fast, there
are a number of underlying conditions that might predispose someone to suicide,
including heredity, mental illness, or impulsive or
violent temperaments. These factors coupled with troubling life experiences such
as economic setbacks, romantic failures, confrontations with the law, terminal
illnesses, and substance
abuse create a fertile environment for someone to take his or her
Its been said that at some point in their lives, the
majority of suicide victims have struggled with depression.
In most cases, suicide is a permanent solution for what could have been a
temporary problem. Further, what might seem like a temporary problem to
outsiders might have been a battle the deceased struggled with for a long time.
Often the psychic pain gets overwhelming, but these individuals don’t avail
themselves of resources to help them navigate their journeys. Sadly, they come
to view suicide as the only alternative to their tormented situations.
As Jamison wisely states, “Suicide is a particularly
awful way to die: the mental suffering leading up to it is usually prolonged,
intense, and unpalliated”; and the dilemma is often that the person both wants
to live and to die.
Even though there’s a lot more awareness now than
there was during the 1960s, for some, there continues to be a stigma related to
mental health issues,
which can prevent people from seeking help. Feelings of shame often
lead to depression, a common precursor to taking one’s life. Although sudden
acts of suicide have been reported, typically people don’t decide to commit this
act overnight. There might have been a deep depression or sense of hopelessness
that they’d been struggling with for a long time.
We can never completely know and understand the extent
of another person’s psychic suffering, but it’s important that we’re alert to it
and that we reach out when we can.
If you or someone you know might be suffering, please
immediately seek support and assistance. Here are two resources:
The National Suicide Prevention
Lifeline (link is external) at 1-800-273-8255, or chat online (link is external).
For substance misuse problems, contact The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration Helpline (link is external) at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
While we cannot help others once they’ve decided to
take their own lives, we can assist the loved ones left behind who will suffer
for the rest of their lives, as they ask themselves what they could have done to
help, or if there were any signs they missed.
If you’re managing the loss of a loved one due to
suicide or know someone who is, here are some things to remember:
- The death of a loved one is among life’s biggest stressors.
- Losing someone in this way can trigger other intense emotions.
- Be prepared for shock and disbelief.
- Feelings of guilt are
normal, as well as wondering, ”What if?” but remember that no one’s suicide is
- Having unanswered questions and feelings of confusion are normal.
- It’s common to feel distrustful of others and to want to withdraw from
- You need to give yourself time to heal. Everyone grieves in his or her own
- Expect setbacks.
- Reach out to supportive friends and family.
- Suspend family gatherings/memories that
are too painful.
- Consider daily journaling as a way to record your feelings.
- Think about joining a support group.
- Seek professional assistance or “psychological first aid.”