Suicide is Not a Mystery - Get Beyond the Romance to Get to the Work

Suicidal people have not been quiet this year during Suicide Prevention Month. Most years we are the topic of conversation, not the source of the content of all these campaigns. But Twitter, at least, has been filled with our own voices this year. I have always shot my mouth off, and seldom taken the party line. Which means my voice is never included in the campaigns of the typical mental health organizations.

The following is an example, a post from a previous Suicide Prevention Month, edited with my more current thoughts on the matter.

This is Suicide Prevention Week - from September 8, 2011

When I started Prozac Monologues, I didn't know there was a Suicide Prevention Week. I spent a month writing about suicide in June, 2009. I chose June because it is the month when the highest number of suicides take place. So I wonder why the officially designated week is in September. Maybe because when everybody else is so happy about the sunshine in June, they wouldn't give any thought to the darkness? Maybe because they didn't ask those who are suicidal?

If you want to know my take on suicide prevention, here is the link for those original posts. Among the Labels in the right-side column, you will find links to other posts tagged suicide, suicide prevention, and the like.

Looking back at these posts, I wish I had less to say about suicide. But having this much to say, and frankly, a lot more, I think it's best I go ahead and say it. That was my POV for The Suicide Monologue. And I'm sticking to it. I urge you to take the same approach. If you have something to say about suicide, go ahead and say it.

You know, all those years we never talked out loud about cancer, our silence never saved a single life.

Several years ago, John McManamy, author of McMan's Depression and Bipolar Web, gave the day on his blog over to an excerpt from Nancy Rappaport's book, In Her Wake: A Child Psychologist Explores the Mystery of Her Mother's Suicide. Rappaport wrote about how even psychiatrists sit around and wonder how a person comes to the conclusion that he or she wants to die. Most of us want to live. Even those of us who want to die, for the greater part of our lives, we want to live. Her mother's diaries are full of her struggles to survive. What happens in somebody's mind to make that change? Rappaport says it is a mystery.

In Her Wake is a powerful memoir of the aftermath of suicide. People who struggle with suicide need to read such accounts to fortify them in their struggle. But I think she has misidentified the mystery.

I think every person is a mystery. 

We have our joys, sorrows, strengths, dreams, fears, failures. We have capacities and weakness that sometimes we tell to others, and sometimes they divine. But the core of the person remains a mystery.

I am a Christian, so I believe there is One to whom we are not a mystery, One who knows our true name and calls us by it. And we ourselves don't even know that name until we hear that One call it. And when we do, then we know ourselves for the very first time. 

But I don't think suicide is a mystery. 

Suicide is simple. Each of us wants to live. That is how our brains and bodies and souls are constructed, for life. And each of us dies anyway, when our brains and bodies and souls give out. Suicide is one way that we give out. We don't give up. We give out. We reach the limit of what we can survive, whether it be a tumor, lack of oxygen, or a knife that turns in our chest, whether figuratively or literally.

I learned this perspective from David L. Conroy, who learned it from his practice and from his own experience. And I confirm it in my experience. He says, and I repeat it from time to time in this blog, 

Suicide is not a choice; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain. 

After a suicide, the survivors are indeed immersed in mystery. It is the mystery of the heart of the person who died. It is the pain of questions we cannot answer. We never know the sum total of the pain another had to bear, or was able to bear, or not, nor who or what was available to help, or not. I don't know that psychological autopsies ever satisfy. What we really want to understand is the core of a person. That is the mystery.

But we can understand suicide. We can recognize its broad strokes. And we can prevent it, not every time, but most of the time, the way that suicide crisis lines do it, by relieving pain and by providing resources for coping with pain. If we can help shift that balance, between the pain and the resources, then the person at risk will be able to do what he or she really wants, to live a life worth living.

45,000,000 Suicides Prevented 

Fifty million people who are alive today in the United States have or will at some point struggle against suicidal pain. I am one of them. I have a disease with a 15-20% mortality rate. Someday I will die of something. It is my fervent prayer to be one of the forty-five million who survive suicidal pain and die of...

something else.

It doesn't improve my odds for me or you or psychiatrists or anybody else to ponder the mystery of suicide. You can't prevent mystery. You can provide resources to prevent suicide.  Here is a list to get you started.

It's a long list. It comes from David Conroy's book. Unfortunately, in its attempt to be thorough, and perhaps in the limitations of the voices consulted, certain things get glossed over.

I am thinking in particular of the major components of suicidal pain list, the items bunched into one: loss of: esteem, security, health, talent, job status, job, money, relationship, home. Let me expand. Major components of suicidal pain include shame, discrimination, job loss, crushing debt, chronic untreated health issues, solitary confinement, police harassment, white supremacy, domestic abuse, bullying, homelessness...

Why don't we have a suicide prevention month that talks about this sort of stuff? You can't medicate these pains away. You can trace their effects on suicide statistics.

This graphic is based on the research by Jasmin Brooks, et al., in that last link:


What can you do to prevent suicide? Justice. No, you can't fix it all. So pick an issue. Do something to make this world a less sucky place to live.

If you want to focus on one person, pay attention to these issues in that person's life. Make a difference in their life situation.

I expect that strategy would work for all of us. If you struggle with suicide, is there one thing you can do to make your life or somebody else's life less sucky? It's a place to start.

Meanwhile, if your suicide needs preventing right now, tell somebody. Tell somebody who cares about you (and is not an idiot). Or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) in the US. The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386 is particularly for young people, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning, and the people trying to help them. There is a link at the top of this blog called Suicide - Resources to find numbers outside of the United States and other help. They can't pay your rent. But they may have some ideas that get you through that dark hole where all your own ideas disappear.

I want you to die of something else, too.

And if this post has brought somebody else to mind, somebody to whom you have said, "Call me if you need to talk," then don't wait for the person who may be clinging to the edge by their fingernails to make the call. YOU make the call. Even if you don't catch them on the edge, even if they are fine, it's one way to make this world a little less sucky.

Which we all could use.

photo of candles by Nevit Dilmen,  Permission granted to copy under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License
book jackets from amazon.com
photo of geode by Didier Descouens, made available through wikimedia.org
photo of scales from Deutsche Fotothek of the Saxon State Library
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