*Trigger Warning: Discussions of Suicide
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Suicide is always there. We hear about it in clusters, waves, and sometimes sporadically. It’s often in the dramas we watch on television, stories passed down through generations of family, or friends we have always known. Most recently, as I’m sure you know, there have been two very “high profile” suicides by a fashion designer and TV personality. As always, people are quick to point out how serious untreated mental illness is (absolutely), while also how thoughtless suicide is on the part of the person who attempted or completed the suicide. How could they leave their family behind? Why did they choose something so final? And some go as far as to exclaim that suicide is cowardly. I call bullshit.
How Many People are Actually Suicidal?
According to the CDC suicides rates have risen 30% from 1999 in all racial and ethnic groups, as well as for men and women. It’s important to note that there was no distinction in gender outside of “men and women,” but we do know that suicide is especially high among the LGBTQ+ populations, where LGB youth are three times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth; and 40% of trans folx have reported suicide attempts.
Suicide is complicated AF. Although there is some information on why people have completed suicides (relationship issues, financial & work stressors, and chronic illness are among a few), we do know that the causes of suicide are multidimensional and aren’t always the result of one struggle. We also know that roughly 46% of people who have completed a suicide had a diagnosed mental illness.
What Should You Know About Suicide?
As a therapist, suicide plays a specific part in my professional life. I’ve worked with many people who have been actively suicidal, passively suicidal, and who have attempted suicide. I’ve even evaluated someone who had just attempted suicide and was in the process of being treated medically. But like most people, prior to becoming a therapist, I was nervous about the topic. The idea that if the conversation is started, suicide somehow becomes contagious and may give the person an exit they hadn’t thought about; or maybe bringing it up is some sort of insult to their mental health or general emotional strength. The thing is, when I bring up suicide in my therapy sessions, there is often some relief on behalf of the patient. Sure, I’m a therapist so it’s a bit different than a typical situation, but giving the topic space can really disarm it. It may also identify you as someone who isn’t afraid to talk about it if it does come up as an option.
The other thing that is so important to understand about suicide is that out of all of the suicidal people I have met in my career, I can’t think of one person who I would categorize as cowardly. Honestly, not one. And I’m not saying that because I’m in the business of bullshitting. I’m saying this because it’s the truth. Every suicidal person I have met has shown tremendous strength and thoughtfulness. They are often so thoughtful that they are unable to see beyond their current struggles, which I should remind you, are pretty fucking awful. I mean, take a moment and think about the worst day of your life. Remember how you felt, physically and emotionally; remember how unbearable those feelings were. Now, imagine feeling that way with an inability to see a way out. Living with the concrete belief, for whatever reason, that said unbearable feelings would never go away or even get better. Can you imagine how much strength it would take to get up every morning and function? Then compound that with the way in which we treat people who are struggling with mental health issues. We don’t let them have a break from life’s pressures and they definitely aren’t shown empathy or validation.
Suicide: The Decision
Deciding to attempt suicide isn’t an easy decision. How could it be? Humans are born with a drive to live–what we call self-preservation. Typically, we’ll do whatever we can to avoid potential harm to ourselves with the goal of staying alive as long as possible. To attempt suicide is to go against a vital instinct we’re born with. Such a decision takes a serious level of contemplation. Although many believe that when people attempt or complete a suicide they aren’t thinking about anyone else but themselves, I’d argue that it’s the opposite. When someone is so bogged down in feelings of despair, and believe they have no way out but death, thinking IS the problem. Anxiety and depression are playing conspiracies theories on repeat. It’s hard not to imagine that everyone would be better off if the sound clip ended for good.
Left in the Wake
If you find yourself compelled to make a judgement statement about a person who completed suicide, don’t. You may be angry, confused, and surprised–all of which are valid. However, the last thing a family member or loved one wants to hear is the negative (and irrelevant) opinion of someone who is clearly struggling to understand why someone else would make that choice. I mean, if someone you loved had died would you want someone talking shit about them? Of course not. This is no different. Respect their experience and respect the person who believed they had no other choice.