by Tamela Duncan | Featured Contributor
When a star or an athlete takes their life, it becomes public knowledge – we pay attention. But overall there is little support for victims and families around the issues of suicide. According to the CDC, there are on average around 45,000 reported suicides in the United States annually (13 per 100,000 people). And because of the stigmatization, that number is not considered to be accurate as it is underreported. It is unfortunate for the victim as well as the families that there is shame around severe depression and depression that leads to the loss of life. So I suppose a good place to start is to ask the question, “Why is there shame associated with something so traumatic and painful”?
Let’s start with a sensitive matter − what people believe biblically or spiritually about suicide. Some consider it murder; self-murder and that goes against God’s will…and many believe it’s a sin. How sad. Because it is so easy to judge, it is difficult to put ourselves directly in the aching heart of someone who has taken their life. But if we are honest, and if we can sit in silence and deeply think about the amount of suffering actually necessary for a person to take their own life, it would shake us to our core. The number one fear of human beings is DEATH! Even complete nonbelievers will begin to pray and beg for their lives to be spared the moment their life is threatened – Why, because no person in a functioning mind wants to give up life. Spirituality is about compassion, love, and kindness. Yet, judgment occurs when a person’s suffering has driven them, in the worst possible way, to end this life. And many connect that opinion to the opinion of “an all-loving deity”, a God. It is considered a moral failure.
A second issue is people consider it to be selfish. Suicide for some is a brutally painful selfless act. Many times the victim is experiencing so much pain and believes they are causing tremendous pain to those they love; death feels like a reasonable act of freedom. A severely depressed mind does not have the same rational functioning skills of a non-depressed, mildly or even moderately depressed mind. The biochemicals in the brain and body are not working the way they should and many times medications will only make it worse. Understanding the complexities of the brain and our hormones with thousands of biochemical’s surging through our veins can make it insoluble to pinpoint and repair when things go awry. A person who takes his o her life has more going on in their brain and body than we can imagine. They aren’t being selfish; they are trying to figure out how to solve a seemingly unsolvable problem.
We consider it to be a weakness; many actually believe the person can think through other options. A person that takes their life is locked inside their mind, a mind that is depressed, aching with no seeable way out. A person is not operating with what we would consider “normal functioning” skills. Humans have thoughts and judgments from their clear rational minds and assume a person who has taken their life is thinking with the same type of rational mind. What I can assure you of is that they are not. Suicide is not about weakness. The person who commits suicide does not really want to die; they just want to stop the pain of living.
We blame families, upbringing, or a person’s home-life as if there is a stereotype with death by suicide. Suicide crosses all religions, socioeconomic classes, cultures, and race. Albeit, there are studies that can isolate demographic factors in correlation to suicide, but the predominant factor is mental health and stress-related issues. Untreated depression is the number one cause of death by suicide and depression crosses all families, groups, and classes. Suicide is taboo; therefore we look for what is socially unacceptable about those who take their life.
And worst of all, we have stigmatizations about people who suffer from mental illness, as if it’s a choice. We pride ourselves in being a strong, determined culture. We don’t have a lot of compassion for things we ourselves don’t suffer with or don’t understand. We expect people to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps” and to keep going. I too believe people should work toward independence, self-care and contributing to society. However, there are things in this life which are beyond human control. Mental illness is an illness, at times a completely debilitating illness. We don’t have a lot of answers to healing that problem. There is often failure with insurance companies, government funding and resources, and community options and support in making help affordable and accessible. Treating normal, regular, daily depression and anxiety can be difficult. Treating severe depression and mental illness is costly and overwhelming. Trust me I have treated both.
I wish I could say I had never lost a client to suicide, but I can’t. I wish I could say I had never had clients who attempted suicide – but I can’t. What I can say is I have sat face to face with those who had no hope and saw no other way out. It is heartbreaking and humbling. There is pain; deep deep emotional pain that thank goodness most human beings will never experience in their lifetime. It’s a heavy, hollow emptiness that lingers. It is an inability to reach out and touch or feel hope. It is the inability to feel pleasure, joy, connection, or even possibility. And trust me…by the time a person has taken their life they have lived in a tormented painful shell of a person for a very long time.
Pause and think for a moment, “What emotional hell must be required to make someone end their life”? You cannot fathom that level of emotional misery. So the next time you hear or know of death by suicide, go out of your way to reach out in kindness. Don’t be afraid to have a tender conversation. If you read or hear it on the news, have a compassionate discussion with a friend or coworker on the subject matter. Make it a point to vote for politicians and leaders who have awareness, empathy, and intention about the subject. If nothing else, offer up a prayer or thought of hope and peace for those affected. I suggest we begin by giving the compassion that is deserved around something so devastating.