The topic of suicide is by no means a foreign one to most of us. Many of you reading this post probably know someone who has taken their own life. And while suicide is a topic studied by sociologists the world over it largely remains, in my opinion, a taboo that we are still uncomfortable having a meaningful national conversation about.
Some sobering facts:
* Every 14.2 minutes, someone in the United States dies by suicide.
* 90% of victims have a treatable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.
I’m friendly with a woman whose teenage daughter has a friend who recently killed herself. Sadly, it’s not an uncommon story. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for kids between the age of 15-24. In the wake of the news, I saw people reacting in a heartfelt way, offering their condolences for the family. However, most anytime people are met face-to-face with a tragedy, stock responses are common.
I’ve written before about people saying that “everything happens for a reason.” It’s trite and meaningless and, though I know people have the best of intentions, I just don’t like it. Similarly, when folks hear about a suicide, they say other banal phrases such as, “they should have thought of those they were leaving behind” or, “they just didn’t think things through.” I’d like to talk about comments like this.
Let’s start with the idea that the person hasn’t thought their situation through. In some ways, this is true. But it also expects too much. Remember, suicide is an irrational act most of the time. People going through the type of emotional and/or physical pain that has led them to make this decision aren’t typically thinking clearly in the first place. One exception may be terminally ill people who have chosen physician-assisted suicide. People in that position are discussing their options with their doctors or at least talking things through with their family. Those that are suicidal in the traditional sense of the word are doing anything but. They are actively isolating their emotions and themselves from others. While I understand the sentiment of those that feel the suicidal aren’t thinking things through, I feel compelled to remind them that you can’t expect much rational thought to go into an irrational act.
Now, what about the idea that a person committing suicide didn’t think of those they were leaving behind? It’s not true. They actually do. But you must understand that, when someone feels their life is so hopeless that they have chosen to commit suicide, they truly believe they are doing the people who love them a favor. At least, that’s how I thought at a point in my life where I was dealing with depression. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate my family and friends, it’s that I felt my life was so terrible and that I was such a burden that I would actually be helping them and society out by disappearing. I was wrong, of course. In time, with a lot of contemplation and reflection, I was able to understand that. But we cannot assume everyone else will come to that same conclusion. Some are just too lost to find their way out by themselves.
Suicide is tragic, and it happens far, far too often. It’s not something we can just write off with a quick comment on Facebook. As a society, we really need to take a long, hard look in the mirror when we hear about young people taking their own lives. Especially teenagers. It’s not just on them at that point. It’s on us, too.
What does it say about our culture when so many of our youth have lost the will to live?