Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Pondering Suicide

Here's what I was thinking about on my drive this afternoon.  It has nothing to do with the retreat I'm working on, except insofar as the completely unrelated dilemmas of others always raise questions about my own.
Most people who die of suicide suffer from a major mental illness, such as depression.
But most people who suffer from significant mental illness do not die of suicide.
It occurred to me that these statistics bear some relation to those pertaining to abuse.
Most people who abuse their spouses and/or children were at one time abused themselves.
But most people who suffered abuse at the hands of others do not themselves become perpetrators of abuse.
In other words, there are people who suffer serious damage, whether from mental illness or from various forms of abuse, who move forward into productive, successful, and contributory lives. 
And there are people who suffer similar trauma who are destroyed by despair and hopelessness, and who inflict devastation upon those they love the most.
So the questions are: How do we identify and distinguish these two groups, and
How do we help the latter become the former?


  1. I think these are powerful things to ponder. It seems to me that the first step is being able to articulate the question. Very often no one is willing to ask the tough questions, and to make space to sit with the feelings roused by them.

    Once we have these kinds of opportunities, I think there will be the possibility of reaching out in tangible and helpful ways.

  2. These are indeed powerful things to ponder. As usual, Cindy has said this well - how do we get to the question? Make space for the feelings? I think you have come to something important here Robin. My heart to you, always.

  3. This has made me think about what stops me from actually choosing to die this way. It is easy to say what doesn't stop me, but much harder to define and isolate what does. It has become easier over the years to know when I am reaching that tipping point when it could go either way but even so drawing back is not simple.

    1. I guess another question, or perhaps the same question, is: what makes death a plausible and acceptable alternative to psychic pain? I have much more of an understanding now than I did five years ago, both intellectual and lived, of the enticing possibility of the absence of such shattering agony or reverberating emptiness, but those latter realities must be powerful indeed to crush the instinct for life.

  4. A friend gave me permission to post the following comment without identifying the source:

    "I would say "support". It sounds so cliched, but it's true, at least for me. Things thought in the head get a reality check when they're spoken to another person. Knowing that another person cares is a check.

    Safety plan. You don't have to be the backup, but just make sure there is one. And, at least from my perspective, respect the person enough to stop haranguing them with questions when they're doing all right.

    GOOD doctors who can guide one through the whole trial and error method of medication.

    Less suspicion and fear of mental illness from friends and family, and a willingness to be vulnerable in letting that person talk to a psychiatrist/therapist on the part of friends and family (my family is a great family, but my parents were very fearful).

    Money, money, money because therapy and psychiatry is very expensive, and medications add up.

    More health insurance coverage of BOTH "biological" and "non biological conditions" (on my . . . insurance, "non biological conditions" such as depression get far less visits than bi-polar, considered a biological condition)

    Maybe collaborate with community centers to target at risk populations with education and offers of therapy and psychiatry? (but people are suspicious and bad experiences make people not want to try again--it's hard having to be so vulnerable to a stranger)"

    1. To which I would add: Communication, articulation, and removal of stigma.

      Most of the above was in place for my son, but he never said a word. We had no idea, and neither did his closest friends.

      In retrospect, I can see the signs and his efforts at telling us -- they loom large indeed. But we didn't know to recognize them.

  5. Thank you for pointing out the commonality between the two challenges, and proportionality of the two responses, which had never occurred to me. The other connection is that PTSD, one of the most painful and difficult to treat of mental illnesses, is frequently caused by abuse.

    I agree that a crucial part of helping people with mental illness live long and happy lives is the removal of stigma. To that end, I would request that you cease describing me, my son, and the other 20-25% of human beings who live with mental illness with the disabilist and offensive term "damaged." Just as in the case of physical disabilities, we do have some wounds and impairments not faced by the neurotypical but we also often have very powerful gifts that accompany the challenges--in my case, these are a very fruitful source of ministry effectiveness.

    1. I did not use the adjective "damaged" -- I said that there are people who suffer significant damage, which is quite distinct from the former, does not encompass all people who have experienced mental illness and abuse, and is not a judgmental term.

  6. People and things who suffer damage are normally and correctly referred to in English as damaged, so the meaning is the same, and equally hurtful.

    You actually use the term serious damage to describe people who live with mental illness and abuse and lead happy and productive lives, and then refer back to it in the following paragraph about people who aren't able to. So it indeed appears to encompass everyone with such experiences.

    Finally, as someone who lives with white, straight,and class privilege, I am sometimes told by a member of an oppressed group that something I have said without intention to offend is offensive or judgmental to them. My response, when grace permits is, to honor both their feelings and the epistemological privilege of the victim which makes them, not me, the authority on the subject, and hence to believe them, apologize, and ask how I could better phrase my thoughts to help rather than hurt. We who are disabled deserve the same respect and willingness to learn from non disabled--especially those who claim and intend to be allies in the struggle for justice.

  7. I would like to reframe the question to ask why do some people die of any other illness and others recover. The illness is different for each one and for mental illnesses we are very short of cures anyway. Even if someone is diagnosed then they may not get appropriate treatment and even if they do it may not cure them. And the tragedy of mental illness is that the illness itself may make it impossible to ask for help or even to recognise that you are ill. If that makes sense.

  8. The million dollar question, and I am glad you are pondering and asking. That is the only way to get answers--to face it down. ((hugs))

  9. Love can't hurt. I hope I never lose the awe of having survived my youth to be who I am today.