I have never been actively suicidal, but I have thought about it. I have never wanted to die, but in the past I haven’t cared about living. As I’ve said before, one of the biggest things that stopped me from being actively suicidal was that I didn’t want to be a burden to the people in my family. I had a relatively good childhood, sure my parents made some mistakes, but all parents do. Overall though, they took me to church, taught me right from wrong, and made sure I was always taken care of.
It was against this personal backdrop that I recently found myself in an online comment thread responding to the question, ‘what is the best way to prevent suicide?’ Some of the comments were helpful suggestions. Others were crude jokes, and others still demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding about suicide.
For example, one comment simply said, ‘accept Jesus.’ This does work for some. Faith is a powerful tool, and can be useful in the struggle against mental health issues. It certainly has been for me. Yet many fail to find comfort in their faith, and merely feel like it is their fault that faith hasn’t worked for them. For this reason suggesting faith can actually do a lot more harm. Before I was diagnosed and got treatment I spent a lot of time angry at Jesus and if someone had said this to me, it would not have ended well.
Another person said, ‘good parenting.’ Again, this can be highly beneficial and strong family ties can be a major reason why people don’t go through with it, as was the case with me. Yet, even with good parents I developed depression and had these thoughts. Just because I never became actively suicidal doesn’t mean others don’t. Good parenting alone won’t necessarily prevent suicide either.
The people who made these suggestions no doubt meant well. Yet they didn’t understand that suicide isn’t a failure of faith or a failure in the values adopted from your parents. It is a disease. It is a failure in the brain chemistry. But it is also a failure of our society, and the stigma around mental health issues generally and suicide specifically.
Those times I’ve been at my worst, those times that I didn’t care about living, there were few people I felt I could safely go to. Even if I did have people I could go to, I didn’t know the words to use. How do you describe being that broken? So I stayed silent. And so do many other suicidal cases. Because our society is silent. Our society still burdens an already struggling mind with the stigma associated with these issues, with the feeling they won’t be understood or accepted if they speak up.
There are many factors that contribute to suicide. For this reason, I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to get to the point where suicide is completely prevented. Yet we can do a lot better. We can and we must do a lot better than this society of stigma. And suicide. And silence.