Why We Can’t Judge Suicide
A mental health provider’s perspective.
Posted Jun 11, 2018
As a professional working in the mental health field for 38 years, I have seen, felt, and heard story after story and trauma after trauma. Suicide is one of the most difficult topics to make sense of and to help families with. There is so much tragedy and sadness in the world already, it can be hard to wrap one’s head around why someone would want to take their own life. We often hear people talk about suicide as a selfish act saying, “how could they do that to their family or children?”
I think it is extremely important not to blame or judge. If we don’t know the pain and heartache someone is experiencing, we have no right to judge what is going on. The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear of another suicide is the level of pain the person must have been in. It is unimaginable pain and hard for most of us to even understand. It makes me feel so sad to think of someone being in that much pain.
We all have bad days, things go wrong, people can be difficult, work stress and financial stress can get to all of us. But to experience enough pain to want to die is heartbreaking. It is common for others to ask why, to wonder what they could have done to prevent it, to feel guilty, and of course to feel devastated. Some even have survivor guilt. None of this is easy.
The recent celebrity deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, and the publicity surrounding them, makes it hard to avoid thinking about what we can do about this mental health crisis. The surprising statistics of the drastic increase in suicide makes us take a step back. It’s true that we often don’t know what is going on inside of another person. They may present to the world that everything is fine. One of my favorite television anchors, Michael Smerconish, recently said, “You don’t know if the roof is leaking unless you live on the inside.” So true. We don’t know what is going on inside of others unless we ask, and they tell. People don’t typically go around talking about their depression, anxiety, sad thoughts or negative self-loathing messages. They fear rejection or being a burden to their friends and families.
I see a lot of loneliness, isolation, and lack of connection in our world today. Is it because of technology? I don’t know, but I do know we humans need connection with others. We need to connect, not just in play and fun, but to be able to talk about our deeper thoughts and feelings. Just knowing there are people to talk to and people who care in your world is a huge gift. A gift to be grateful for every day. If connection is not a part of your life, it is probably the number one thing to work on and make it so. It starts with taking risks and being vulnerable in your conversations and discussing your inner life. We are all very rich on the inside.
We all need a “what” and a “why” to live for. That means different things to different people. Taking time to think about your life and your goals can give more meaning and significance to each day. Asking the question, “What is my reason to get up today and live life to the best of my ability?” What is my “what” and “why?”
Being authentic in who you are can help connect you to others. Many times, we worry about how we are presenting to the world and are more interested in making good impressions. The real self has good and bad days and good and bad feelings. This is the human condition and journey we are all on together. It doesn’t matter if we are rich or poor, famous or not, male or female, the same race, young or old. We are human, and we need each other. People need deep inner connections with themselves and others.
In summary, I just talked to a friend who had a suicide in his family. I somehow wanted to be closer to it and understand it better. I asked him what his advice is to others about the topic in general. He said don’t be afraid to talk or ask questions. If you see warning signs, it’s ok to ask if someone is ok or if there is anything you can do to help. It may be a direct action like taking a walk, buying a sandwich, or just sitting with them. This may be more effective than just speaking encouraging words. He agreed that connection is the key. He found it interesting that people were so afraid to discuss the suicide with him and his family, but wondered if they just didn’t know what to say. He ended our conversation with tears and sincerity, saying in a soft, sober tone: “listen, listen, listen to those you love.”
My heart goes out to anyone affected by suicide. We can all learn more as the stigma is decreasing and we are willing to have more discussions for both prevention and for helping families who go through this. If you have helpful thoughts or suggestions, please feel free to share them here.
Resources for Suicide Prevention: