Why Don't We Talk About Suicide?
More U.S. soldiers have killed themselves than have died in the Afghan War.
-"Time" Magazine, July 23, 2012
(Google Images. "At Eternity's Gate," Vincent Van Gogh.)
Why don’t we talk about suicide?
It’s in the news enough. Jacintha Sladanha, the nurse who took her own life after the infamous prank phone call from 2 Australian DJs on the radio station 2DayFM. Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman from Rutgers University, “[…] after his roommate secretly streamed video of him on the Internet kissing another man.”
According to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH ), suicide is “preventable” and suicide is a “public health problem.” So why don’t we discuss suicide publicly?
In the case of Sladanha, the news stories focus on the DJs and thereby elevate them to (infamous) celebrity status. In the case of Clementi, news outlets focused on gay rights & bullying. A New York Times" article, penned two years after Clementi’s suicide, states, “An international spotlight turned the episode into a cautionary coming-out story, of a young man struggling with his sexuality and the damage inflicted by bullying.” No doubt gay rights & bullying are significant issues to tackle. Yet gay rights and bullying are also news-chic. Popularly controversial. Buzz words. In other words: they make good news. Absolutely we should focus on them, as well as appropriate radio etiquette. But also, we need to focus on the act that actually kills.
In its July 23, 2012 issue, Mark Thompson and Nancy Gibbs write a feature for "Time" about suicide and the military . They bio the lives of two families, the McCaddon’s and the Morrisons, and mention the death of another, Marine Major John Ruocco who hung himself in 2005. Dr. Michael McCaddon and Capt. Ian Morrison, both captains in the Army, died on March 21, 2012. Aside from painting a delicately intricate picture of both men’s struggles with mental health and treatment, the article raises startling questions about the stigmas associated with mental health and, especially, with mental health and our military. In its opening pages, the article, ambiguously though honestly, declares that, “The specific triggers for suicide are unique to each service member.” It makes no claims about the causes or prevention of suicide. But, the article talks. Eight full pages. Statistics. Stories. Resources. As though desperately attempting to understand what kills our troops, what injures our troops’ families. The article talks.
What are the risk factors for suicide? Think about it. Is killing one’s self because of feeling embarrassed or, more startlingly, because of feeling like your life crumpled before you, a reaction parallel in scope to the emotion? No. But for those who have a stark chemical change in their brains due to physiological or environmental causes, suicide is a reality . Suicide is an option. Suicide makes sense. Not because those who feel suicidal are selfish or cowardly or bad or defective. Because those who feel suicidal cannot feel anything other than utter despair (i.e. crushing weight, that nothing could possibly lift this weight, worthlessness, uselessness, self-loathing, incapacitated, etc) and cannot see beyond that moment. As outlined by NIMH and the Time Magazine article, the following can cause such chemical changes (and are not the only causes of suicide):Continued on the next page