Friday, July 28, 2017

In the End, It Does Matter

Celebrity suicides always make the news and it seems like it happens every other day.

What doesn't make the news is that 20 veterans commit suicide per day. 

Or the fact that 94 people commit suicide in America

Per day.

Is it me, or does this ridiculously high number of suicides seem like a major issue we should be addressing with more urgency?

It's a lot to ask, I know. Besides the fact that this country can't even agree on whether global warming and evolution are real, suicide is a tough subject to discuss, which further worsens the problem.

I never thought about suicide for myself thankfully, but I I try to sympathize with suicide victims and think about what it takes for someone to get to the mindset that leads to suicide.

I have had moments of depression, though. I think most people do. I don't think I've ever had "Depression," because I've known people who have and I've studied it a little (it's not just being sad, it's a real condition) but there are times when a lot of us express the symptoms. I don't think I've experienced much more severe depression than most people, yet I think I can understand the mentality that leads to suicidal thoughts. To progress and improve as a society and as a species, it's important to understand extreme mental states. 

Many times suicide is caused by a mental disorder such as Depression and it takes much more than simple willpower to overcome. Suicide or suicidal thoughts are not a sign of weakness. Even without long term or severe mental illness, suicide is not just something that can be willed away. People are in a mental state of absolute helplessness, and if they have the means or the tools, they might take that extreme step.

Suicide victims are not that much different than the rest of us and I think a lot of people are scared to admit that or maybe don't even realize how close they can be to getting to that point as well. 
In many cases, especially those not involving long term Depression, suicide is an impulsive decision. If a person stops before doing it, or if they survive an attempt, they are much less likely to try again. In fact, 9 out of 10 people who survive an attempt will not end up dying from suicide, and 70% who try it once don't ever try it again. That's why it's so important to spread awareness and to provide care to people who may end up on that path. The reality is, it could be anyone. 

A lot of people assume someone at a certain level of success or fame or fortune could never be depressed, and could certainly never commit suicide. Scores of dead celebrities prove that wrong. Robin Williams. Chris Cornell. Kurt Cobain. Plus, many drug overdoses (celebrity's favorite way to die) are calls for help, if not outright suicide attempts.

Whenever there is a high profile suicide, people throw around descriptions like cowardly or weak. Many people say, "I would never do that," as if it's some kind of competition, or as if anyone asked, but nobody really knows. Even if you would never do it, so what? The person who did commit suicide is not you. It's an entirely different person! With different DNA and different life experiences and circumstances and everything! Who are we to judge? We have no idea what they were going through; we may think suicide is never warranted but we are not in their shoes.

When I was young, our neighbor up the street took his own life. He was probably in his late 30s, with a wife and a couple of kids. He seemed happy and successful. At the wake, I heard things like, "how could he leave his kids behind." It does seem very selfish, but oftentimes, people think they are helping their family by leaving. They don't want to be a letdown or a burden. Financially, emotionally, whatever, they think they are hurting the family by continuing to live. That is not true of course, but once that mentality sets in, it can be hard to get out of. 

I also heard, "he had so much going for him." Again, even if that was true, it doesn't mean that he was content or not going through horrible stuff. A person can have a great personal life and a horrible professional life or vice versa, or both can be going well and they still have Depression or another mental disorder. They may be addicted to alcohol or drugs or gambling. There's a multitude of reasons people get into a mental state that makes them think death is the only solution. 

Or maybe they're just in a bad mood and there's a gun nearby. Most suicide attempts don't work out, unless the person uses a gunJust having a gun in the house makes a person 3x more likely to commit suicide. Gun defenders will say that people will find a way to commit suicide if they are determined, and in some cases that's true, but it is clear that when people use other means of killing themselves, they are less likely to actually die and they usually don't try again. If they use a gun, they will most likely die. Therefore, guns are a huge factor in the high suicide rate. In fact, 2 out of every 3 gun deaths in America is a suicide, and it happens once every 25 minutes. 

Holy shit. Once every 25 minutes someone kills themselves with a gun. Seriously, we're not gonna address this? 

Our horrible health care system in this country certainly isn't effectively dealing with the issue. Mental health is especially bad. Most people don't understand it and the majority of those affected by it don't receive proper treatment. We end up relying on police officers, who are ill equipped to handle mental health issues and mostly make the situation worse. Then, the ones who can and do help often face Depression themselves. Over 100 police officers killed themselves just last year.

Doctors, those who we task with saving others, can hardly save themselves. Male physicians are 3x more likely to commit suicide than the average person and female physicians are 4-5x more likely

We have this idea that people who help others, whether it's a public servant or a doctor or even just the "strong" friend in the group, can't have moments of weakness themselves. But they are real people with real problems, and Depression is a real thing, even though we can't see it and it can be hard to define. We can see its effects, and anyone can feel its effects. It's important to be honest with ourselves and deal with issues before they devolve to a point of desperation. 

I was and am naturally curious, so being confronted with suicide at an early age made me consider it as a real thing that happens, and that made me yearn to understand it. Parents and teachers often freak out if a kid simply mentions suicide (god forbid they listen to Marilyn Manson or Gravediggaz!) but I think kids need to understand these things at an early age. They shouldn't grow accustomed to avoiding difficult topics. Suicide shouldn't be some unspoken evil, it should be addressed openly. People with suicidal thoughts aren't witches or insane, they are simply people with problems. If someone is curious about suicide or even has suicidal thoughts, it doesn't mean they are crazy or that they will go through with it. If we stigmatize the problem and never address it as a society, people will be less likely to tell anyone or address the problems themselves. They feel ashamed or worthless or weird about how they are feeling and then never seek help. 

Suicide and suicidal thoughts are stigmatized and weaponized. Take the treatment of the transgender community for example. Trans people often struggle with Depression because society says they are wrong just for existing. They are often hesitant to come out, which leads to stress and other issues. If they do come out, they face ridicule and scorn, they are often kicked out of their homes, and they are murdered at an increasingly high rate. But if they don't come out, people might accuse them of "tricking" them. Not to mention, they won't ever truly be happy because they are hiding their true identity.

After dealing with all that, then they have to hear the President saying they aren't worthy or stable enough to serve in the military. People who don't believe in evolution or global warming are now citing "science" that claims transgender people are all mentally ill. And what is one thing they use to justify that claim? The high suicide rate. It's a sick cycle of abuse. Of course suicide rates are high in the transgender community. Look at all the bullshit they have to deal with on a daily basis.

If we are going to use a high suicide rate as a criteria for mental illness in a community, than the military community needs to address their own suicide problem. Military service people kill themselves twice as much as the civilian population, and once again 20 veterans kill themselves every day. That should dispel any notion that suicide is a sign of weakness. And it should be motivation for better health care for all. But instead of understanding that and providing the support everyone needs, certain people (the ones in control unfortunately) pit the military versus the transgender community. Divide, conquer, and avoid solving any issues.

We need a whole new perspective on suicide. It's not a weakness. It's not The Act Who's Name Should Never Be Spoken. It's something that is happening every 25 minutes.   

There is hope. I consider myself a cautious, optimistic realist. I don't think that simply believing in the power of Good or God will help us prevail, but I have seen enough good in the world to keep me going and to keep me believing that maybe we will turn out all right as a species. 

The situations above are obviously outliers, but they show how the kindness of strangers can literally save a person's life. (We should have learned that from Marge Simpson long ago.) Sometimes a gesture as small as saying hello or sending a text can positively affect someone's mood in such a way that they reconsider any thoughts of suicide. Suicide prevention hotlines, staffed by volunteers with no connection to the people on the other line, are emblematic of the best in humanity. The fact that people dedicate their time to helping complete strangers in times of crisis is a great source of hope. 

Sometimes it takes a stranger. Friends often think they know what's going on in each other's lives or that if something was going on, their friend would tell them. That's not always the case. It's often easier to unload your problems on a complete stranger. They can be less judgmental; there's no baggage or history, bad or good. I can be very sarcastic with my friends (surprising, I know) to the point that our conversations may even seem mean to outsiders. That type of relationship isn't always conducive to discussing Depression or suicidal thoughts. 

But I'm trying Ringo. I'm trying real hard to be the shepherd. I hope my friends know I'm always there for them. I think they do. I know they are for me. 

I just quoted Jules Winfield, and I love his attitude and perspective at the end of Pulp Fiction, but I always wanted to be Holden Caulfield. Not the character himself, but the vision he had for himself, catching and saving kids as they fell off the cliff into the rye field.

There are some people who are basically Catchers in the Rye. It's amazing how many cases there are like this. People who simply decided that they would help others in the most desperate time of their lives with a friendly smile and conversation. 

It doesn't take a superhero to save someone on the ledge. Sometimes all it takes is a little empathy and a big hug. Even as I write that it seems excessively jejune, but there are too many instances where that exact thing happens to not believe it. Besides, a friendly smile never hurt anyone, so what do you have to lose?

I Love You All...Class Dismissed. 

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