Suicide is not a light topic to discuss. Having lost loved ones to suicide, and dealing with my daily struggles of suicidal ideation, I have a pretty solid understanding of its effects on both sides.
Although people mean well, when they share posts about suicide awareness, I get angry. I don’t get angry with the people specifically, but with society as a whole–for several reasons.
Generally speaking, we have become disconnected due to social media. I see people on dates or having coffee together, and their faces are staring at screens. We rarely talk face to face with people, and generally choose to text instead of call. Surely this doesn’t apply to everyone, but even if it doesn’t apply to you, I’m sure you have witnessed it.
Suicide has been glamorized as an attention-getter to teens and young adults. When a person is tragically lost to suicide, there is a tendency for people to flood their facebook pages with posts of grief. People who are closest to them naturally get messages and posts with words of condolences and love. Next, we start to see people who went to school with that person, but never actually talked to them, post about spreading suicide awareness, and getting their satisfactory amount of “likes” and attention. Which leads to cases like this.
Suicide prevention is a serious issue that deserves attention, as it is quite literally a matter of life or death. The approach to spreading awareness, however, is ineffective and shallow. The people who mean well by sharing suicide hotline numbers and thinking they’ve done their part in suicide prevention are quite unaware of the topic for which they are trying to advocate.
Just weeks ago, when I was at what seemed to be a dark point of no return, I tried calling a suicide hotline. The answer was automated. I HUNG UP. If my husband didn’t answer the phone, (I was just going to leave him a voicemail) I wouldn’t be here writing this today.
Despite seeing countless posts from “friends” saying to call them or a suicide hotline in their efforts to prevent suicide, I didn’t think to call them. I didn’t feel comfortable enough to. How can anyone feel comfortable calling a stranger (even disconnected friends can feel like strangers) in their most vulnerable state?
I still see posts mourning people who have been lost to suicide, and my heart shatters for them, whether I know them or not, I grieve heavily for them. One of them was a mother of three, and that shook me to the core.
My children could have been enduring the pain her children are in.
My husband once asked me why it affects me so much when I hear about people whom I’ve never met committing suicide. The best way I could think to explain it to him was to compare it to the experience of a cancer survivor. They’ve survived cancer, yet they still lose people to it, and there is that looming fear of it coming back to get them. They understand the pain the person endured before passing, and the thoughts and feelings they possibly experienced as well. They see the pain the loss causes the families, and worry about possibly causing their families the same.
“Cancer is a disease, and suicide is a choice.”
This brings me to my next point about the lack of understanding. Suicide is a fatal symptom of a disorder more than it is a choice. There is an umbrella of mental illnesses that each come with their own stigmas.
People with depression are labeled as hating the world and wanting to kill themselves and everyone around them. People with PTSD are most likely back from combat and are ticking time bombs waiting to explode. People with bipolar disorder are unpredictable and unstable. Get the picture? Society labels people who suffer from mental illness as generally dangerous. In that same breath, they try to prevent suicide by saying to open up and talk about it.
So we can be labeled more? No, thank you.
The only way to truly prevent suicide is to break the disconnection among humanity. Reach out and actually talk to people. Get to know one another. BE PRESENT.
Furthermore, we need to end the stigmatization of mental illness. Just because it isn’t visible doesn’t mean it isn’t painful. Just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean you have to fear it. Mentally ill does not equate to criminally insane or unfit to be a parent or other contribution to society.
To truly prevent suicide, we need to spread compassion and efforts to understanding.
It may not be the most popular approach, but I believe with every fiber of my being, that it would be the most effective in saving lives.