Recently I was told one of my favorite comics had committed suicide. Robin Williams brought me many hours of joy and laughter. I don’t want to talk about his tragic lose or what drove him to this. I want to spend my time talking about duty.
I want people to believe that they have a duty to live, a duty to fight depression. They have a duty to themselves, their family, and their friends. I want that attitude firmly implanted in every human alive today and every human yet to be born.
When a person aggressively fights a biological disease like cancer it can make a difference in the outcome. Shouldn’t fighting suicidal temptations be encouraged; maybe even in moral terms if that will help? If attitude of the one fighting and the attitudes of society can make a difference when battling cancer wouldn’t it make sense the same is true of depression?
One assumption seems to be that no one who commits suicide is ever responsible for their actions. I was not myself either time I tried. Suicide is a logic solution to an illogical set of circumstances. Inside I was in so much pain. I couldn’t escape the torture and the logical end was death. Irrational? Perhaps it is. But logical? It surely was to a mind so riddled with pain it saw no value in the continued fight.
The person suffering depression and suicidal thoughts is driven from the logical to the irrational. They become interchangeable. Things that once seemed farfetched become sensible. In my case death seemed not only an option but the only option.
But let’s assume that it is true just for the sake of argument that when someone tries to commit suicide they are not responsible for the action. Would emphasizing and constantly affirming that truth lead to fewer suicides in society or more of them? Would telling people you aren’t responsible for the suicide encourage or discourage it?
I’m not saying that I want to have a utilitarian ethic about what messages should be presented in our society. I’m just questioning whether the people who are so confident that suicides are beyond moral considerations have given any thought to what they might be unleashing on society.
I question if they’ve ever truly been on that edge. The edge where pain is all that’s real and it never ends. I question if they’ve ever been forced to the edges of logic and rational thought where the only logical end is death. I feel sad for whatever drove Robin Williams to his suicide. I feel sad for any who have committed suicide. I am sadder still for the families destroyed, and the ones left behind asking “why?”.
Perhaps I can’t help much but I can say when you are on that edge you can’t see those who love you. Only pain. That is all you see and all you know. Blinding, Blistering, Never ending pain and no relief on any horizon.
Now let’s talk about the reality. Suicide is a process. A slow decent into hell itself. But along the way there are signs. Signs I should have seen and asked for help. Along the way and before the edge there is still rational thought. There is still a way out, or at least a way to the needed help.
I am responsible for missing those signs, I am responsible for not reaching for the help I needed while my mind could still process the need and see my loved ones. Before the darkness came there was a light. I allowed it to be dimmed and dimmed again until darkness was all I knew.
I will ask you to think about those with mental illness and the stigma associated with it. It is the duty of society to make it safe and without judgment and stigma for those considering suicide to speak up and get help. It is our duty to our fellow human beings and ourselves because one day it maybe you considering suicide. The life you save may be your own or someone you love.
The people fighting the suicidal thoughts are cast aside. They are not heroes or brave like those fighting more tangible monsters like cancer. Perhaps changing the stigma of mental illness might save more lives? Treating those fighting the good fight as heroes or champions may help. I don’t have those answers but I know removing responsibility is not the answer. Removing the stigma is far more helpful.
If you knew a friend, a lover, a child who was depressed and dealing with suicidal thoughts would you want them to think the temptation was beyond moral accountability? Beyond their choice and control? Or would you want them to hear “You can beat this.”, “I’m proud of you.”, “I am here to help” and “Keep fighting.” We encourage those with horrible diseases like cancer to do just that. Why not those with horrible mental illness.
But because we can’t see it like we can cancer it doesn’t seem as important. Society places a stigma on mental illness. You aren’t looked as a person. Some ask why are you depressed you have it all. Why ask why? Why not ask is there anything I can do? Why not tell them to fight the good fight?
Pain can only be endured for so long before the illogical becomes the logical. The isolation of mental illness compounds that feeling and where the person thinking about suicide should reach out but they recoil instead for fear of the judgment. The stigma that you are sick with an invisible foe that can’t be defined and for which there is not set cure.
Here are my final questions to you:
Do you know someone you who you believe maybe have a tough time of things? Someone being bullied, someone in real pain, someone who is depressed, someone in a terrible position.
If so what have you done? Have you visited them, called them. Have you told them you are proud of how they are fighting this or asked if they need anything. Have you reminded them you are their friend and you care.
What can you do to help change the stigma of mental illness? Perhaps that is the key to reminding people that we as human beings should all live, embrace life, and continue living? Perhaps by changing our opinions of the mentally ill we can encourage people to reach for help.
I know I’ve felt the stigma in my struggle with depression and terrible pain. People tell you to stop complaining or that it isn’t so bad or even yeah but that was years ago it’s over now. People look at you strangely and there is a tension surrounding mental illness. That same tension causes many to not ask for the help they need while they are still rational. Mostly because the rational mind can still perceive the stigma.
Is our society even capable of articulating a universal rationale for eradicating the stigma that mental illness is somehow not the same as cancer? It is horrible, life long fight against a foe bent on killing you. I know it’s tried twice and I know of the stigma I’ve faced it most of my life.
That issue is more worthy of your time than discussing if suicide is within our moral and intellectual control. Because it is and we all have a part to play in it. We can stop more people from trying if we can remove the social stigma associated with the struggle of those considering suicide.
Do your part and let’s change the stigma and embrace the victim and encourage their brave fight. When they reach for help don’t judge and just help them to the help they need and encourage the fight because believe it or not it is a fight for their lives and without help they will eventually lose that fight. Depression is relentless and it never quits, doesn’t know the word die, and will overpower anyone if they stand alone.