I see "suicide prevention" as something the "preventers" do for themselves. I've heard and read lots of stories about how losing someone to suicide affects other people. It's all about the "survivor." And, yes, I actually have lost someone to suicide. But now I want you to think about what the suicidal person is going through. They never seem to talk about that in those stories.
Imagine the intense emotional pain you feel when you lose a loved one, or when a relationship breaks up, or when you have lost your job and livelihood. Imagine that pain.
Now, imagine you are having that pain FOR NO REASON. And imagine that the pain comes and goes, You never know when or for how long it will be with you. That's how some of us experience depression. That's how I experience depression. Your brain has gone off-kilter. You are unable to carry out the most basic tasks because they are just too much effort. You feel worthless and useless. People try to reassure you that you are a good person and you deserve to live; they tell you good things about yourself, but YOU JUST CAN'T BELIEVE THEM. Besides, you can't stand to live with the incredible pain any longer. The pain that has no reason. Can you begin to imagine this?
Your loved ones do all they can to help. They take over the tasks you usually perform. That is wonderful, because you don't feel as if you are falling further and further behind. But it's also awful, because you know that you are a burden, adding work to their already busy lives. They say it's ok, but you know in your heart that they would be better off without you; they just don't realize it yet.
If you are very lucky, like me, you have a couple of people in your life whom you trust, who have seen you pull through this before, and who express their confidence that you can pull through again. Nobody else has any credibility.
If you are very lucky, like me, your spouse takes their wedding vows, for better or for worse, seriously. If you're not so lucky, your spouse tell;s you to suck it up, stop being so lazy, you have nothing to be depressed about. Maybe they divorce you. They cause your pain to increase. Think about that.
Maybe you have friends who have learned about "suicide prevention." They say and do all the right things. But as legal scholar Susan Stefan puts it, it's more like (paraphrasing here) pushing a person out of the path of an oncoming train, feeling relieved that you have done so, but not helping the person figure out how to stay off the train tracks.
Now this may be a shocker: When I hear of a person who has died by suicide, I am happy for them. Of course I am sad and broken-hearted to lose them, but I know they have finally found peace.
Until this country takes some concrete action, suicide prevention is just a pretty phrase.
Here are a few helpful actions we could take:
- Listen to people who have mental illnesses to learn what will help them.
- Invest some real money in mental health research.
- Invest some real money in mental health treatment.
- Pay our mental health caregivers salaries and benefits they can survive on, so more people will be able to do that work.
- Hire enough mental health caregivers that they are not continually understaffed.
- Pay children's services workers commensurate with the incredible stress they encounter in their jobs.
- Hire more children's services workers so they can give adequate attention to each case they are assigned.
- Offer free parenting classes so people can learn how to raise their children without causing mental/physical/sexual trauma.
- Offer free education to family and friends of those who suffer from mental illness to help them cope, and stay, with their sick loved ones.
- Ostracize politicians who mock disabled people. Yeah, that means Donald J. Trump.
There are certainly other things we can do; these are just a few things that occur to me right off the top of my head.
Will this be expensive? Of course it will. Can our leaders find the courage to make this happen? I have my doubts. But isn't relieving emotional pain as important as relieving physical pain? As treating Type 2 Diabetes? As research on diseases that cause much less disability? As building a fancy sports arena? As space travel? As incarcerating people who smoke pot? You're damned right it is. And it just might prevent some of those suicides people claim to be so worried about.