Can Suicide be Stopped or Prevented?
Last Saturday I spent the afternoon at an event sponsored by the American Suicide Prevention Foundation (ASPF). I sat at a table with Maggie, the founder of my cherished support group, “Solace for Hope”. I had my books (sold 2).
Many people stopped to talk to us and we met some very interesting people, mostly parents, who were in different places along their grief journey. Once again I was reminded of how lonely grief is for most people - but I won’t go off on that topic today.
Today I want to present this question. Can suicide be stopped or prevented? The answer isn’t as simple as it seems. The obvious answer is “yes” and that’s the point of educating people about the signs, what they can do, etc. Here’s a fact sheet from the CDC that is very helpful.
The thing is - it often can’t be stopped or prevented. So when someone like me is surrounded by signs and t-shirts that say “Stop Suicide” or “End Suicide Now” we feel misunderstood - or we feel that “our person” who took their life was misunderstood. It can cause a person to feel guilty, like they should have been able to stop it. It adds to the pain that is already inside us.
So the actual answer, can suicide be stopped or prevented is - sometimes. Sometimes it can, but certainly not in every case, and we shouldn’t put that expectation on the family and friends of the person who ends their life. Sometimes someone recognizes the signs and catches the person in time to get them help before they can make their final decision.
But - what I’ve learned from actually talking to other parents and following thousands of them on social media, if your child has made the final decision, they will often STOP ACTING DEPRESSED before they take action. They feel relieved knowing the end is near and so when they follow through with their plan, everyone is shocked.
Of course, we should be diligent and aware, hoping we can make a difference and help someone choose life over death. But when we can’t, guilt should not be piled upon us, no matter what the circumstances are. Trust me, we pile plenty of it on ourselves without society, foundations, family, and friends adding to it.
One heartbreaking post I saw on Facebook said this (paraphrased slightly):
“A few weeks after my 17-year-old son died of suicide, I heard through a friend that other friends were talking about it. Several agreed that I should have “seen it coming” and done more to help him. I asked her what she said (hoping she would have defended me). She said nothing, she remained silent because she didn’t want to join the gossip. I was so hurt, but it was a reminder that most people have no clue about what it’s like for the one who dies and the ones left behind.”
I responded to this mom telling her it was not her fault (along with many others who commented). The point I hope you walk away with if you read this is that it is never anyone’s fault if they could not stop a suicide.
I’ll leave you with 2 stories of friends I have lost (I have lost 5 people to suicide, 2 friends, 2 cousins and my boy). This one was a friend named “Red”.
We knew Red was talking about suicide. I had spent the day with him, trying to keep him busy. I asked him to help me buy a cassette player for my car (yep; it was the 70s). Red seemed pretty good all day. I felt hopeful. Red’s brother, Jim, talked to all of Red’s closest friends and we agreed to keep him busy, or just hang out with him, for the next few days. That night, our group was all going to a party at our friend’s house in San Diego (an hour away from home). When we got there I looked around for Red and asked his brother, “Hey where is he?” Jim grabbed me and said, “He’s with you! He said you were bringing him down here!” I replied, “He told me YOU were bringing him!” By the time Jim drove home, it was too late. Red had planned this out and taken his life when all of his friends were at the party.
I had another friend take his life when I was in my 40s. Doug and I knew each other online only, he lived in Canada. We were very close (not romantic at all, just friends). We would spend hours chatting on Yahoo Messenger. I saw signs that Doug was changing a lot in his life: He sold his condo and moved into a one-bedroom apartment; he sold his beloved Corvette; he created two scrapbooks for his two children with all the photos and memories he had of their lives. He did these things over about 6 months. I didn’t see the signs. I didn’t put it together till after the fact. Now I look at it and it seems so obvious, knowing he was depressed.
I received a call from Doug’s sister one afternoon at work. She said, “I’m not sure who you are, but I am Doug’s sister and he left a note asking me to let you know he ended his life. You were the only person he mentioned in the note. He wanted me to tell you how much he appreciated you being his one genuine friend.” OMG! I felt so bad, like I should have been able to stop him - even from all those miles away. His death hit me very hard, and I still think of him often.
It seems like there needs to be a better way to say “stop suicide” that doesn’t put the responsibility on the person that was unable to do so.