The Universality of Suicide
I have the privilege of being the adoptive mom of two courageous young men who have battled not only many years without a forever family but also the powerful genetic risks of severe mental illness. Tall athletic Ken lost his battle to the voices at age 19, in 1997. The onset of his illness was so sudden yet powerful, so clearly physical, that we as a family felt quite courageous in facing the word suicide. We did not suffer the silence, the shame or the blame amongst ourselves. We knew that the enemy was schizophrenia.
Our family went on to face the slow steady decline of Ken’s older brother, Jason. With his fluctuating diagnoses, drug and alcohol abuse, and resistance to treatment, his frequent threats and attempts at suicide took on a very different colour. Our experience with police, medical practitioners and social service providers shifted from being caring family to being interfering family. His attempts and crises became ‘old hat’ to family and friends. Comments would emerge about blame, behaviour and our co-dependency. Still, I could see the enemy – mental illness. Jason continues to survive, but the long-term effects of his attempts are evident and the next attempt… is never far away.
In March 2010, I came home to find that my wonderful husband Doug (my sons’ stepdad) was dead by suicide. Doug was the most unlikely of people. What are those comments we hear? “He had everything to live for.” “He was not the type.” “His values would never let him commit suicide.” “He was never depressed before.” Doug had suffered a mild stroke and had heart struggles. He had not been okay. We did get him to the doctor just five days earlier and he had started the antidepressants… but the Gods were not in our favour. We lost him. I was fortunate to have a strong support system – but nothing I had faced before prepared me for the tremendous need of others to blame Doug, or to blame me. My grief was dwarfed by the anger, disgust and misunderstanding toward how Doug died.
Suicidal thoughts are an outgrowth of other conditions – conditions that can gang up on any of us. Whether it is mental illness, blood flow to the brain, cardiac issues, or traumas of a personal nature, it is the conditions that gang up to overwhelm the will to live. As I have watched my three beloved men, I have come to believe that suicide is not about the outside world but about a war going on inside of the victim’s brain or mind or whatever we call that force within us.
I am watching my three grandchildren, and my three step-grandchildren, knowing the profound genetic and social legacy they face. It is my mission to make the impact of mental illness and suicide, as the victim or the survivor, gentler and without shame. I want them to be able to be open about what they may be facing. To prevent suicide, we must first accept with no judgement – we must allow people to grieve with support. For only then, will people have the courage to come forward with their struggles. Only then will enough stories have been told to help us, the family, friends and mental health service providers, to better identify those at risk. Lifting the silence and the shame is key to preventing suicide.
Margo Clinker Farquhar Specht