Talking Carefully About Suicide Is Good. Avoiding The Subject Isn’t.
I don’t know if it matters, but what you do, which I tripped over by accident, has been critically important to me since the advent of the new anti-enlightenment loosed on America by the last president. Your work is comfort. Your work has kept me from making a fool of myself when discussing politics or law. You are an anxiety antidote for me and, I suspect, many others. Even when you upset me by revealing that I’m not going to get the legal outcome I desperately want, I’m grateful to be disabused of layman notions of the law. Just wanted to let you know.
Two additional notes, Ken.
One is addiction and sobriety. Addiction wraps itself up with both depression and anxiety, and its lowering of inhibitions opens the door wider to acting on suicidal thought.
You do NOT have to go AA/12-step route. There are secular alternatives like Lifering, lifering.org, and SMART Recovery. Please pass this on.
Second may be more controversial yet, but, with men in particular, it's the role of guns in suicides. In an ever-more-absolutist stance, many gun orgs don't even want to talk about addressing this.
Dammit, we tried. We talked, we intervened, we hauled him to appointments, we tried to convince him he was important to us. We told him and tried to show him we loved and needed him. He did it anyway. I still feel like a pitiful older sibling who could not catch my younger brother before he killed himself.
I’m glad you are winning, Ken. Keep it up.
Ken, About 8 years ago I contacted you about my son who was at the time in San Francisco and was quitting his anti-depressant cold turkey. He was able to get off of the anti-depressant and has been doing well since then. He has had some mild cases of depression but I think his current lifestyle has helped. Since that summer, he got his Bachelors degree from The University of Chicago and will be finishing his Doctorate in Evolutionary Biology at Berkeley in May. Thank you for your words of encouragement those many years ago. Keep up the advocacy.
Thanks Ken. The more depression and anxiety is talked about in a thoughtful manner with vulnerability, the less stigma it will have attached to it, people will more likely seek help for it, and people will feel less like they're alone in the fight.
Ken that was so perceptive and honest. Isolation and self destructive conduct go together. Reaching out is like a periscope allowing you to see beyond the rut you are in. I have lots of severe depression in my family (and me to a lesser degree). My youngest daughter is a successful research scientist in remote sensing, but she would not last a month in her demanding job without her weekly CBT and to a lesser extent her psychiatrist. Her success despite a debilitating condition reminds me of you.
I thought the silence around O’Connor’s death screamed much louder than words. That allows each individual to fill in the context with his or her often malignant imagination. Sometimes context is essential. Take Robin Williams--who battled depression and addiction quite successfully. Many people would attribute his decision to take his own life to such a past. But it turned out he was suffering from an irreversible case of Lewy body dementia, which is about the worst way imaginable to end your life. Totally changes how his act should be interpreted.
I admire your writing greatly--no matter the topic.
Thank you. Everyone here on the Irish border is carefully acting like they loved her so much (or not) and now she's just over like a poem when the book is closed. I'm having a hard time with that because I will admit that I wanted to reach out to her as a peer, and I didn't. I mean, who the hell am I to feel like reaching out to a celebrity in pain, right? What could I have done? Nothing, says my Northern Irish husband. Something, says my American Jewish heritage. Maybe.
If someone told me when I was 30 that when I was 56 I'd feel guilt and shame over the death of a rock star, I'd tell them they definitely had it wrong. And sure, my therapist would say not to feel those things unless I was at fault. So, OK, I won't assign myself that blame. But I could have followed up on my impulse to send her a note recognising that she was having a hard time and telling her I appreciated her. That I didn't makes me sad. Good sad. The kind that teaches me not to be so timid next time. And that's a lot of what she was about, to me. A life of not being so timid. Maybe.
Thanks Ken. I have personal experience with suicide of a close loved one and I’ve become keenly aware the very keywords you mention in news articles and death. Sinead O’Connor’s death landed with me, not only as a longtime fan (we’d not heard anything like her before), but also as human being who knows suffering. I appreciate your willingness to talk about it in an honest and forthright way. All too often it’s couched as a “selfish” act when the person considers it an act of love by removing a burden from loved ones lives. It’s a complicated thing and deserves careful, nuanced discussion.
Everything you said.
My dad committed suicide in 1969 at age 43. I found in him in the garage behind the wheel of his 1967 Mustang with the engine running. Back then the only treatment for major depression was Lithium and ECT. My wife also attempted suicide at age 22 and again at age 48. Was hospitalized several times, at the Mayo Clinic and Cedars Sinai. Received numerous ECT treatments. Luckily, she is doing well now at age 62. On Seroquel, Lithium, and Cymbalta.
For anyone out there suffering with major depression or disabling anxiety, seek treatment. It's readily available. And today's treatments are far more successful in causing remission of the illness (I don't believe it's ever cured.) than in 1969.
Thank you for this, Ken. I’m really down in it right now, struggling with suicidal thoughts. A couple nights ago I walked deserted country roads at two in the morning, and thought about what it would mean for me to disappear. I’m doing a little better today but I’m still really, really depressed. Hearing that you’ve struggled too makes me feel a bit better about my own rough patch. I’m really fighting to stay on this earth. Thanks again, Ken.
What a beautifully written and sensitive article. Thank you.
Thank you so much for talking so openly about this. It's so important for people to read pieces like this, especially from someone with your reach and writing ability. I'm grateful you were able to get the help you needed and are now willing to share about this.
I had so many more words typed out but all it really came down to was this: thank you, Ken.
Thank you, Ken. I follow you for your legal insights (and excellent writing). But this is the best.
Thank you for sharing this. I've been in the dark space too -more than once. When you're there, you can't remember what it's like to not be there so it's nearly impossible to make rational decisions. Robin Williams hit me hard and so as Sinead O'Connor.
Here's another perspective. I'm a high school teacher. I've lost 3 former students to suicide in the past couple of years. I was on the periphery of their lives and yet I was devastated. No matter how little you think you matter in someone's life, you do indeed matter. There is not a single former student in my 25 year career I wouldn't be thrilled to have reach out to me. If it's too hard to tell me your struggling with mental health, ask me my opinions on the latest election or SCOTUS decision. I'll chat with you, even at 2 in the morning. And if the people on the periphery of your life care this much, the people in your inner circles care even more. Please let someone help you out of that dark hole. There are more of us who know how awful it is than you imagine.