Nothing throws us off more than suicide. It hits especially hard when that act is committed by a young person or by someone famous. It draws attention to a subject we’d rather collectively turn away from and talk about the weather instead. Or guns. Or drugs. Or anything else, really, but the idea that somebody would check out on purpose.
What draws a person down such a dark path? How is it that he arrives at this choice? One thing is undeniable. When a person reaches that point, chemicals in the brain have gone haywire. Neurotransmitters have started spewing a wash of sadness that the person who owns the brain can’t understand. This wash results in blinding that person’s eye to hope. Despair and overwhelm are squatters where hope once lived.
To everyone else, that life may seem full of hope and promise. But to the person suffering, not so much. It feels like there is no alternative. The person is desperate to escape the pain and that really is the only thing they can consider.
And when they go, I suppose that pain releases–though in reality, nobody really knows. One thing we do know is that she leaves behind a trail of tears to all who wish she would have seen hope. They wonder if there was something they could have done. She leaves confusion and a huge wake of sadness that the people left behind must trudge through without losing hope themselves.
In the case of a parent, that trudging can last a life time. In the first National Alliance of the Mentally Ill Family to Family class my husband and I took 18 years ago, I met a friend who cried through most of the first few classes without saying a word. When she finally was able to speak, she shared that her 15 year old daughter had come to her telling her she was feeling sad and hopeless. My friend told her she needed to get it together…pull herself up by her own bootstraps and be resilient. Two weeks later she jumped off a cliff and killed herself.
To deal with her grief, her mom became a mental health advocate. She travelled around high school health classes to talk to high school students about mental health and how to look for red flags in themselves and in their friends. Each time, when she asked how many students in a random class had thought about suicide or knew someone who had nearly 100% of hands went up.
Just because we aren’t talking about it, doesn’t mean nobody’s thinking about it. And nobody is exempt from a mental health moment. We need to bring these conversations out of their dark closets (starting with our schools!) and not leave them solely for psychiatric evaluations. It doesn’t always mean we will change the person’s mind, but at least we can try to pass on hope and love they might not be feeling or able to see themselves in any particular moment.
We will miss you, Mr. Williams. Thank you for sharing your genius with us and giving joy to so many others during your stay here.