Amy Roberts: Talking about suicide shouldn’t be taboo
It’s not a light topic, nor is it one I have any expertise in. I’m incredibly fortunate to have escaped any personal ties to suicide — always at least three times removed from someone who has taken their life. A friend of a friend kind of thing. By all measures, I am nothing if not unqualified to offer my thoughts on such a matter. But last week, the deaths of designer Kate Spade and TV host and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain consumed so many headlines, it’s hard not to write about it.
Since their suicides, there’s been no shortage of articles and social media posts and news coverage with suggestions on how to give, receive, or ask for help; how to recognize the symptoms, start the conversation, and respond appropriately. There is a concerted effort to make what was once a taboo subject, only whispered about in small groups, part of a mainstream conversation, which seems like a good thing. It wasn’t too long ago that cancer was only referred to as “the C word.” People avoided the topic, which undoubtedly stigmatized those with the disease. But when the hushed voices stopped hushing, funding for cancer research, support groups, and permission to hope for a cure all followed suit. It seems reasonable the same thought process might apply to mental health and suicide. The less off-limits it is, the more likely we’ll remove the built-in limitations of prevention.
For a long time, I was part of the silent judgment that did little to help. In part, this was because I watched my sister fight every single day for another one. I watched her take on a disease we all knew would eventually win — brain cancer is exclusively victorious. Yet she was determined to give it a run for its money. She just wanted to live.
And knowing she woke up grateful every morning to see another day, that eventually losing her mobility and memory (never mind her hair), did nothing to quell her will to live, made me less than sympathetic towards those willing to throw in the towel over a divorce, loss of a job, or a general feeling of hopelessness.
That experience, coupled with my “get up and get over it” approach to most things in life, did not lend itself to compassion or understanding on my part. Admittedly, when I learned of someone’s suicide, I was quicker to respond with, “How selfish” than I was, “How tragic.”
I recognize that’s callous and a big part of the problem. Whatever problems I’m facing, however big my grief or despair might seem, it doesn’t minimize someone else’s anguish. We all have different thresholds for emotional pain, just as we do physical pain. We all have different backgrounds and experiences that make us more or less capable of coping. And all chemical imbalances are not created equal.
It’s easy to wonder how two people who seemingly had everything — fame, fortune, friends, family — could take their own life. Then, it’s even easier to wonder how those with so much less manage to plod on, even be optimistic, when the odds are so skewed out of their favor.
I don’t pretend to understand the emotional disparity, I just know it doesn’t really matter. That was proven twice last week. Everyone is fighting a battle, and there is no equity in how we are armed for it.
Suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the country. That’s pretty staggering. Statistically, one out of every ten people I know think this world might be better off without them in it. That’s tragic.
I hope these two most recent and high profile tragedies will serve as a reminder to all of us to be more gentle towards each other and to ourselves. Life isn’t easy for anyone.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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