Another Needless Tragedy

By now, most people have read about the suicide of Broncos’ wide receiver Kenny McKinley. That someone so young (23) and so successful (professional athlete) could take his own life strikes so many as so senseless. We mistakenly assume that a person must be completely hopeless for depression to rise to the level of suicide. And we mistake outward success for inner happiness or contentment.

All accounts are that McKinley was a jovial, good spirited guy. With the exception of an offhand comment he made that he “should just kill” himself after his surgery, there seem to be no reports of any of the tell tale signs of deep depression, let alone suicidal ideation. One wonders how many of the signs may have been present, but not recognized.

Probably each and everyone of us has joked about killing themselves at one point or another. Of course, as someone who has tried to do just that, I usually cannot get away with that type of joke. But for the vast majority of people, such an offhand comment would raise no warning signals to others. Perhaps we should try not to joke about such things? I don’t know.

What we do need to do is better recognize the signs of depression ( maybe we need to be serious about that word, too) and especially the warning signs for suicide. I do not wish to rehash them all here, but rather touch upon a few. Take notice of changes in someone’s eating or sleeping patterns. When in emotional turmoil, a person will often have difficulty eating, some difficulty getting to sleep, and lots of difficulty getting up in the morning. Another indicator is when someone loses interest in things they normally show a great degree of interest in. This is part and parcel of an overall disengaging from the world, socially and emotionally.

Many of the other warnings are even more difficult to discern. Changes in mood can be difficult to spot unless they are so dramatic as to be painfully obvious. Jokes about dying- where do we draw the line between offhand comment and expressing an inner desire not to live? It all can be quite blurry.

Luckily, there are tons of resources regarding depression and suicide on the internet. If someone you know might be depressed or suicidal, it’s best to be proactive. Contact their network of friends and family to see if others have noticed any changes or are concerned. Ask your friend if s/he is depressed- you’d be amazed at how many people just never bother to ask. That question can open the door to a wealth of information about your friends mental well-being. And always, ALWAYS, err on the side of caution. Your friend may be temporarily angry with you for making too much of a non-emergency situation, but s/he will come to realize that you simply love them and do not want to see them hurting.

Again, as I posted before about my own struggles with suicide and depression, if you have any questions or need any help, feel free to comment here. I promise not to publish the comment. And to try my best to help.

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Courage or Cowardice

The suicide of Vic Chesnutt over Christmas affected me not only as a fan of his music, but as someone who has been there before. Fortunately none of my attempts were successful. I owe my life to some very special and amazing people who looked out for me, saw that I got help and were there even when I might have wished they were not.

Suicide is either something very courageous or extremely cowardly. Perhaps it is a little bit of both, no matter how dissonant that may seem.

It takes a great deal of courage to contemplate taking your own life, let alone actually doing it. That is why so many people who suffer from severe depression, or other affective disorders, never get to the point of becoming suicidal. The thought alone is enough to scare many people into getting help if they already haven’t. And for some others it may serve as a reality check, that maybe your life is not that bad after all.

But for those who have the courage to pursue suicide, life itself becomes a living hell. You see, deep inside us all is a drive for self-preservation. Thus, every day becomes a constant battle between your desire to die and your innate will to live. This will is what keeps you from jumping in front of a bus or swallowing a bottle of pills at any given moment. The level of agony and angst caused by this inner struggle is immense and only worsens your mental state.

You see, staying alive for another day is not something you see as worthy of self-congratulation. If anything, it makes you feel cowardly for not having whatever it takes to kill yourself. It is not a way of life I would wish upon my worst enemy.

Eventually, this pain becomes so great that you take the cowardly route of ending your life. Cowardly because you’ve decided not to fight through the pain. And make no mistake about it, there is a choice here.  Taking your life is the ultimate avoidance technique. It’s an easy way out, an escape from reality that is much more permanent than drugs or alcohol.

I know that this might be provocative, but I truly believe that if you have the courage to plan your own death then you have the courage to fight through whatever emotional problems you may have. You will not realize it until you’ve made it through, which is why having a strong support system is crucial to surviving.

People may wonder why I am even willing to share this part of my life in such a public way. There is really only one answer- to help others. If one person is helped by these words, then it is worth all of the potential risks of people knowing about my darkest days. If you or someone you know needs help, leave a message in the comments (I won’t publish it), and I will do my best to put you in touch with the resources you need.