Your Life is Precious to Me

A friend of mine came over the other day in a panic. Well… perhaps ‘panic’ is a little too strong a word. He was frustrated and concerned about a Facebook conversation regarding suicide.

“Damn, I don’t have time for this.”

What he really meant was… this is important, but right now I’m in the middle of a book project. As his editor/publisher I agreed. I need him to finish the rough draft of a second YA book so I can start marketing the first.

“So, what do you want me to do?”

He pointed his short, stubby finger at me, and I instantly knew what he wanted. Like I have any more time than he does. Book publishing is just a hobby to help out a friend. My real job is publishing a small town newspaper, which I just found out, failed to print a couple PSA’s. I’d fire the imbecile who made the mistake except, the imbecile is me.

“It would make a great, human interest story.”

My friend is right, of course. It could be a good story, if he wrote it. Suicide is something that has touched the communities I serve on several occasions, and the family members left behind are always devastated. The loss of a son or daughter, a father or a mother, or any relative is hard. When that loss comes from a person taking their own life, it is even harder because of the guilt, regret, and unfortunately, the stigma.

“You want me to write about the statistics?”

Approximately a half million people attempt suicide every year, of which about five to ten percent are… successful, meaning they achieved their goal. Of those who die from suicide, ninety percent have a diagnosable mental disorder, quite often undiagnosed and untreated depression. Alcoholism is also a significant factor.

“Nobody cares about that!”

Again, my friend is right, which is why I was hesitant to take on this project. After pointing out that creative people (like writers) often suffer from mental illness and some very famous authors have committed suicide, I asked him,

“So… what do they care about?”

“They want to know how to talk someone out of suicide?”

I took a deep breath and said, “You DON’T.”

Suicide is not the problem. Suicide is the result of a problem, a problem that has driven a person to the point of believing that death is their only means of escape. The real issue might be shame. It might be sorrow. It might be any number of negative emotions that cycle in a person’s brain. A suicidal person just wants to escape the oppressive feelings that keep them from enjoying life.

What makes it difficult for the person trying to help is that, those oppressive feeling are mostly irrational. Yes, bad things happen, but life goes on, and good things happen too. Suicidal people can’t comprehend that. Life for them has been so bad for so long that they can not believe things will get better, and even when good things happen, they explain them away.

“So… there’s nothing a person can do?”

“There is plenty a person can do, but it’s not easy.”

Helping a person like this get treatment should be the primary goal. Mental illness is not something you solve by googling some off-the-wall treatment. You need a professional. On a practical level (though again, it may not be easy) remove things they might use to kill themselves — access to guns, knives, ropes, drugs, alcohol, etc.

“But, for goodness sake, be careful what you say to them.”

“You have so much to live for.” “Your friends will miss you.” “Your family loves you.” All of those things may be true, but to a suicidal person, those things sound false. You need to ask yourself, are you really concerned about this person who is contemplating the end of their life, or are you more concerned about ‘your’ feelings or the stigma ‘you’ will have to deal with? Too many of the things we say to people in this situation are about ourselves rather than the person who needs help.

“Thanks, you’ve been a big help.”

My friend left my office knowing full well that he had passed on his obsession to say/write something about this subject. I can only hope he is happily working on his book. I, however, was stuck with waking up in the middle of the night with all of this on my mind. The one thing we did not discuss, though I’m sure he was thinking about it, was the issue of sin.

Many of those who proclaim a believe in God, say that suicide is a sin (hence the stigma of it all). Certainly, the Bible says, “Thou shalt not kill,” but it also says that hating someone is the same as murder. Which is the real sin: killing or hating, adultery or lust, stealing or greed? Is suicide a sin, or the result of sin, either mine or someone else’s? Perhaps the bigger issue is that when people say, suicide is a sin, they are really trying to shift the blame and avoid taking any responsibility for the problems faced by their fellow humans.

Of course, if you don’t believe in God, what does any of this matter. Death is just the process of recycling our bodies back in to the organic material of the earth. We are nothing more than a collection of accidental, howbeit incredible, mutations. So, why then should suicide bother us so much? Perhaps suicide is just the self-inflicted process of eliminating the weakest members of our species. If that sounds a little harsh, don’t blame me. That’s what we have been teaching our children in school for the last half century.

The point of all of this? If you say to someone (especially if they are contemplating suicide) “Your life is precious to me,” be sure you believe what you are saying. A suicidal person will know if you are lying, and what a terrible thing to do to someone in their last moments of life.