In this last issue of The Vermilion for this semester, I wrote a news article about the mental health crisis and the counseling services offered by the university. When we write news, we have to write with an impersonal and objective voice.
But to write so coldly and factually about mental health, and especially suicide, felt wrong. So, as someone who spent much of his life struggling with suicidal thoughts, I want to talk frankly and directly about suicide.
I think, even today, when people talk about suicide, there’s an incredible stigma around it. People are afraid to engage in real discussion about suicide beyond the simple “don’t do it, people will miss you.”
But I think it’s important to have that discussion, even if it’s scary or uncomfortable. Because the truth is, when someone opens up to you about their suicidal thoughts, you might be the last person they ever speak to.
Suicide is scary. Suicide is ugly. When you’re stuck thinking about it, everything else gets completely swallowed up.
But, at least for a moment, the idea of suicide seems liberating. In one, decisive moment, every single problem goes away and nothing can ever hurt you again. Right?
The best book I have ever read on suicide is “Suicide: The Forever Decision” by Dr. Paul Quinnett, which is freely available online. In the chapter “What if you don’t succeed?” he talks about how difficult it actually is to successfully commit suicide, sharing cases of people who tried incredibly lethal methods and still survived.
One case is about a teenager who shot himself in the head, survived and had to live in a nursing home, unable to go to work or school. Quinnett adds that the more lethal the method, the more disfigured and damaged your body becomes if you fail. And if you do fail, you may not get the chance to try again.
“They may find themselves confined to a bed in a nursing home, unable to care for themselves and prisoners of their own making. And, once the treatment staff know that you have made a suicide attempt, they will take every possible precaution to see to it that you do not try again,” Quinnett wrote.
According to the Louisiana Department of Health, 90% of people who attempt suicide will not succeed. Suddenly, suicide isn’t such a sure thing. The odds are incredibly stacked against you, and failing can make your life far, far worse.
I remember walking alone at night to the hospital near my house, looking up at the windows and imagining myself waking up in there, alone and permanently damaged in some way. Maybe to the point where I was completely debilitated, unable to care for myself. That was enough to scare me off of making an attempt.
To me, suicide isn’t truly a “choice.” It’s a decision that someone makes when they feel like they’ve completely run out of options. But if suicide isn’t even a definite option to get you what you want, which is most likely to be free of whatever suffering you’re going through, then what are you left with?
“It gets better.” You hear it all the time. The easiest three words to say. And if you’re struggling to find a reason to keep living, I wish I could say those words to you. But I can’t. Because I don’t know you. I might not ever know you. I don’t know what you’re dealing with.
Maybe you’re dealing with chronic, intolerable pain that there is no treatment for. Maybe you’ve lost something in your life that you can never get back. There are no guarantees in life, and I won’t make you a false promise.
All I can share with you is a piece of my own experiences, as limited as they are. Remember, I’m just a 24-year-old college student who knows very little about the world. And if you’re reading this a few years later, I’ll be a 30-40-something who still knows very little.
I graduated high school over six years ago. It remains the worst part of my life. I didn’t get invited out to parties or hangouts or anything like that. I didn’t go to prom. I didn’t have a real friend group. I didn’t know what it was like to be accepted for who I was, or loved, or cared for.
I felt entirely alone in the world. I spent most nights alone in bed, my room only lit by a phone screen as tears filled my eyes and I tapped out words that nobody would ever read. I read a lot online then, about other people who felt the same way I did. There was one person whose every word I felt I connected to. In their final post, they said they were about to try to kill themselves.
Somehow, I kept living. And despite never really learning how to socialize, I found a friend group. I found people who invited me to things, who wanted to spend time with me.
Then, I moved countries, and somehow found another wonderful group of people that wanted to be around me, that I felt at home with. Then eventually, I found someone who loves me as I am, scars and all.
Maybe it won’t get better. But, like with suicide, I think the odds of that are against you. Live long enough, and you’re bound to find people you can connect with. And I think that’s all we really need.
In a world that can be utterly soul-crushing, there are still real, genuine people. Maybe they’ve had the struggles as you, or the same odd little quirks that put other people off. And I think, more likely than not, you’ll stumble upon them someday, as long as you keep living.
I can’t say for sure it’ll get better. But if suicide isn’t that great of an option, all we can do is keep living. We shoulder whatever burdens the world has forced on us and we walk through life, connecting with whoever we can on the way and making each other’s burdens just a little lighter.
There are people out there who care, even if you haven’t met them yet. And there are plenty of resources out there to help you with whatever you’re going through until you find yourself in a better place. I’ve gone to counseling here on campus before, and I have nothing but good things to say about it. It definitely helped me when I needed it.
Take care of yourself. As long as you’re alive, good things can still happen.