Suicide has risen to an all-time high.
“Killing oneself is, anyway, a misnomer. We don’t kill ourselves. We are simply defeated by the long, hard struggle to stay alive. When somebody dies after a long illness, people are apt to say, with a note of approval, “He fought so hard.” And they are inclined to think, about a suicide, that no fight was involved, that somebody simply gave up. This is quite wrong.”
― Sally Brampton
We’ve all battled with our emotions at some point in our lives or another. We’ve all found different ways of dealing with the overwhelming pain of heartbreak, loneliness, lost dreams, and trauma. Some of us choose to avoid these emotions and push them to the back of our minds. Some of us use distractions to keep the destructive thoughts and sadness at bay.
But sometimes, it can be too much. Sometimes, you give in to the plethora of feelings that have been knocking at your door for weeks, months, even years. And when that happens, not all of us are lucky enough to survive the visit. I would consider it a luxury to know how to handle your emotions when you feel miserable, hopeless, and alone.
Jonathan’s world of loneliness
Someone I knew just committed suicide. This tragedy left many at a loss for words. On August 8, one of my residents committed suicide in the condo that he rented in the community where I am employed. His name was Jonathan, a young 27-year old who decided to pull the trigger on his life. In a brief moment, before the bang could permeate the building, Jonathan’s body rested silently.
Most of us perceive the act of suicide as an isolated event. We understand it to be the decision a person makes to take their own life, culminating in a moment of doing the unthinkable. Suicide is so much more than that.
People don’t die by suicide — they die from depression. When the never-ending heaviness of pain that accompanies depression gets the upper hand, convincing you that the only way out is suicide.
Jonathan was an aspiring writer. Over the years, his life had started to spiral into darkness. His view of hope and joy is obscured by empty content. We can never know how he felt at the moment that he decided to take his life. But from what I believe, if he had even the slightest bit of confidence in another way to end his pain — he would have gratefully accepted.
However, that’s the thing about depression. It is cruel and demeaning and forces you to believe that you are alone genuinely. It creates feelings that no one can help you out of the pit that has swallowed you whole. Jonathan had many talents, but many troubles accompanied them.
He felt separated from friends and family, who added to his problems by ridiculing him and pushing him further away. Like anyone who has experienced trauma will understand, Jonathan decided to keep the hurt he felt nestled in the back of his mind. He used his writing to express his thoughts and channel his emotions.
Although unreceptive to the idea that her son was gay, his mother showered him with the unconditional love only a mother can have. The two of them shared a deep connection — she was his life, and he was hers.
Unfortunately, Jonathan’s mother became terminally ill last year and could no longer support herself. Jonathan took in his mother and started working two jobs to pay for the rent, food, and extra medication for his mother’s treatment. Although he did his best to care for her and ensure she was comfortable, seeing his mother in that state depressed him.
Seeing the one, you love the most suffering and knowing that they are in pain and frustration is difficult. Especially when you can do nothing to help them, this leaves you feeling helpless. It forces you to accept the reality that there are some problems you cannot solve — and this pulled at Jonathan’s heartstrings. As the days progressed, his responsibilities, as well as his mental health, pushed him further into depression.
Jonathan found solace in my friendship and frequently spoke to me about the troubles he was experiencing. Sadly, his mother became hospitalized several times — after which Jonathan sought me out to lend him a listening ear and a warm embrace. He was getting better — having someone to help him carry his pain was working. He spoke those words to me, and I believed him. I could see a significant improvement, but hidden behind the mask was a sadness that I could not visualize.
Things quickly took a downslide for the worse when Jonathan’s mother overdosed. Although Jonathan had started seeing a psychiatrist, he found more comfort in talking to me because I accepted him unconditionally. He attempted to navigate the hurdles life was throwing at him. He discovered his doctor’s appointments cold and unsatisfying because his doctor did not have the patience to listen to him.
Because of Jonathan's skills, he tried using writing to help him retake control of his life. He went for writers’ competitions and applied for a job that resonated with his passion for literature while providing him with financial security at the same time. Jonathan even sought out spiritual guidance and support groups so that he would feel part of a community. His soul was kind, sweet, and receptive to all of our brainstorming ideas.
Before he had a chance to let these drastic improvements become a permanent part of his life, his beloved mother passed away. We are all born with a breaking point at which the hurt and resentment we have been pushing away decides to come back. For Jonathan, that point was the loss of the only family member that had been a source of love and consistency.
Nothing made a difference in this season of grief, not his good job, a beautiful home, a new car, or my constant availability and outreach. There was nothing that was enough to turn his thoughts around at this point.
Believing his condition to be situational depression, his doctor prescribed him anti-depressants. Overpowered by the side effects, which included suicidal ideation, Jonathan decided to act on the thoughts plaguing his mind for years. The side effects stated clearly in the small print “increases the risk of suicide,” and it did.
“When people kill themselves, they think they’re ending the pain, but all they’re doing is passing it on to those they leave behind.”
― Jeannette Walls
When suicide becomes the only answer
You may have heard people recalling the last few days of a loved one’s life. They may tell you that there was never any indication, never a desperate cry for help that could have hinted that the worst was about to happen.
When people make the ultimate decision to take their life, they sometimes feel a sense of relief in the days before it happens. They feel as though they’ve found the perfect solution to take away their pain. Hence, the days leading to this anticipated relief feel hopeful and light.
That’s why it’s essential to understand that suicide is never the result of a day’s planning. It is never one incident that pushes someone to pull the trigger on all future possibilities of hope. Like Jonathan, a series of events and a lifetime of pain make us behave in ways that lead to a tragic end but feel our only way out of the crushing emotions.
Those left behind when someone commits suicide struggle with numerous unanswered questions. What could they have done to make it better? What had they been so blind to for all these years? Could they have been the reason why someone pushed to make such a decision?
Suicide may be the end of pain for one person — but it transfers that pain to the individuals that are left to deal with the grief.
Like every form of energy, emotions do not die out. They transfer from one to another. When we work on our healing and processing of our unhappy emotions, we can turn them into contentment, art, or a sense of acceptance.
Utilizing the help of professionals and loved ones, we can turn grief into hope for the future. But when we decide to put a drastic end to these emotions, they linger on with those left behind. I know Jonathan did not mean to cause so much sadness; he just felt so empty. I’m sorry he could not see a better solution or the twinkle of light in the dark.
The pandemic has brought more than the COVID outbreak.
Over 800,000 people die due to suicide every year. Every 40 seconds, someone decides that the weight on their chest exceeds what they can bear. The World Health Organization states that for every person who dies by suicide, there are 20 who attempt.
People are exposed to this risk throughout their lifetime and can fall prey to it at any age. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15–29-year-olds worldwide.
With the pandemic leading to forced isolation, more people than ever before are at risk of suicide-related deaths. People cannot seek treatments for mental health issues, lose their job, lose a loved one, or are faced with being evicted from their homes.
Being isolated leads to higher alcohol consumption and US alcoholic beverages sales rising 243% from last year. If someone is suffering from chronic depression, the isolation and the anxieties stemming from the pandemic has only added to their problems.
Many studies have indicated that COVID-19 had led to a rise in anxiety, fear, depression, and insomnia — all reasons people contemplate suicide. Untreated mental health issues are another cause. When someone has been repressing their trauma through avoidance, long work hours, or spending time away from home, the compulsion to remain at home forces them to face the grief they can no longer avoid.
The rate of untreated schizophrenia, major depression, and alcohol use disorder in North and South America is 56.3%. Those in the vulnerable category include those with lower tolerability to stress and uncertainty, depression and anxiety, and those facing economic problems. Those who live in high COVID-19 prevalent areas and have encountered the most deaths are at risk.
There are ways to improve this problem.
There are signs that you can detect in a loved one if they are contemplating suicide. Behavior such as excessive mood swings, which include extreme and unexpected rage or sadness that doesn’t wear off, are a cause of concern. Feelings of hopelessness should raise caution — especially if they say they do not see things improving.
A suicidal person may become withdrawn or calm after finalizing their decision. You might notice a change in appearance and character — such as not caring about what they wear or moving and speaking very slowly or quickly.
More obvious behavior includes suddenly engaging in reckless behavior, such as abusing drugs, drinking and driving, and other life-threatening choices.
Furthermore, suppose someone you know has recently experienced a traumatic event, such as the death of someone close to them, the end of a relationship, or homelessness. In that case, you should be acutely aware of their reaction.
If they start speaking about suicide, do not take it lightly; 50–70% of people contemplating suicide hint to someone close to them as a warning.
If you are worried that someone you know is considering suicide, there are ways that you can step in. Although not everyone will give a straightforward answer, you need to ask them if they are contemplating taking their life. Any warning that they give you is severe.
Like Jonathan, most people who resort to suicide feel alone and past the point of hopefulness. Encourage them, remind them that they are loved, cared for, and get the help they need. It would help if you assured them that there is no shame in reaching out and that you will support them, get in touch with a therapist, or seek the necessary treatment.
We all struggle at different stages of our lives. During the pandemic, we are experiencing a massive surge of collective pain and grief. At a time such as this, it is essential to remind each other that we are not alone in our experiences. Be the light that shines brightly.
The pain of what we feel can be overwhelming, but some people want to see us grow into a hopeful and loving version of ourselves — the most important of them being our future selves. We will miss that opportunity with Jonathan and others who feel life's battles are not worth the fight. The pain lingers.
“You will survive and you will find purpose in the chaos. Moving on doesn’t mean letting go.”