Opinion | Promoting mental health awareness the key to understanding causes of suicide
Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 21, 2013 23:02
Feb. 17, country music singer Mindy McCready killed herself with a gunshot to the head. She was 37. Her boyfriend, record producer David Wilson, had killed himself a month prior.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for 38,364 deaths.
Often when I discuss suicide with people, their gut reaction is that the person who killed themselves was a “coward,” especially if said person left behind children. Such a gut reaction is amplified when it is a famous person on the public stage. The thought then is, “They’re rich and famous; why would they kill themselves?”
Both those gut reactions completely miss the point and speak to a far more troubling and pervasive issue in our society.
In the wake of the shootings in Colorado and Newtown, there was much talk about mental illness and the need to fix the infrastructure therein. While I favor such efforts, I think the starting point is with the stigma surrounding mental illness.
As noted by the oft-ill-informed gut reaction to suicide, many seem to not understand mental illness and the connection to suicide.
The problem is people do not think of depression as a mental disorder. The thinking is that everyone has problems and the person just needs to push them through; they need to “man up,” is the usual parlance of our overly macho culture.
However, the discussion here is not the usual sadness one may sustain for a day or two.
Depression is marked by weeks, months and years of unending pain.
That is, feeling like one’s self is utterly unimportant to the society at large. Lethargy can occur, brought upon by deep hate—hate for oneself and others.
There are continuous thoughts of killing yourself, of ending the pain.
As Tiffanie DeBartolo explains in How to Kill a Rock Star, “No one commits suicide because they want to die…they want to stop the pain.”
Or as someone I know explained it to me, they contemplated suicide to end the painful thoughts; they desired a reprieve from the noise.
If someone has cancer, do we tell him or her to simply, “Get over it?” Do we tell a blind person to just, “Look harder?”
If those with mental disorders including depression could simply choose to get over it, then surely they would.
Some are surely puzzled at McCready’s death and wonder how someone with two kids, success and wealth could kill herself.
Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana, is another good example. He was at the zenith of musical success; considered The Beatles of his time, and he shot himself with a shotgun at the age of 27.
However, one need only look at Cobain’s suicide letter to gain a modicum of understanding to what was going on in his head.
Cobain had a daughter at the time of his death, Frances, and he signed off the letter with this, “For her life, which will be so much happier without me.”
That quote quite obviously speaks to his state of mind at the time and the mentality of many before they decide to end their lives: that people are better without them.
I do not see a coward there or a selfish man. I do not see a man that should have “bucked up” and enjoy his immense fame and wealth. I see a man dealing with a mental disorder.
Over 38,000 people killed themselves in 2010; they were not all cowardly, weak and selfish.
We cannot keep ignoring those deaths with such brutish and backward thinking. It is time in the United States that we begin having frank discussions about mental health and suicide.
Spreading mental health awareness and increasing people’s knowledge of mental disorders accomplishes two important things:
1) Creates an environment where people with mental disorders will feel comfortable seeking the help they need. Depression is not something one ought to figure out on one’s own nor should one feel like a failure for admitting they need help.
2) When the person afflicted does so, that person’s family and friends will be more understanding and willing to help and encourage that person towards the path to recovery.
Before we ensure the foundational integrity of mental health institutions in this country, Americans need to understand the blueprints.
Miami University does offer counseling services to full-time enrolled students in credit courses. Students can call (513) 529-4634 to set up an appointment with Student Counseling Services. General student fees cover the first five sessions.