I need to set the record straight.
Suicide is not an easy way out. Ever.
No one comes to the decision to end one’s life on a whim. You do not get to that place without suffering, greatly.
I shared a number of articles during the height of 13 Reasons Why on Facebook. I wanted to provide a counter-argument to the “at least it’s starting an important conversation.” No conversation about suicide should happen without a co-occurring discussion on mental illness and mental health.
The idea of revenge suicide is neither fair to those left in the wake of a suicide nor those who have fought their own demons and lost. To get to the point in which you think death by your own hand is a good idea, you must first suffer from some form of mental illness. A healthy brain will not go there.
Yes, a sexual assault can act as a catalyst as it can send the survivor into PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Yes, bullying can exacerbate an already struggling mind, but again, a healthy brain won’t just decide to travel the route of suicide.
Do people feel guilty in the wake of anyone’s death by suicide? Yes. We all have what if moments in which we question what we could have or should have said or done. I felt that way last summer; I still feel that way. We can hold individuals accountable for things like bullying, stalking, or other immoral and/or illegal activities, but we cannot lay blame solely at their feet.
Recently, Chris Cornell’s death by suicide had many in Generation X pondering our mortality. 52 is too young to die by any means. I listened to Soundgarden as I read a number of pieces that came out in the wake of the news.
I found myself nodding along with one. Until the author referred to “young kids” and suicide as an “easy way out.” The author has since edited his post to remove the “easy way out” and reference to another musician’s suicide as “petulant,” so I won’t link. But let’s address it anyway:
Suicide is not an easy way out, not even when you’re a tween or teen. You see, as adults, we are afforded the luxury of hindsight. We can tell our tween and teen children that, yes, life gets better. That someday mean girls won’t run their mouths (though that’s a lie). That someday they won’t care what others think (though that’s not always true). That their hormones will even out and things will make a little more sense (until they go all wacky again). That they’re not alone (that’s the truth, kiddos).
But in that moment, to that young person, sometimes the problems seem insurmountable. Sometimes the self-loathing that often accompanies Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) makes a teen feel like the world would be better off without them; that they can’t do anything right; that they’re always hurting other people; that they deserved to be treated that way. I’ve recently been discussing suicidality among adoptees with a group of smart women. Trauma can begin on Day One, folks.
The truth is that children, tweens, and teen are not exempt from mental illness. I wish they were. Oh, I wish. But we’ve been living it for two years now. I’d give anything for my daughter to feel like she belonged on this planet, that her life has purpose, that she is as beautiful as the rest of us see her. But that’s not her reality right now; it’s not our reality right now.
I was once a teenager with an undiagnosed mental illness. My anxiety during my senior year was so high that I couldn’t function, even though to the outside world, I seemed just fine. I wasn’t. A teacher recognized this and set into action a series of events that should have given me a diagnosis and treatment. It was the 90’s and we didn’t want to believe teenagers could have mental illnesses, so nothing happened.
And nothing happened when I was hospitalized in college after an attempt to take my own life.
It wasn’t until I was a Grown Ass Adult, had birthed two babies and was parenting one that a doctor said, “Oh hey, you kinda sound like you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” Yeah. I did. I do. I likely have since I was a young teen. I likely always will.
Now our generation listens when a child talks about suicide, no matter their age. Generation X listens because we weren’t heard. We talk about it, online and in person and with our kids and with strangers, because it matters. Because we want our kids and our peers and the parents we care for to know they’re not alone.
No, suicide isn’t the easy way out, for the younger generation or those of us Gen X’ers fighting—tooth and nail—to survive each and every day. It’s an excruciating journey which ends one life and throws many others into crisis, and it’s one that we hope, by talking about it in real, valid, edifying ways, we can help other avoid.
If you’re struggling with parenting a suicidal teen, start here.