A Searchlight Soul

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Chester Bennington completed suicide by hanging on Chris Cornell’s birthday, just over a month after Chris Cornell completed suicide by hanging on the 37th anniversary of Ian Curtis’ suicide by hanging.

For those unfamiliar, Bennington was best known as the lead singer of Linkin Park; Chris Cornell was best known as the lead singer of Soundgarden; and Ian Curtis was best known as lead singer of Joy Division.

Now, Linkin Park’s music makes me want to grind my teeth, spit, and curse—and not in a good way. And I never got into Joy Division beyond owning a ‘greatest hits’ collection for a few years as an undergrad. I am, however, a big fan of Soundgarden, as well as another of Cornell’s bands, Audioslave—not such a big fan that I ever made it to a concert. But, living in Seattle, I would see members of the band at other bands’ shows around town in the way back of the early 90s.

cornell dark

How would I know?  Cornell from ‘Fell on Black Days.’

I have no idea if Cornell’s suicide was related to Curtis’ beyond coincidence. But Bennington’s was directly connected to Cornell’s. They were friends, and, from what I understand, Bennington took Cornell’s death particularly hard. Both Cornell and Bennington had struggled with addiction and mental health issues during their lives.

But the takeaway shouldn’t only be that a life marbled with addiction and mental health issues leads to suicide. That makes it too easy for people to distance themselves from suicide, its causes, and our potential susceptibility to its draw.

In the wake of a loved one’s death, thoughts of suicide can arise or increase, and suicide attempts climb.

In the wake of a loved one’s death from suicide, those thoughts and those attempts climb significantly higher.

There are those who have criticized Curtis’, Cornell’s, and Bennington’s suicides by pointing out that they had achieved success, or had spouses, friends, children…all of which should have somehow prevented them from committing suicide, much less having thoughts of such.

That’s a natural impulse—to want to point out why we never would have killed ourselves in similar circumstances. But it’s also false comfort.

Just try to imagine finding yourself in a space where money, success, and a loving family can be discounted as not providing enough impetus to go on living. Imagine finding yourself in a space where you actually feel the people who care about you most will be better off without you. Imagine being so deep into that thought process that you can’t find your way out—that it seems completely logical—that suicide actually seems like the only rational decision.

I could get into explanations of survivor guilt, or what grief can do to people, or the impact of knowing that a friend reached the conclusion that suicide was an appropriate response to the world around them–a world that you were part of.

But I’d rather you think on how declaring yourself immune to something, insisting you are completely separate from some problem, is the first step to blocking your understanding of that problem…or worse, blocking your compassion toward others affected by that problem. You can feel for the families and friends of those who complete suicide without feeling the need to condemn the dead. That condemnation does nothing to help the grieving, or anybody else, least of all you.

 

 

 

It’s World Suicide Prevention Day: Do You Know Where Your Mental Health Is?

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Just before I sat down to write this, around 8 p.m. my time, I lit some candles and placed them in the windows of my home–as was requested by the organizers of World Suicide Prevention Day–a small gesture that maybe nobody will notice–but a sign of solidarity nonetheless.

One might ask, ‘Solidarity with whom?’

With those who have died by suicide?

With those who have lived through a suicide attempt?

With those who have been impacted by the suicide of an important person in their lives?

How about just plain everybody?

None of us are immune to suicide, or the impacts of suicide.

A great many of us like to believe we’re immune.

But our mental health is not made up of absolutes.  It is not a simple either/or option: mentally healthy or mentally ill.

Suicidality itself exists on a scale of ‘definitely not going to happen today’ to ‘working on it right now.’

And perhaps the more we think we’re immune to issues with our mental health, the more we fail to recognize when we might be tilting toward trouble.

2015_wspd_banner_english

Take a big enough hit to your self image–loss of your job, loss of a spouse or signficant other; maybe add on a string of other bad occurrences–financial troubles, illness, the death of a loved one; mix in a few too many drinks and easy access to means, and who knows what might happen?

More than half of the 40,000+ deaths by suicide in the United States each year involve a gun.  How many of those do you suppose were the result of, say, long-term depression, versus a fairly quick unravelling of the deceased’s sense of self, and a lack of knowledge about how to identify and utilize available support systems?  How many of those were a booze-fueled ‘screw it’ to a really bad month, or week, or day?

Of course, when one believes one is immune to such problems, when those problems arise, one will be that much less likely to seek out help.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression.  Many people who die by suicide have been struggling with mental illness for the bulk of their lives.  Many of them have made multiple attempts before they finally die by suicide.

But there are also plenty who die by suicide because they are overwhelmed by circumstances, and have no real idea what to do.  They have never given thought to what to do, or who to turn to.  They do not want others to think of them negatively–perhaps the same way they have thought of others in similar circumstances.

So we need to recognize that we’re all travelling on the same continuum, that we’re all forever in flux, rather than believing we are in two separate camps that will forever remain apart: the mentally healthy and the mentally ill.  Otherwise, we potentially block ourselves off from the need for compassion.  It’s much easier to look away when we can say, “Not me.”

candle

So maybe those candles will go unnoticed, or maybe not.

And at least they’re flickering away against the darkness of “Not me.”

IT’S (not) THE MOST SUICIDAL TIME OF THE YEAR!

It’s common knowledge that the holiday season, and more specifically the days around Christmas, sees a spike in suicides.  Right?  Wrong.  Not true at all.  But lazy TV news writers and reporters, and scores of jackasses who can’t think of anything original to say, and can’t be bothered to perform a simple Internet search, repeat this same fallacy year in and year out.

Now, I could lay out a bunch of statistics for you here, but that’s boring and stupid and it will take you roughly six seconds to perform that Internet Search I just mentioned, which will turn up well over a quarter-of-a-million articles, almost all of which start off with the same, basic statistics.  Okay, jeez you lazy jackasses—click the link if you don’t believe me:  https://www.google.com/#q=Christmas+suicide+spike

The myth about Christmas-time suicides was most likely birthed by an episode of “The Brady Bunch” wherein mother Carol loses her voice, and is unceremoniously kicked out of the church choir just before Christmas.  Youngest daughter Cindy prays to a mall Santa, who manages to deliver the Christmas miracle of snow in Southern California on Christmas, but can do nothing for Carol’s voice.  On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, Carol is locked in her bedroom, knocking back snifter after snifter of Brandy, and wrapping presents.  As she finishes using the scissors to curl a ribbon, the song Carol was supposed to sing in the church choir comes on the radio.  Carol begins trembling with anger, then viciously slashes at her wrists with the scissors.  A short time later (after a commercial break) housekeeper Alice, attempting to deliver fresh pillowcases to the bedroom, realizes something is amiss, and kicks in the door.   Alice uses her apron to keep Carol from bleeding out as Marcia, fresh from her driving contest victory over Greg, hilariously pilots the family station wagon through an open-air holiday market to the Emergency Room.  Once mom is medically stable, a doctor, played by a pipe-smoking Paul Lynde, tells the family in a happily sadistic voice, “You’re lucky she lived—Christmas is absolutely the worst time of year for suicides.”

(Notice there was no actual mention of a spike in suicides.)

Following the episode, the network aired a public service announcement that involved the Brady kids singing their hit single “Sunshine Day.”  Mike and Carol step into the foreground as the music softens, and say, “The holiday season can be tough.  Don’t let suicide ruin your sunshine day.  Get help.”  Strangely enough, it was revealed several years later by the Parents Music Resource Center that back-masking on another Brady Bunch hit, “Time to Change” involved the first known use of the suicide instructional phrase, “Down the street, not across the road,” voiced by one Paul Lynde.

Now that your mind is totally blown, let’s get at the heart of the matter in all this.  I don’t really care that people mistakenly think they know something about suicide in terms of just the basic issue of them being wrong.  What is problematic is the idea of normalizing seasonal suicide.  That is to say, when it is repeated over and over again that people kill themselves around Christmas, it can seem to those suffering from depression, or suffering from various other situational or seasonal forms of depression or mood disorders, or even just having normal reactions to aggressively annoying family members, that Christmas isn’t such a bad time to kill oneself.  Join the club.  It’s normal.  No big deal.  Suicidal gestures also get a pass in this form of thinking—‘maybe they’ll realize how much they’re hurting me if I hurt myself.’

Now, I’m all for normalizing suicidal thoughts—suicide not so much.  Bear with me here—I think it’s valuable for people to know that suicidal thoughts are not a rare occurrence.  Suicidal action often follows people believing they are all alone and that nobody understands them.  If people realized that suicidal ideation occurs to a lot of people, and along a scale of ‘Maybe I should talk to somebody’ to ‘Holy shit! Why am I heading out into the woods with a loaded gun and a fifth of Monarch gin?’, then they might recognize that seeking help is a good idea.  Furthermore, if more people were aware that a friend or family member expressing suicidal thoughts is not an occasion to panic or to plug one’s ears and start screaming ‘La la la—I can’t hear you!’ but an opportunity to open up a dialog and seek out help, then we could make some more progress not just on suicide, but on mental health issues in general. 

In the good ol’ U.S. of A. we love our stories of suicide, murder, and mayhem.  We love a good tragedy that we can sum up with a banal, and ill-informed comment like “Well, Christmas is when suicides occur the most.”  What we have a harder time with is actually acknowledging that we have feelings other than ‘happy’ and ‘murderous,’ and that there are plenty of things that make us sad.

A client suffering from depression recently told me that she feels that at this time of year she can’t just back out of obligations other people have placed on her.  If she would rather stay home and sleep, read, or watch a movie than go out to the seventeenth Christmas party she’s been invited to in the last two weeks, or spend Christmas Eve and Christmas day shuttling between various relatives’ houses for hectic feeding-frenzies and gift-giving-orgies, the people around her slip into panic mode—as if any expression of a desire to spend time alone is an indication she wants to go kill herself.  She attributes this insistence that she be happy and perpetually moving to the idea that Christmas is the time people kill themselves.  In short, she ends up feeling exhausted and out of sorts, because she is trying to prove to people that she is not suicidal—which, she jokingly added, just makes her want to kill herself and/or leaves her in fear that she might drop dead from exhaustion.

So…yeah…Christmas doesn’t, as a rule, provoke suicide.  And if we could all embrace the real ‘holiday spirit’ of actually connecting with each other, instead of pushing ourselves through marathon ‘base-touching’ sessions with people we ignore the rest of the year; if we could learn to communicate a range of emotions, and respond with caring, rather than indifference or panic, we might realize that because we are each dealing with our own, personal situations, all times of the year are the most wonderful time of the year (and the most depressing time of the year, and the most mundane time of the year, and…) Continue reading