Saturday, January 14, 2012

Suicide Straight Talk: Transforming Taboo to Hope

Greetings, friends,

Last night, I was sent this blog posting by a veteran and asked to post it if I felt it was worthwhile.  I thought it was striking and very relevant.  Please let us know your thoughts on this difficult topic here or on Veterancaregiver. Here it is:

I recently had a discussion with a person who is advocating for veterans with PTSD that went down the road of talking about suicide.  For me, having been through my own issues with not wanting to live, having been first and second hand witness to others taking their lives, the topic doesn't scare me.  As I relayed my thoughts about suicide and other subjects of significantly less importance I realized the person had fled somewhere inside their mind.  Then the walls went up and the discussion was over.  It was like I was a very scary person for being so plain and being so up front about this topic.  I was surprised and mystified.  

I have been involved in spiritual groups from many traditions, psych groups of all kinds and though we'll talk all about disease and people killing each other and even advocate, some from a very clearly spiritual place, that it's quite all right to kill people who may or may not be a threat to the proverbial us/U.S., it would seem the subject of suicide is still taboo.  

I told another person I consider to be a friend that I think this is wrong and backward.  If the collective we aren't supposed to talk about it how are we to heal it?  Suicidality shows as a symptom in a larger cluster of symptoms for many mental illnesses and also for illnesses deemed terminal.  Here's the problem.  We'll go to extremes in health care to manage symptoms that cause discomfort but the ONE symptom that will cause death we treat in a completely different manner.  We're told NOT to talk about it.  We're told to let someone else at a call center who has never met our loved one talk to them.  Basically, we're told to be quiet, let the professionals handle it and tell the same to our vets.  

Now wait a minute.  Convince me that some stranger knows my vet or that my vet knows anyone who knows how they're feeling BETTER than me or my vet does.  I'm not buying it.  So now the caregiver is made even more uncomfortable because they've been told they know less about someone they love and they've gotten the double whammy of being told they're just not capable of handling things.  That's not character building and now it's possible there is a wall in a relationship that might not have been there before.

Consider this from the veteran's perspective.  The vet talks to the person they trust probably the most about the subject and thinks they have made a wise choice.   But it all goes sideways because caregivers are being told they can't handle this.  If then the next stop is diversion to a crisis hotline and the call goes well the vet is still left to believe that their person who they chose to trust, probably for good reasons, isn't who they're SUPPOSED to talk with.  The vet is left feeling that they don't know themselves, can't make sound decisions and suicidal statements of any kind will get the police called to take them for supervision on a psych unit.  Obviously, you don't want to dis-empower someone who is experiencing a symptom that can kill them.  But having been through this that is exactly what happens.  

Many vets have vowed never to call for help if they need it and since they were told either explicitly or implicitly that they should have known not to talk to the person/people they trust, now the system has very effectively isolated them.  Sadly, isolation is also a symptom that has a high potential to kill and has been proven to drive people over the edge who were plainly functional before they were isolated.  If this sounds too extreme consider the topic.

Now consider that we train our military to kill people.  Every single person in the military, unless they didn't make it out of their initial training, is trained to kill.  Right now we have a slew of folks coming home who have been in theater, reacting, and their transition back to civilian life or even just every day military life at home is completely different.  When you have viewed life through red alert long enough, fight or flee, kill or be killed, or freeze to avoid any notice, NOTHING is normal anymore.  Every single thing is processed through this new normal.  Healing can be had but it doesn't happen overnight and if we don't encourage people to talk who have been trained to kill, the results, as proven already by statistics, are going to be horrible.

My bottom line is this.  I've been there.  I've attempted and failed.  I've thought a lot about that and I've still thought about dying by my own hands.  I have watched the aftermath of that and also experienced suicide this winter by a friend of someone who is very dear to me who was brilliant and had a beautiful wife and baby girl.  His diagnosis?  Major Depression.  Depression didn't kill him; suicidality as a taboo symptom acted out killed him.  I have isolated myself from people who might listen because I'm terrified they won't.  Why?  Because I've been told I'm wrong and crazy and that somebody knows better than me about me and somebody knows better than the people who love me.

I am certain this is wrong.  We need to push for VA and the DoD to help caregivers and veterans and/or those still enlisted to OPENLY talk about suicide.  We need to talk about that SYMPTOM because there's a good chance in this case the diseases and disorders can be managed but that symptom will kill you.  We need to stop punishing and demeaning people who may not be trained in psych but do possess common sense and love their people.  The folks who love me can call 911 just as easily as somebody in a call center and they might actually be able to speak intelligently about what led up to the symptom escalating.  We need to stop punishing people who have this symptom and want to just talk because if somebody is actively suicidal the Hell in their mind is far greater than any punitive or embarrassing action someone will take against them.  Too many veterans have closed their mouths because of interactions like this.  We need to let our heroes come home again, no matter how many years later, without the stigma.

Until the statistics change for the better we need to keep talking about SUICIDE.  We need to form groups to talk ABOUT SUICIDE.  We need to stop telling people that a symptom is a crime because though not taken to prison, suicide is against the law in every state in this nation.  We need to empower people to lift one another up.  We need to enable and encourage caregivers and their vets to talk about this subject openly and to invite in care as they need and want it.  We need to have a complete change of policy with DoD so that enlisted military can talk without fear of repercussion.  We need to recognize that this is a United States of America problem and we all have a responsibility to unite and help shift it to a living solution. 

The greatest wars are the ones fought in our hearts.  Let's bring these warriors hearts together in respect and understanding.  It is long past time.

With Great Peace and Hope,

A USA vet 
© 2012

*Image created in Tagzedo


  1. A brilliant piece of writing and one that should be shared far and wide. I have never been able to understand how is is against the law to commit suicide! I mean, what is anyone going to do about it? I totally agree that we should open this up and take a good hard look at all the issues and taboos that surround this subject.

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  3. Although I am not a veteran, your blog post is strikingly similar to my own experience. I have been blogging about suicidality and addressing the causative distressors upstream. I am developing a reading list of research, clinical application and resources. I welcome discussion about any topic of interest - of course suicidality is on the table.

    The blog is called Incompatible With Life on Wordpress.

    I wish you and your readers the best.


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