NOTE: I added a few other resources at the end of the post. Â Please share these if you know someone who needs help. In the very first week of NovemberÂ Â in 1993, a week I remember well, a fellow responder of mine put a bullet in his head. Â He, along with many of my friends, wereÂ supposed to be at my wedding. Â He and I were not particularly close anymore, as he worked at the department I first worked at (my complicated work history doesn’t require retelling here). Â When I saw him on occasion, I didn’t detect any sadness or anguish. Maybe his feet were like the proverbial duck, paddling like mad beneath the surface, while maintaining his composure for all of us to see. Â But still, I felt close enough that I consider he would have reached out to me. We had a warm, friendly, funny relationship at work, but we weren’t drinking buddies or anything. Â Still, he had on more than one occasion told me that he looked up to me as an officer and appreciated my style of leadership. When you have that kind of relationship, you’d think people might turn to you when things are piling up in their lives. I guess that would be an incorrect assumption.
There have been any number of articles recently on suicide among first responders. I have been following some of the cases lately, and wonder what could have been done to prevent this option from ever being put on the table.Â I have had other friends commit suicide before, two friends while I was in high school, one as I grew older. One of the high school era friends was actually not a fellow student, but a friend of my mother’s boyfriend at the time. He called the house looking for Scott and I didn’t know where he was (this is the era before cell phones). From all accounts, I was the last person to speak to him, but he didn’t betray what he was getting ready to do. I wish I had known- maybe there would have been something I could have said, some way to reassure him that there were other options.
I won’t deny thinking at some particularly lowÂ points in my life, that suicide wasÂ a potential option. There is a difference between considering it as an option, though, and deciding it is a viable one. I guess anything within your reach is an option, if you really look at it. Not necessarily a wise option, not necessarily a sane option, but an option nonetheless. Maybe, like any other problem, you have to acknowledge it as an option and rationally decide that it isn’t suitable.Â When you are desperate and lonely and things keep piling on, it might seem that it is so, but things tend to take a turn, one way or another. They don’t always get better and maybe that’s the only remaining option.
Avoiding the discussion doesn’t make the problem go away. If an individual is troubled enough to put suicide on the list of potentials, they must have exhausted a long list of other desirable outcomes. Â Suicide is the game-ender. No matter what your faith or belief, in none of them that I am aware of, is suicide a good choice.Â Part of a samurai’s training involves seppuku, or ritualistic suicide. However, taken in the real context through my very basic training in Iaido, our avowed purpose, Shinu kikai o motomo – looking for the opportunity to die – doesn’t suggest fatalism. It is the inference that we should die well, that if we are going to die, die for something worth dying for. Â This doesn’t equate to a reduced value of our own lives, but instead that our lives are of extraordinary value, and therefore should be only lost or even risked if the cause was worthy of a noble and extreme sacrifice. Â This discussion also follows into the mindset of the bunch who call us cowards for not charging headlong into a lost cause. I instead choose to pick my battles well and win the war, and live toÂ tell the tale unless dying will improve the situation. Â That is the embodiment of the true warrior.
There were not helplines and help websites when I was growing up, and given the number of them now, you’d think the rates would be dropping, but they are not. I think this isn’t necessarily due to the lack of help, but the lack of thinking things through before committing the act. People are much moreÂ impulsive these days. They fail to consider the ramifications of their actions. Like I said earlier, it’s not that I have never considered suicide; it’s that I looked at the option as not an option. I chose to live, to stake my claim in life, and to put my head down, consider the barriers, and push through them. That’s not to say that faced with an incurable disease and a quality of life that was miserable it might not be a potential solution, but is it really? We were faced recently with a well-known individual in our community who may or may not haveÂ ended his life, but the point is that it certainly opened up the dialogue about suicide in our community. This individual was well-respected and loved, successful, engaged…but rumor had it that he was faced with a dire outcome (I wasn’t close enough to know, and it certainly hasn’t been publicized). Is it then a better option? I don’t know- I don’t have all those facts.
We have to talk about these things for one reason- talking about them can show to others that there are better solutions. Â Just saying “suicide is bad” doesn’t dissuade our loved ones and friends from choosing it. Noting that someone is struggling and handing them a card to the EAP doesn’t absolve us of the rest of our responsibilities as humans. When our society closes the doors toÂ veterans who come back seeing the horrors of war, Â when our responders are faced with more and more senseless violence and despair, we tend to internalize that stuff and at some point, the noise becomes too much. When you wake up every day and knowÂ the rest of the day you are going to be in pain, physically or mentally, unless we are presented with a viable solution, ending the pain may seem like the only way out, and sadly enough, there are perhaps some who do find that it’s the only way out.
If you are genuinely concerned about the suicide rates of our veterans and our fellow responders, talking about it is the first step. Providing places to turn, especially turning toÂ those who are trained to help push through that noise, is a great step as well. Ultimately, however, we have to work on providing better solutions: Being there for someone who is lonely, providing painÂ relief to those who are in constant physical pain, showing those in deep despair the goodness in our world, and encouraging those who see suicide as the only way out to explore otherÂ options. As I always say, there is compassion in action. Don’t just run your mouth- do something about it.
***NOTE: I would be remiss if I didn’t at least post some links to possible help and educational material: