My Son Did Not Commit Suicide

My son did not “commit” suicide.  Dealing with grief is always difficult; dealing with death by suicide is even more complicated.  My son died from an untreated depression, an illness caused by an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain.  It is just like any other illness, but this illness carries the stigma of a “mental” illness.  Mental illness is a neurological illness.  We need to help eliminate the image of a crazy person in a padded cell with the word mental illness because most struggling with this illness are just like you and me except they are fighting a battle internally that we cannot see.

Since my 19 year old son Tommy died by suicide, I have realized that his illness was so incredibly intense and overwhelming that he could not escape from the pain no matter how hard he tried.  Depression causes immense suffering.  Depression prevents those suffering from being able to look forward to anything (including a bright future and the birth of their first child).  The depressed can only think about how they feel in that moment and have lost the ability to envision a future without pain.  Many times, those suffering don’t even realize their illness is treatable.  The depression doesn’t allow them to think or consider the people around them, their families, or friends; they are too consumed with emotional pain that becomes unbearable.  They feel hopeless.  They feel helpless.   They don’t want to die, but their brain tricks them into believing it’s the only way the pain will end.  For them, it is not a choice; it’s a reaction to the agonizing pain they are feeling.  

When I tell someone how my son died it is often followed by a silence or a look of fear.  The people that know how our son died often don’t even bring up his name; thinking it’s best not to talk about it.  The silence is the main reason for the discrimination and stigma.  The silence tells me that the person has decided that this kind of death is not acceptable because it is self-inflicted.  In many people’s minds, suicide occurs because of weakness or lack of character.  Many don’t understand that a mental illness is the same as a physical illness.  We need to support those with a mental illness and their families the same way we would with someone suffering from a physical illness such as cancer.  

The phrase “committed suicide” causes great pain to those who have been affected by suicide.  The word “committed” was used historically because suicide was considered illegal and sinful.  Now hundreds of years later we know so much more about mental disorders.  We know mental disorders can and often do lead to suicide.  So let’s stop using this outdated vocabulary and start breaking the stigma of mental illness.  Unfortunately, most people misunderstand suicide and the effects of it; so the myths are circulated.  

Compassion is a choice.  Education and understanding is a choice.  Suicide is not.  

By Xavier Whitford