Suicide is Not a Choice: Surviving Your Child’s Suicide
Stopping the Stigma of Suicide
As much as I respect and value online resources and support for parents who lose a child to suicide, I vehemently disagree with any resource that states suicide is a choice. Suicide is not a choice; suicide is not a decision.
For all the strides we’ve made forward with understanding mental health, the Stigma of Suicide is still currently entrenched in even some reputable support groups.
This thinking is naive and outdated. Suicide is not a choice any more than death by any other disease is a choice. Mental illness is not “all in your head thinking” anymore than physical illness is “all in your body” thinking. We don’t choose disease states, we don’t choose mental illness, and “Suicide is not a blot on anyone’s name; it is a tragedy,” as author Kay Redfield Jamison explains in Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide.
Suicide Is Not a Choice
Suicide is not a blot on anyone’s name; it is a tragedy-Kay Redfield Jamison
Suicide epidemiologists collect, study, and research data about suicide to understand the complex issues in and around suicide. And it is suicide epidemiologists who assert firmly that suicide is not a choice.
Nationwide Children’s Hospital Center for Suicide Prevention and Research in Columbus, Ohio has a team of Pediatric experts who are suicide epidemiologists who collect and analyze data for children who die by suicide. Ohio has a steadily growing number of children aged 10-14 who are taking their lives. Suicide epidemiologists seek an understanding of suicide in order to reduce suicides in children.
Viewing suicide as a choice promotes the misunderstanding that people who engage in suicidal behavior are selfish. Selfishness has been defined by Merriam-Webster as ‘seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others.’
Suicide does not generate pleasure, advantage or well-being. People who take their own lives commonly feel like a burden to others or experience intense emotional pain that overwhelms their capacity to continue with life. Making others feel guilty is typically the furthest thing from their mind.John Ackerman, PhD, A Blog by Pediatric Experts, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Center for Suicide Prevention and Research
Suicide is Not a Choice
We often underestimate how many factors contribute to an outcome as complex and final as suicide. Those who experience the kind of emotional pain associated with suicide do not typically want to die; they wish for an end to unbearable emotional pain and, often, the resources that allow them to hold on aren’t available.
Individuals who struggle with thoughts of suicide usually have a hard time thinking flexibly and their ability to see an end to pain and a life worth living is greatly compromised.John Ackerman, PhD Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Center for Suicide Research and Prevention
Suicide Data 2022: United States
Citation for Suicide Statistics Chart, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, United States Statistics 2022
General Statistics – Center for Disease Control WISQARSAmerican Foundation for Suicide Prevention, United States Suicide Data, 2022
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) Fatal Injury Reports. (2020, February 20). Retrieved February 9, 2021, from https://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate.html
Why Does Suicide Seem Like a Choice?
John Ackerman, PhD, Nationwide Children’s Hospital
A choice usually involves making a selection based on multiple factors or preferences. Sadly, an inability to make rational, life-affirming decisions is a hallmark of suicidal thinking. Intense emotion pain, hopelessness and a narrowed, negative view of the future interferes with balanced decision-making.
Shock, Denial, Guilt, Anger, Depression-and guilt, over and over again guilt, have churned through me since losing my son. There hasn’t been anything resembling an orderly process through each of these difficult feelings. When Dylan died in June of 2012, I felt complete shock and an overwhelming numbness. I felt shut down and as if in a mist or fog-or perhaps even behind a veil-where nothing felt quite real. I functioned as if on autopilot.
After SuicideThe Compassionate Friends, Surviving Your Child’s Suicide
Feelings of shock, denial, guilt, anger, and depression are a normal part of grief. These feelings can be especially heightened when a child has died by suicide.
Guilt came nearly immediately. What had I done? What had I missed? What if I had been there with my son? Why couldn’t I keep him safe? Why couldn’t I protect him?
The Compassionate Friends, Surviving Your Child’s Suicide
The suicide of a child can raise painful questions, doubts and fears. You may question why your love was not enough to save your child and may fear that others will judge you to be an unfit parent. Both questions may raise strong feelings of failure. Many bereaved parents wrestle with these feelings. . . . [Suicide is not a choice]
Nothing can prepare you for what happens when your child dies by suicide. It is truly living out a nightmare from which you cannot awaken. Indeed, “grief is an extraordinarily powerful constellation of emotions that can initiate a chain reaction of biochemical events in the body” (Understanding a Broken Heart – The Physiology of Grief)Beth Brown, Struggling with Guilt After Your Child’s Suicide-A True Tale of Two Mothers
Dealing with Depression
Depression settled immediately into all that I am. Why didn’t my son want to stay? Why wasn’t I able to stop him from taking his life? I lost my past and my future the day Dylan died. He is my only child, and I love him beyond words. “If Only” haunts me even now, and guilt? My depression and guilt are one in the same.
Lack of energy, sleep problems, inability to concentrate, not wanting to talk with others, and the feeling there is nothing to live for are all normal reactions in bereavement. Situational depression, as opposed to clinical depression, should eventually subside. This type of depression can be helped by integrating moderate physical activity, plenty of rest and water, and a nutritious diet into a daily routine.
Try to allow family and friends to take care of you. You don’t have to be strong. Try to stay connected with people you value and trust. Talking with others who have been through a similar situation may also help you to cope. If the depression does not appear to lessen over time, you may want to talk with a qualified professional who can determine how best to help you.The Compassionate Friends, Surviving Your Child’s Suicide
Guilt and Regret
There is no hell and there is no pain like the one suicide inflicts. Nobody who is healthy wants to die and nobody who is healthy wants to burden his or her loved ones with this kind of pain.Ronald Rolheiser, Suicide-Love Through Locked Doors
I am in my tenth year of learning to keep on keeping on after losing my only child, my beloved 20-year-old son, to suicide on June 25, 2012. My life forever changed that day and who I was died too.
A great and terrible Tsunami swept in and through everything I knew and loved and cared about in life, and all that I was and loved and cared about was swept out into a violent, retching ocean, infinite fathoms deep, defying any earthly description here, blacker than a starless night. I couldn’t hear, see, be, hold onto, reach for, grasp, touch, feel anything familiar or loved or comforting.
I couldn’t find my son and reached, grasped, searched for him for days, weeks, months on end. When I came to, I realized that somehow, I was still alive and that Dylan had been washed out to sea. I had finally surfaced from the ferocity of the storm and there I was, alone without my son. I didn’t want to live without him.
Learning to Want to Live Again
I have had to learn to live again. To learn to want to live again. I’ve gone deeply within the darkest, blackest, starless night, oceans deep, galaxies wide, to get my insides outsides, to release the soul screams, to hold clasped hands and fractured body, mind, and soul over a heart raw and weeping.
I have wept infinite tears, carried the weight of mourning and grieving, fallen apart, kept on keeping on only because of my family and friends’ carrying me when I could not take a single step forward. I have been awash in grief, alive in my life’s greatest tragedy.
A deep, deep soul ache settles in that never goes away. Not in the first year of grief, not in the 2nd and 3rd years of my grieving, not even now after nearly a decade of grief. Wanting to live past my son’s death seemed impossible. Especially in the beginning. Especially in that first year. I had to be reminded to breathe-just breathe.Beth Brown, My Forever Son, Just Breathe, excerpt from Suicide Changes Everything-Struggling to Survive Grief After the Suicide of My Son
But I have held on to hope, even when hope seemed farther away than I could reach. I have joined support groups, including online support groups Where to Go for Support After Suicide Loss , and I continue to read books and online resources for support for parents whose child has died by suicide Books and Resources
There is a change taking place in the terminology when talking about suicide. The term “died by suicide” is being adopted. This new language is reflective of the changes in our understanding and compassion as we move away from the harsh statement and stigma of the words “committed suicide”, which can be offensive to families whose children have taken their own lives.The Compassionate Friends, Surviving Your Child’s Suicide
Some days are easier than other. Today is not such a day. Today’s a day I awakened in tears, my head buried in shame in my pillow, my heart wide open and longing and grieving for a child and son and cusp-of-young-adult man I love and adore with all that I am, all the time, in everything I do.
I only know to do what I know how to do, routine, ritual, move–even when all of me is grinding down, step feet out of bed, push through, make tea, make something–eat, read, come to. . .come to.
This too shall pass, but when? When? It is mid-afternoon and still this hangover of depression, of suicide, of wide-open grief. I look to my cat. She opens her eyes for the picture, then right back to dozing.
A cat’s life, slumbering through the day, 18-plus hours of napping, drifting off, a hazy, filtered kind of life.
Living in the Surreal Fog
I know this kind of life now. 18-plus hours a day of living in the surreal fog, this veiled shroud of living each breath as the mother of a suicide. There are simply no words to describe this kind of numbing out, this haze through which I must glimpse the world.
I’m here, but not here. Not really when all of me either surfaces and spills over wide open in sorrow and pain or else numbs out and assumes the facade I must wear and be to even marginally fit in. I am always with Dylan, even when seemingly not so.
These are two disparate states of being–either faking it and wearing the masque of living in the moment, or else cracking open in despair and hopelessness. I wish I could choose–like clothes to wear or whether or not to clip my hair back–to numb out and feel detached and separate from, or to just be real and let my insides outside.
In the end, I know Dylan struggled with this too, because my confusion and torment between living between who I am inside and who I must be outside is not just about grieving his death by suicide.
DisillusionmentThe Compassionate Friends, Surviving Your Child’s Suicide
Often parents find themselves in a spiritual crisis and question their beliefs or feel betrayed by God. Religious concerns about the hereafter may also surface. “Why did God let this happen?” is a question we may never know the answer to. Talking about spiritual and philosophical questions with other parents who have experienced a suicide may be helpful. For those with concerns of a spiritual nature, it could be helpful to find a gentle, caring and nonjudgmental member of the same faith and open yourself to that person.
Dylan made it 15 years in the jowls of depression, all the while being chewed up and spit out repeatedly in an effort to chew the living life out of my son. And then, and then. . .sigh . . .
June 25th, 2012.
Depression hurts. Left untreated, depression kills. Even treated, depression rallies and rails against any sort of containment. Depression lies in wait. Dylan was seeking help. Starting medications. But depression is an illness. And illness never waits for medications to work–And death waits for no one.
Ideas to Help You Cope
The ideas below are ones that helped me cope with my grief. Perhaps they will help you too.
These ideas appear in full at “The Compassionate Friends”, Surviving Your Child’s Suicide
- Talk about your child’s death with family members and discuss your feelings of loss and pain. Talk about the good times you had as well as the times that were not so good. It can be helpful and therapeutic to express feelings rather than to internalize them.
- Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to let your friends know what you need when they ask; they want to help.
- Consider becoming involved with a self-help bereavement group such as The Compassionate Friends. Through sharing with others who have walked a similar path, you may gain some understanding of your reactions and learn additional ways to cope. Seek professional support and family counseling if necessary.
Give yourself time, time and more time. It takes months, even years, to open your heart and mind to healing. Choose to survive and then be patient with yourself. In time, your grief will soften as you begin to heal and you will feel like investing in life again.The Compassionate Friends, Surviving Your Child’s Suicide
When Someone is Too Bruised to Be Touched A Split Second without a Second Chance A tick on a clock. A split second without a second chance. A momentary collapse into utter despair and hopelessness. A fleeting glimpse of a life once-lived not enough to sustain. A single click on a school’s classroom clock, half…Read More
I Want to Believe I want to believe–that with enough love and laughter, books and reading, friends and family, children grow up to be happy I want to believe–the stage is set early for dreams to come true: Skies dazzle in brilliant blue, clouds drift idly, stretches of pastures and woodlands lend serenity I want…Read More
“When Someone Takes His Own Life”-Depression and Suicide ABOUT THIS POST: “When Someone Takes His Own Life”-Depression and Suicide provides a compassionate exploration of grief, suicide, and the challenges faced by those left behind. The excerpts from “The Healing of Sorrow” and “When Someone is Too Bruised to Be Touched” offer valuable insights and perspectives…Read More
Suicide is Not a Choice: Surviving Your Child’s Suicide Current research absolutely supports the validity of mental illness. Current research and researchers in the mental health field know indelibly that suicide is not a choice your child makes. Beth Brown, My Forever Son Stopping the Stigma of Suicide As much as I respect and value…Read More
The Pain of Suicide: It’s Not About Wanting to Die, It’s About Wanting the Pain to Stop A Grief Like No Other In 2021, 48,183 people died by suicide in the United States. That is 1 death by suicide every 11 minutes. The suicide rate among males in 2021 was approximately four times higher than…Read More