This post is the final in a three part series on the topic of suicide. Click for the first and second parts.
My final set of thoughts on the subject of suicide have to do with those who choose to involve others in the termination of their lives, without consent. I should probably warn that this is the one segment that I am virtually incapable of being neutral or understanding on. My feelings are very strong, so if you consider this to be an okay thing to do, you may want to stop reading now.
When most people think of the word suicide, they get images of someone shooting themselves, hanging themselves, taking drugs, et cetera. Some kind of self-inflicted death. My first thought is usually was it Suicide by Cop? Growing up in a deeply law enforcement based family, this was a subject I became familiar with at an early age. If you’ve never heard of this phrase, what it means is someone who is suicidal puts themselves in a situation where a member of the law enforcement community has no option but to kill them. They enter a police station with a drawn gun, they pull a knife on an officer, they take someone hostage and threaten their life. They go to extreme measures to end their lives, but choose to force someone else to actually pull the trigger. In the same category, I place other forms of suicide that involve an unwitting accomplice, such as throwing oneself in front of a train or bus or car.
For me, this is pretty much the most deplorable thing a person can do. I even consider it worse than actually deciding to kill oneself. The reason is simple—when you decide to do this, you are consciously choosing to ruin the lives of perfectly innocent people. Police Officers in every jurisdiction are forced to go through a process after taking a life. In DC they are placed on administrative leave pending the investigation into the events that transpired. They undergo counseling and evaluations to help them cope with the very serious situation. Eventually they are cleared for duty, but not a single officer I know ever has forgotten the name or circumstances under which they had to take a life. Even when it was the person’s intent that they die that day. Cops are lucky however. There is a support system in place to ensure they are not alone in dealing with the grieving process. There are other officers they can turn to and entire teams of assistance personnel standing at the ready. Yet it still is an incredible burden they have to bear.
Others are not so lucky. A bus driver or train operator who has someone intentionally step in front of their bus will receive a certain amount of counseling, but will still suffer from feelings of isolation, regret, guilt. Then there are random people driving their cars who have someone either jump in front of the vehicle, or even intentionally cause a car accident with another vehicle to kill themselves. Those perfectly innocent people are often left to cope with their grief—at something they had no control over—completely alone. They don’t generally have support systems of friends and co-workers who can relate, like police officers do. Yes, there are counseling services available, but not being in a profession or situation where there are teams of people looking out for their well being, they are too often left to their own devices and subject to suffering from PTSD.
I understand—especially after all the research this series has required—the extreme pain and depression and desperation that drive people to commit suicide. I have even learned that there are medications to TREAT depression that can CAUSE suicidal thoughts and feelings. I empathize with every fiber of my being and I will continue to wish and pray that those who suffer can find a way out. But with the knowledge that there will likely never come a day that suicides are 100% preventable, what I wish for is those who go to this extreme measure do so without taking others down with them. The person who has died is gone. There are no further consequences to what they did. The survivors who unwillingly played a part in their death are left behind to live with the events that transpired for the rest of their lives.
We know that people who suffer from an actual diagnosis of PTSD are at a greater risk to attempt suicide themselves. Which means the person who involved them in their own life end may be responsible for another individual ultimately taking their own life. Even if the cop or driver or train operator does not wind up going to that extreme, it is highly unlikely their lives will ever be the same.
The taking of another human’s life is not a light matter. Yes, police officers go through a great deal of training and preparation for that exact scenario, because it is likely that at some point in their career they will be involved in an incident (or several) that end with a death. But there is absolutely no amount of discussion or education that can truly prepare one for the feelings associated with ending a life.
There is part of me that would like to say to the world if you’re going to kill yourself, do it by yourself and leave the rest of us out of it. But that comes across as cold, callous and almost endorsing of suicide—which I am not. The fact of the matter is that even when a suicide IS completed by self-inflicted methods, it will have a lasting impact on SOMEONE. So instead I will end this series by summing up my thoughts like this:
Help is available. There is someone on this earth who cares about you and is willing to help you, no matter who you are.
The stigma has got to end. A person’s final act is not the sum of their life. Talk about what happened, let survivors know that you love them still and celebrate all that was good about the person who is gone. Make sure that your friends and family know they can talk to you, even if—no, ESPECIALLY IF that conversation includes suicidal thoughts and feelings.
Survivors, don’t blame yourself. If ever you are the unknowing accomplice in a suicide, believe that it was not your fault, there is nothing you could have done to avoid it, and refer back to #1—Help is available. You are not alone.
I hope that you have been able to get something out of my exploration of the uncomfortable subject of suicide. I know that I have barely scratched the surface of this topic, and that I have probably left many more questions than I’ve answered. But with any luck I have inspired some of you to start the conversation in your own circles. It has most assuredly been helpful to me, and for that I thank each of you for being part of my journey.