The Social Taboo of Suicide

by Dave Hood

I woke up this morning, picked up the newspaper, turned to the sports section and was greeted by the headline” Junior Seau Dead at 43.” This headline provoked me to read the story. I quickly learned that Seau, one of the National Football League’s greatest, and toughest football players,  had committed suicide. I asked myself, why did he kill himself? Most likely, he was suffering from a severe depression.

Depression is rampant in our society, and countless people stuck in the abyss of misery kill themselves.  And mental illness often results in suicide. For instance, more than 20% of those who suffer from Bipolar Disorder attempt suicide or are successful in taking their own lives.

Suicide can kill anyone–the downtrodden, middle class, and affluent, even super stars of the  sports world like Junior Seau.  In the summer of 2011, Wade Belak, who was a former hockey player for the Toronto Maple Leafs, shocked the world by committing suicide. During his NHL career, Belak played the role of enforcer. He who would go out and fight other team’s “tough guys” who were attempting to intimidate.

Suicide always comes as a shock. It often happens when we least expect it. The person who  takes his or her own life seems fine to the outside world. Often, when the suicide is investigated, clues have been left prior to the suicide. Usually, the person is depressed. The depression is so severe that it distorts reasoning, making the person who is suffering from depression feel that ending  his or her own life is the only right decision.

Often the person acts impulsively. Many times, the person kills themselves when he or she is “intoxicated” on booze or drugs. In all cases, the person who takes their own life is “crying out for help.” They are telling the world: I feel so miserable, so hopeless, that I am going to end my life. It is the only way to free myself from the horrible pain and “blackness” of life.  It is the only way I can escape from this black hole in which I exist.”

For many years, the topic of suicide was considered a taboo subject. Nobody talked about it. Many viewed those who took their own lives as “weak people.” The reality is that many people feel depressed at some stage in their lives. Some more than others. And sometimes, the mental pain and anguish is so severe that the person feels trapped. The only way to escape, and it is an escape from a hellish existence, is to take one’s own life. But this is not the answer.

In recent years, the media has been more truthful about reporting suicide. This morning, TSN reported that Seau had killed himself. In the past, the media would never mention or would  be reluctant to discuss the details of the person who took his or her own life. It was feared that reporting on suicide would lead to “copy cat suicides.”

With the increased reporting on suicide, more and more people, who suffer from depression  are beginning to speak out.  As well, those who are the victims of suicide–the loved ones left behind, are sharing their stories. This is what society requires. The public needs to be educated about suicide–the risks, the signs, and the available help. The public must also be educated to believe that mental illness is a reality of living in a stressful, industrialized world, in which countless people feel isolated or alienated from society. And the public must also be socialized to believe that those who suffer from depression are not “weak”, lacking in strength.  Those who suffer should not be made to feel that their misery of mental illness is shameful.  Those who suffer should not have to feel that they are “weird” or “strange” because of their depression or other mental health problem.

There is help for those who suffer from mental illness. Often the person who is suffering is unaware that the pain and anguish, the hellish existence, can be eliminated with anti-depressant medication, talk therapy, and a change in lifestyle.  To receive the help, the person who is suffering must seek it. Too often, they don’t–and then end up killing themselves or living a life of unbearable mental suffering.

As a society, we must obliterate the social taboo of suicide.  The public must  be educated about the about the signs and symptoms of a potential suicide. For instance, often people who are thinking about killing themselves tell others. Other times, the person gives away all his or her worldly possessions. There are many clues, but the typical person is unaware.

People in the public eye, such as sportscasters, sports celebrities, must speak out about depression. This public education is a way to eliminate the stigma of mental illness. It is often the stigma that prevents ordinary people, unaware of the medical options, from seeking the help that can save them, and end their depression, even prevent a potential suicide.

The government must pay more attention to mental illness, educating the public about mental illness and suicide.  The government must also provide more funding for mental health, such as talk therapy. And it must broadcast the message that those who suffer from depression can be saved from the abyss with anti-depressant medication.  The taboo of mental illness should be talked about like cancer or MS or high blood pressure. It  should not be hidden away in the crawl space of society.

The death of Junior Seau is a tragedy that could have been prevented.


About Dave Hood

Lover of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Professional photographer and writer. Without the arts, life would be rather mundane, like a walk down the same old path on a dull day.
This entry was posted in Opinion Essay, Personal Reflections, The Social Taboo of Suicide and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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