I heard the news through Facebook. Again. It seems that Facebook is the 21st Century town crier, passing along news you’d otherwise miss, or not hear until months after the fact. Another friend of mine took his own life. With a gun. And that brings up all sorts of memories, feelings, and thoughts about the value of a life, the tragedy of suicide…and guns.
This makes two guys I’ve known at the same company that have decided to take their own lives. I worked with both of them. One of them worked for me, in my art department. Both of them were strong guys – not the kind of ‘sensitive’ males that Hollywood told us we should all be in the 80’s. Just regular guys. They worked hard. They played hard. Nothing really out-of-the-ordinary about them. But now they are both dead, and they’ve left a bunch of people that loved them and cared about them wondering why.
The guy that worked for me – we’ll call him “Hector” because I don’t wish to cause his family and friends any additional pain – was divorced and unemployed. He felt as if he had no friends left. And so he drove around until he found a place to stop on an interstate, and shot himself. I don’t know if he left a note. Contrary to what you see on TV, suicides don’t always leave a note. From other friends, I’ve heard that Hector was despondent over his life and fortunes, and just couldn’t take it any more.
The real tragedy, aside from a senseless death, is that my best friend (who was also close to Hector) could have (and would have) found Hector a job in a heartbeat, had he known that Hector needed one. I’ve not seen my best friend cry before. He’s a tough guy. A man’s man. But this death drove him to tears.
The most recent death came around Valentine’s Day. I don’t have any details to speak of. And I’m not going to go prying into it, because the family he left behind needs time to grieve. I’d known him and his wife for around 25 years. We weren’t close. But we were friends. All of us – we’ll call them “Bob” and “Maryann” as well as “Hector” and I had all worked together at this software company. It was like one, big family. So losing Bob and Hector is like hearing that a couple of cousins have died.
Now a lot of people on the left would use this as an excuse to rail against guns in the home, as if that caused the problem. Or they’d try to gin up some stats that having a gun in the home leads to more gun violence. I don’t know about you, but I’m inherently distrustful of stats, when they are cited without attribution, and without having access to the raw data. It’s too easy for someone with an agenda to twist facts to suit their own purposes.
It’s also equally wrong for pro-gun activists to try and exploit these tragedies to benefit their cause, although that’s much less likely to happen, because of the nature of the events.
But while I’m ruminating on this, I’d like to bring up a couple of salient points. First of all, the kind of depression and despair it takes for someone to decide to take their own life is vastly different from the kind of thing most people experience as a normal part of their lives. You don’t just wake up one morning and say “gee, I’ve got a lot of problems in my life that are not easily solved. I’ve got it – I think I’ll blow my brains out.” If that were true, the suicide rate in this country would rival the number of deaths from cancer, AIDS, and car accidents put together.
No, the kind of clinical depression that it takes to become suicidal is much, much worse. And the thing is, people that are suicidal fall into one of two groups – those that plan, and those that do it on impulse. Not having a gun in your house would not stop either group. Until you find a way to ban not only guns, but gas stoves, bathtubs, razors, rope, knives, automobiles, automobile exhausts, tall buildings, bridges, bodies of water, poison, narcotics, blood pressure medicine, blood thinners, wild animals, and about a thousand other things, someone who is suicidal is not going to stop until they find a way to do what they intend to do.
Not having access to a gun won’t even slow ’em down. And if you’re dead-set (pardon the pun) on death by lead poisoning, you don’t even need a gun. There’s always “death by cop” whereby you provoke an officer of the law in a situation where you compel them to shoot you in order to save someone else. (I’m NOT recommending that – or any other suicide method. It’s just an example, people.)
I don’t care which side of the issue you’re on – pro-gun or anti-gun. When it comes to suicide, it’s NOT a gun issue. It’s a mental health issue. If we could all stop and think about it for a minute or so, I think it might be easy to see that, if society can do anything to cut the suicide rate, it would be in the realm of mental health, rather than in the area of gun control.
Don’t get me wrong. I fully realize that some people shouldn’t have guns around. And if you know someone who is clinically depressed, you should concentrate on getting them help from a mental health professional, and if they so advise, clearing their home of anything that would make it easier for them to hurt themselves. But if you actually care about someone, and you know they are depressed, get them professional help. Worry about the whole gun thing later. Job one must be helping those that need your help.
One last thing. If, for some reason you ever get to the point where you think seriously about taking your life, look around you. Think about the people that depend on you. Think about the lives you’ve touched. The people that know you. The people you’ve loved, and the friends you’ve made. And then think about how you’ll be leaving them with an empty place in their lives where you once stood. Because for you, it will be all over. But for them, they will have to live with the consequences of your actions forever.
Sorry for your loss. A great post. You could not have said it better. Suicide does have it’s victims.
“Don’t get me wrong. I fully realize that some people shouldn’t have guns around. ”
“Don’t get me wrong. I fully realize that some people shouldn’t be around guns when they are depressed but this is a free country and it is their choice; good or bad.”
There. I fixed it for you.
Yup. It’s a damn shame when anyone has to go through something like this. I’ve been through it myself, though the friend that took his life didn’t use a firearm.
With that said, it is somewhat disingenuous to (rightly) mock the anti-personal-responsibility machine that is Hollywood, and then in the next breath suggest that “some people shouldn’t have guns around”.
We all have a choice. And we all should have a choice, even though some make the wrong one.
Just don’t call the suicide hotline.
A trend which worries me greatly is our society punishing people who need mental treatment and counseling. I don’t mean someone who has a bona fide incurable mental condition, but people like “Hector” and “Bob” who have a crappy run in life and have no one they feel they can turn to. In our politically correct society if either man called for psychatric help they’d be treated like a second class citizen, in some cases they’d lose their right to own firearms or be denied the ability to buy arms in the future, among other consequences.
When we criminalize picking up the phone because the sun seems to have set in your life and you believe it will never rise again, people who really need a voice to speak to never make the call that can save their life. I’ve seen it happen in the military as I witnessed people left and right who are drinking their problems away because they know as soon as they dial for counseling their career is over.
Rather than make the problem of mental health cause to strip someone of their civil rights, we need to do the opposite. How many suicides could have been prevented if that man or woman felt they could honestly call for help without legal or social consequences?
“When it comes to suicide, it’s NOT a gun issue. It’s a mental health issue.”
This statement is so true and overlooked by the media and others that want to demonize firearms.
“I don’t mean someone who has a bona fide incurable mental condition, but people like “Hector” and “Bob””
Uhmm… Hector and Bob DID have bonfa fide mental conditions. And depression like that mostly likely would be lifetime and incurable (somewhat treatable, but not very well).
My sympathy for your losses.
“Worry about the whole gun thing later. ”
You are of course, correct.
However, if the person involved was thinking rationally, there would rarely be any suicides.
What also contributes to the problem is that some states penalize firearms owners if they seek help for mental problems. Any inpatient admission for psych reasons, voluntary or involuntary, is an automatic 5 year suspension of your right to own a firearm or ammo in the state of Illinois.
I strongly feel that this is one area of firearms rights that warrants much more attention. I do not know anyone on either side of the gun debate that wants “Wackos with guns” . We all agree on that. But how do define “wacko”? How do reconcile privacy rights about mental health treatment with firearms rights? Is the therapist required to say that the person is or is not a “public hazard”? What is the objective criteria for doing so? Are the criteria for revocation of firearms rights different for people with CCW permits as opposed to possession?
Many questions, few answers.
Well said. I don’t know that there are any answers, other than relying on “faith-based initiatives” (i.e.: churches and other religious organizations). Statistically, it would be a different kind of insane to impinge upon the rights of law-abiding Americans simply to protect everyone from the relatively few people that are either suicidal or homicidal.
Your questions do have answers. Perhaps not definitive, but it IS the job of mental health practitioners to determine whether an individual is a public (or personal) hazard. It happens all the time. I’m not an insider when it comes to those decisions, but as far as I know, jurisprudence makes no consideration of whether you have a CHL when it considers whether you are a danger due to mental illness.
You have my prayers for your loss. I also agree the it is a mental heath issue. I have thought for awhile that the Brady’s and others would do a better job working to improve mental heath services and remove the stigma for those that treatment. Once again you are in my prayers
There are many outreach programs available from churches of which a person suffering from depression can avail themselves. They are most often free, and in the case of service men and women, not part of their chain of command.
All the pastors, deacons and lay ministers I know are very keen to maintain the privacy of the person in need.
It doesn’t matter how “strong” you are – for each and every one of us there is a point where circumstances can make you wonder if it ‘s worth going on.
I’ve been where I could see why suicide looks attractive to someone – even a strong, loving, dedicated Christian family man like myself.
Let me tell you from experience – There is absolutely nothing in this world like friends and family to pull you through. If it had not been for the love and support and encouragement of my wife, the parents of my Scouts, and my church I might have done more than just see the attraction to suicide.
If you do not have a group of good friends through your church or synagogue you need to get off of your tail on Saturday/Sunday and find one.
If you’ve put more time into your job than into building your relationships with your wife and children (and hopefully brothers and sisters, cousins, inlaws, etc.) then you’ve done messed up. You need those people a lot more than a paycheck.
“No man is an island” as John Donne wrote. Possibly the first place we should start when we start thinking self defense is building and strengthening our relationships with those around us.
I offer my condolences on your loss – but hope we can learn from that just how valuable and important it is to build and maintain relationships.
I don’t mean to sound insensitive here; however, suicide is a personal choice and an inalienable right. It is no more selfish to die by suicide then it is to die in a car accident. People die all the time. Death is a part of life. If you feel as though you are a “victim” because someone you know died (suicide being irrelevant), perhaps you should isolate yourself from all human contact altogether. Don’t presume to know that something could have been done to fix whatever was wrong. That would be the same as blaming the gun for the suicide. Some people just don’t belong in this world. They should be free to make their own choices. You wouldn’t want to tell someone how to defend him or herself, right? Some problems just can’t be “fixed” because you want them to be.
Death is the only guarantee in life.* Get used to it. If you value your life, defend it. If you don’t, well, it’s not your fault.
* Apparently some corporations and the extremely wealthy don’t pay taxes.
Note that nowhere in my post did I use the word “victim,” nor did I suggest that the government could or should do “something” (whatever that might be) to “fix” the problem. But I do disagree. A year or so ago, a then-12-year-old boy who went to school with my daughter came home to his mom to learn that his estranged father had shot his new wife, the family dog, and then himself. For months, the boy grieved in silence. Then one day, he stayed home from school (he lived within walking distance). He’d got hold of a gun. He put a note on the door, warning his mother NOT to come in, but instead have the police enter first. He then said “I’m going to go be with my dad.” The police found his body a few hours later.
Don’t tell me there’s no collateral damage. My daughter still gets choked up when she thinks of him. And the school brought in grief counselors, because, statistically, kids are more likely to follow a classmate’s example than not, when they are extremely depressed. Something about suicide up close and personal seems to validate it as a choice for them.
Sure, people die. But when you die by natural causes or accidental death, your loved ones and friends will grieve, but not be consumed by guilt and questions, as “could I have prevented this?” No, suicide IS worse, because it ruins lives.
“Note that nowhere in my post did I use the word “victim,” nor did I suggest that the government could or should do “something” (whatever that might be) to “fix” the problem.”
In my statement, “If you feel as though you are a ‘victim’…”, I did not mean to imply that “you” meant “you literally” or “you personally”. Unfortunately, the English language uses the same word “you” to address both the 2nd person singular and plural. I’m sorry for the confusion. This was a general comment for people who feel they are the “victims” when someone they know ends their own life.
I also didn’t mean to imply that there is no collateral damage. Of course, death is a horrible thing for the survivors. However, one shouldn’t fault someone else for wanting to be without pain. The alternatives envisioned by a 3rd party, may not be acceptable to the person ready to commit suicide. Besides, there is the possibility that they ended their life to spare you the trouble of having to deal with that with which they could not handle themselves.
We know of many instances where suicide is committed by the mentally unsound.
Can you point out any instance where suicide was the choice of fully-functioning free citizen (free of undue influences like depression or cancer pain)?
I think, if it’s a right, it’s a right no sane citizen would exercise.
I can think of a few: First, on the battle field when you are immobile and about to be put through hell in captivity (rarer these years, but…) Second, in a shame society (say Japan) it may be the right thing to do for your extended family. Third, if you are fully functional but have been enslaved. This still happens in parts of the world. “Live Free or Die,” some have said. I can’t say they’re wrong. [Regarding an earlier comment of yours: The fallibility of mental health professionals is legend. Depression, for example, is often the diagnosis in cases where substance abuse of cigarettes is often the deepest cause. That view has changed twice in thirty years. Today I believe it is consensus. Carbon monoxide causes such a huge reduction in oxygenation. Just an example. Physical health is vital to mental health, I’m sure you’d agree.]
My father killed himself with the first gun I ever shot. I dealt with blaming a number of thing, including guns, on the circumstance.
The thought process in this article almost exactly what I went through. Great job Brad. I can only hope those on the other side of the gun control argument will stop using suicide as a scape goat to push their agenda and actually get behind some plans that will really make a difference in the lives of the clinically depressed.
A very heartbreaking post, Brad. Thank you for putting it up.
About ten years ago, I had a friend who I knew was having a bad time. I invited him to live with me and my then-wife, who had been his friend since they were both three years old. I told him there’d be no cost, no rent and he’d have no responsibilities except to get himself well. He turned me down. He was a Florida guy and couldn’t stand the frigid northeast. Six months later, when the weather here was warm, he hung himself in his bathroom.
I had a friend who commited suicide by stepping in front of a semi-truck going down a highway. He did not need a gun.
This is yet another example of how a gun could have saved many lives. If a person wants to commit suicide, they are going to find a way. With a gun, this person could have ended his or her life without physically affecting anyone else in the process. Instead, this person could have taken the lives of many motorists nearby in the resulting collision.
Suicide is a conscious decision. People who want to die, don’t ask for help. They certainly don’t want anyone to know about the fact that they want to die or someone will try to stop them. You’re not going to stop suicides by keeping them away from guns.
A gun would have ended one life, but could have saved many others at the same time. I’m sure the “semi-truck” driver will be forever affected by this incident (I’m assuming he lived through it).
You are assuming the reason behind their decision is valid. There is a difference between someone who is suffering from a physically debilitating illness, and wants to live, but prefers to pass away instead of being artificially kept alive and someone who is severely depressed. While clinical depression is a illness, it is does not come about spontaneously (barring a neural-chemical imbalance), something is causing it.
Forgoing a environmental/external cause, there are a lot of people out there with undiagnosed mental disorders and, left untreated, can cause them extreme emotional distress and depression. I can write about this because this exact same thing happened to me. When I was a child I was bounced around from one doctor to another trying to figure out what was “wrong” with me. I was given all sorts of different meds to “fix” the problem, yet all failed. I eventually gave up on the medical community and decided to go it alone. After many emotionally painful and depression filled years I tried again to find an answer and, around my 24th birthday, I finally got one. I was elated and crushed at same time; I found my diagnosis and discovered it was incurable and untreatable.
Yet I’m still here, 24 years and counting. There are options for those out there who are suffering. A lot of mental health issues can be treated and some even cured. You have to willing to do the work, find a doctor who will listen, and never give up until you find the answer you’re looking for. It is never hopeless, there are gigantic books filled with every sort of disorder you can think of and the answer is in there somewhere. The odd bit with mental disorders is the patient has to a lot of the work himself, and the general public nowadays think everything is fixed with pills.
Life changes all the time, both good and bad. Roll with the punches and make the most of the happier times. After all, it is unlikely anyone reading this is suffering the from the same condition as me under similar circumstances (most are diagnosed as children). And if someone out there is reading this and feels nothing but despair, then make it your life’s mission to find out what is wrong and do everything possible to fix it. Life is short, the amount of your life you enjoy doesn’t have to be.
We’ve had suicide-ideational Presidents, suicidal CEO’s and Olympic athletes (one just went recently), and more. I think suicide is not so inhuman, going back to Ajax in the Little Illiad (a post-Illiad major work). A healthy person can be overwhelmed by sorrow, embarrassment, or misfortune, depending on the intensity of the event and upon their culture. We should not feel guilty so long as we treated them as friends while alive, nor should we demonize the means. It is not a gun issue: Canadians quickly turned to rope when handguns were confiscated. Last year suicide by pain-killers and other prescription drugs (at 15,000) surpassed suicide by gun in the US. It is a part of human life. By our friendships we hope to provide others with stability, but we can never guarantee it. Life is too hard for that, and the sources of pain too varied. I hope the sadness of the writers above lifts when your recollection turns only to the happy memories of your lost friends, for those memories will live as long as you do, and you will be a living memorial to what was good in them.
My deepest sympathies Brad.
I am sorry for your loss. more people die from suicide than murder in this country. the press doesn’t mention it because that may give people the idea. sadly it happens here more than I ever suspected when I was younger.
The common thread seems to be hopelessness and anger. unfortunately there seems to be lots of both now.
Brad, thanks for telling the story, and even being willing to raise a discussion about guns and suicide while in the middle of dealing with the shock of it all.
I am a mental health professional and a gun owner. I treat people with major depression and other mental illnesses, including some people who consider suicide. It is a complicated issue. Personally I believe that when someone is in that severely depressed state, access to a firearm increases the likelihood that they will successfully commit suicide.
Lots of people say “If someone wants to kill themselves, they will find a way.” That’s true, but it over-simplifies the issues around depression and other mental health issues. Chronic mental illness, like chronic pain, or chronic heart failure, etc., comes with ups and downs. Someone who seems intent on harming themselves one day does not necessarily have to feel that way forever. But if they are going to get better they have to survive those dark moments.
Maybe the NRA should be running awareness campaigns to destigmatize depression. Something like: “If you are depressed, go see a doctor and give your guns to a buddy for a while. Stay alive to shoot another day.”
One other point: Men successfully commit suicide much more often than women. One theory for this is that men don’t tend to share their struggles with friends, family, coworkers, etc. the way that women do. We tend to take things on by ourselves and sometimes end up feeling very isolated. I think you (and the others who have shared similar stories) are helping to change that trend. Thank you for having the courage to speak up.
Brad, Thanks for that post. I’m so sorry to hear about your friends. That’s all.
“When it comes to suicide, it’s NOT a gun issue. It’s a mental health issue.”
My condolences. Japan has one of the world’s tightest restrictions on civilian gun and even sword ownership, and yet has one of the world’s highest suicide rates.
“If, for some reason you ever get to the point where you think seriously about taking your life, look around you. Think about the people that depend on you. ”
So people should just continue living miserable, hopeless lives because someone else demands that they should? Sorry, but if someone’s life horribly sucks and you expect them to stay alive because you’d miss them makes you a horrible selfish and arrogant person to expect someone to continue a miserable existence for your benefit.
Suicide isn’t a mental issue, it’s a quality of life issue. That’s why there were plenty of suicides by people who lost everything in the Depression – it wasn’t because they went crazy or were secretly hiding it, it was that they realized that their quality of life went from good (or maybe fantastic) to utterly horrible and there wasn’t much hope of it changing (at least for a long time, which would still leave lasting damage and cause a permanently lower quality of life).
I have five people around me to commit suicide, from as close as you can get to a friend of a friend. None by firearm, in a country where guns are highly restricted. Rope, drugs, whatever. Other than that, all has been said already. Sad, really, but in some cases I do understand why they did it.
I feel that it is wrong to judge men and hate on men who are “sensitive” as
you say. Everyone has their own personality, and one can be sensitive but also be very strong, hard working and perseverant at the same time. This world has been an unspeakably horrible place from the beginning, because people as a whole have never been sensitive enough to the suffering of others…compassion and love are not feminine qualities. They are the qualities that human beings in this world need most.