How Stephen King's Tweet Affected Me as the Mother of a Son Who Died by Suicide
Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
Dear Stephen King,
Words are your livelihood, but I ask that you please stick to horror. Please do not use comedy when it comes to suicide. When blocked by the president on Twitter, you wrote, “I may have to kill myself.” The sheer ridiculousness of that idea is what made it funny to many, since the cause was so trivial. But the root of ridiculous is ridicule, even if you did not mean to make sport of those who have struggled with suicidal thoughts.
I lost my dad and son to #suicide. Pete was 25 and did not ask for help, not wanting to be laughed at. It is NEVER A JOKE. Find other words.
— Dorothy Paugh (@Dodie609) June 13, 2017
Given your great skill at finding words to arouse our fears, you have over three million followers. No doubt many of them chuckled at your tweet. For the one million Americans still with us who have attempted to end their lives plus the six million Americans like me who have experienced the loss of a loved one to suicide, your words struck chords of excruciating pain. Far too many have left this world for reasons that may have looked “small” to most of us.
More important than my personal sensitivity, I write to ask that you, who wield words with such power, never again make a public joke of suicide. I believe my son Peter, only 25, did not give any warnings or reach out to anyone precisely because he did not want to be laughed at for considering suicide. He was ashamed of struggling with his emotions in a world where men must be strong, always the hero. Asking for help may have been more painful to my son than ending his life.
Pete judged himself inferior for having suicidal thoughts and feelings, saying in his note to me, “Something is wrong with me.” We have to erase the stigma around suicide and mental illness. Fear of ridicule condemns them to struggle alone and be needlessly ashamed. Despair and pain are part of the human condition. Sadly, the numbers who kill themselves have been steadily rising, but there is much we can do to save many who become suicidal. Mental illness can be treated.
The impact of suicide is so horrific that most people only want to know enough about it to determine — mistakenly — that such a thing only happens to others who are not like them or anyone they care about. But I believe there is no complete immunity to suicide — seemingly happy, successful and well-loved people have been affected. Sensitivity is not weakness, it is a gift this world could use more of, along with compassion.
My hope is that suicide will lose its shock and comedic value, so that people who experience suicidal ideation can speak to others without fear they will not be taken seriously, or worse, become the butt of a joke. Suicide is deadly serious business, please handle the topic with care. At some point, most of us will entertain dark thoughts, and sometimes the only thing that keeps us alive is a kind word.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Screenshot via Twitter.