When I was 9 years old, my grandad passed away. At first, my parents were reluctant to talk to me about how he died. However, after a lot of questioning, they finally admitted to me what had happened: he’d died by suicide.
When I was first told this piece of information, I was baffled. My whole life I’d been taught that people died from heart attacks, from cancer and from strokes. But… suicide? That was something we never talked about.
After my grandad’s death, I had so many questions, yet nobody to provide me with any answers. My only knowledge about suicide was based on stories I’d seen in the media: stories that were sensationalist and demonized the mentally ill. This meant that, overall, I was pretty clueless.
Looking back, I wish I’d known more about suicide. I wish I learned about it in school and had people I could talk to in-depth about it with. I wish media portrayals had been truthful and factual. More than anything, I wish someone had taught me these three things:
1. Suicide isn’t selfish.
For a long time, I couldn’t understand why my grandad — a man with such a loving family and such a “fun” life — would kill himself. I knew he’d been dealing with physical health issues for a couple of years, but I honestly thought the “good” in his life outweighed the “bad.” I loved hanging out with my grandad. He was quirky, entertaining and loved writing just as much as me.
Therefore, when I found out how he died, one of the first thoughts I had was: “Why would he do this to me?” I thought he’d acted selfishly, considering his own “feelings” more important than the “feelings” of his loved ones. For that, I slightly resented him.
Since then, I’ve felt suicidal several times myself, and I’ve come to learn that suicide is far from selfish. Before I attempted suicide last year, one of the main thoughts I had was: “I don’t want to be a burden on others anymore. I want them to be able to continue their lives without constantly having to worry about me.” I thought that by dying, I would be “freeing” the people that I loved.
This shows that suicidal people are far from selfish. I just wish that, when my grandad died, someone had told me that. I wish someone had informed me that people who die by suicide are usually thinking of others way more than they’re thinking of themselves. They could believe that their death will “help” others and so, for them, suicide might be considered a “selfless” act.
2. Even those with a “perfect” life can die by suicide.
One of the things that confused me most when my grandad died was that he had a “brilliant” life. He was financially stable, happily retired and was surrounded by family and friends that thought the world of him. He spent a lot of his life traveling and often told tales of the great sights he had come across when exploring the world. On the outside, his life seemed pretty perfect. That’s why, when he died, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Why would someone with such a “perfect” life “choose” for it to end?
This is a question that is often raised when celebrities die by suicide. From Robin Williams to Chester Bennington, over recent years, the media has been filled with stories about “stars” who have died by suicide. Each time one of these stories pops up, there are always people who respond by questioning how a person with such a “perfect” life could “choose” to die in this way. Surely a person who has a perfect family, their dream career and financial stability in their life shouldn’t want it to be over, right?
From personal experience, I can tell you how wrong this is. Looking from the outside, my life seems pretty great. I have incredible friends and family. I’ve never had any financial difficulties and I’ve always done well when it’s came to academic work. However, that hasn’t made me immune to suicidal thoughts.
For me, suicidal thoughts tend to come about when I’m going through a depressive episode. These “episodes” aren’t caused by particular factors in my life. In fact, they often pop up at times when everything else in my life is going well. Even at times where my life seems “perfect” on the outside, it can be a completely different story on the inside.
I wish that, when my Grandad died, someone had told me this. I wish I had known that even if a person appears to have a “great” life externally, this may not mirror how they feel internally.
3. Men die by suicide too.
When my grandad died, I was particularly shocked because I’d never heard of a man dying in this way. When I’d seen media portrayals of suicide, they’d all been centered around female characters. When suicides were reported in the news, it was usually women who had lost their lives.
The trouble is, it isn’t just women who die by suicide. In fact, men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women. When it comes to men under the age of 45, they are more likely to die by suicide than any other way. Pretty shocking, right?
Since my grandad’s death, I have learned about more and more men who have felt suicidal. For instance, I’ve spoken to male friends who have admitted that they struggle with suicidal thoughts. A couple of these friends have even ended up in the hospital after suicide attempts.
As proven by my grandad, men can seriously struggle with mental health issues. They, too, can die by suicide. To address this, we need to do all we can to raise awareness about men’s mental health, and tell our male friends that it’s OK to talk.
There is nothing “weak” about seeking help. There is nothing “unmanly” about feeling suicidal. If we want to lower the number of male suicides, we need to accept that this is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. We need to ensure that we’re there for our male friends and that we tell them it’s OK to seek help. We need to stop phrases such as “man up” when talking about emotions.
Just because a person is a “man,” doesn’t mean they can’t die by suicide. Heck, even if a person is a wealthy man with the “perfect” life — that doesn’t make them immune. There isn’t a certain “type” of person who dies by suicide. Anyone can be affected.
That’s why we must ensure that we offer support to everyone, regardless of their background. We must educate people about suicide and offer help to those in distress.
Sadly, I can’t bring my grandad back. But I can carry out work in his honor. I can do everything possible to raise awareness about suicide, and I ask you to please do the same.
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 “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
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Thinkstock photo via Liderina