*** Spoiler Alert: please do not read on if you plan to and have not yet listened to the S-Town podcast created by Serial and This American Life. ***
If you read no other post on my entire blog ever again, please read this one.
This is the most important issue I could possibly discuss with you, and this information needs to be shared. As a society, we ALL need to be educated on the risks and dangers of depression and suicide– and not in some nebulous, hypothetical way.
These dangers are real and they are fatal. And we have now been presented with a concrete, real-life example of how the disease that is depression took another life right under our noses.
This is a call to pay attention. To educate yourself. And to get help when you see that someone needs it. Don’t laugh it off, play it cool, or attribute someone’s suicidal thoughts to their circumstances.
S-Town is the perfect example of how serious and deadly depression really is. We need to treat it with the caution and severity that it deserves.
Why did no one see?
I saw John B’s suicide coming a mile away.
It’s not normal to ponder “climate change” for ten hours a day– this kind of thinking is called rumination and it’s one hallmark of a serious depressive disorder.
John had mood swings throughout single conversations. He would be on the verge of tears in nostalgia one moment, and cracking a negative joke the next.
He had a lengthy suicide note typed up for months before he took any action– and he even showed it to multiple individuals who “didn’t think that would happen anytime soon.”
John’s language was always negative, cynical, and impossible to redirect. This is the sign of a brain that is stuck in a depressive rut.
John mentioned to multiple people that he was going to commit suicide. According to Fay, he actually was on the verge of suicide on multiple occasions in the past but she managed to “talk him down”.
Everyone cried and was so surprised and shocked that he “actually went through with it.”
You could’ve seen the billboards for this outcome 10 miles outside of Bibb county.
Why did no one act?
These warning signs are as dangerous as heart attacks for someone suffering from a serious heart disease. The end result is the same– both conditions are fatal.
No one took John B. seriously. They didn’t get him help. They just assumed that was “his personality” and they let him die.
And, might I add, they let him die alone, knowing that noone on earth understood what he was going through… and, even worse, nobody cared enough to understand.
He was truly isolated until the very end.
I’m not saying that it’s their fault that John B. died. It’s not Tyler’s fault for not responding to John’s pleas that he return to the house that night. It’s not Fay’s fault for not sounding the alarm when he reached out to her on the edge multiple times. It’s not Skylar’s fault for thinking that it’s not healthy to respond every single time someone cries wolf. It’s not Brian’s fault for laughing off John’s negativity.
However, there was a missed opportunity on behalf of every single person involved that might have saved John’s life.
When I heard Skylar telling Brian that “We have some bad news. John B killed himself last night” I actually cried. The anxiety that I felt over his situation overflowed into tears of sorrow. This isn’t a fiction. Mercury poisoning or no, this is a real-life person, a real-life story, and this kind of thing happens ALL THE TIME.
I am profoundly sad. And I am deeply angry.
My experience with suicide
While I myself have, gratefully, never contemplated suicide, I have been very close with others who have.
I know what it’s like to see a loved one suffer in utter despair. I have literally talked someone down from jumping off of a building. I’ve read journal entries and listened over the phone to hours of utter misery. I have ridden in a car with someone who was so deeply hurt that they were threatening to crash the car at every intersection we passed through.
I know what it’s like to be threatened that someone will never speak to me again if I tell anyone– psychiatrist, therapist, police, family– what was going on in their suicidal thoughts. To be threatened with the worst imaginable fate if I called for help.
As terrible as this sounds, they were the lucky ones. They’re still alive.
Here are the facts
Teachers in Leander, ISD are being told to carefully watch their students this month because there has been a “suicide epidemic” ongoing for months. One of my close friends here in Austin is one of those teachers. She herself lost a student this semester.
The CDC recently released a report showing that more than 600,000 United States residents alone committed suicide in the last two decades. The study concluded in 2015, which was the deadliest year on record in this category.
According to Medical News Today, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in our country. The findings below are staggering.
- An estimated 8.3 million adults (3.7 percent of the adult U.S. population) reported having suicidal thoughts in the past year
- An estimated 2.2 million adults (1.0 percent of the adult U.S. population) reported having made suicide plans in the past year
- An estimated 1 million adults (0.5 percent of the U.S. adult population) reported making a suicide attempt in the past year
What you should do
If you hear someone ever once mentioning suicide, this probably means that they have been thinking about it privately in their own time for weeks, if not months prior to this conversation. Their brain is already there. They may already have a plan in place. This is how serious the matter really is.
Even having a suicidal thought is a massive red flag meaning that you should get serious help immediately. These are not natural and are a sign of much greater mental distress than even you may realize.
S-Town serves as the perfect example of what warning signs to look for in your loved ones:
- Setting things in order for after they’re gone
- Acting like they’re saying goodbye when it’s not appropriate
- Always speaking in the negative
- Focusing on the worst parts of their life with no ability to redirect
- Expressions of a “hopeless” “fuck it” attitude.
- Self-harm or destructive addiction
If they actually say out loud that they are “very depressed” and are not seeing a mental health professional, they need to be. Immediately.
If they say out loud that they’re thinking about suicide– especially when the mention is casual— you need to put them on immediate suicide watch and get immediate help from someone who knows what to do.
If someone tries to prevent you from getting help, there’s a lot more than your friendship on the line. It’s their entire life. Call the police if you have to. Physically take them to a hospital. Call the Suicide Prevention Hotline.
As a parent, spouse, child, or friend, you should consider it your duty to do all you can.
This is not a drill. This is not a joke. This is not just someone’s personality, they’re not just being quirky or funny, and it’s not their fault. This is a disease. And this is a disease that kills.
“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.”
― Laurell K. Hamilton
“There is no point treating a depressed person as though she were just feeling sad, saying, ‘There now, hang on, you’ll get over it.’ Sadness is more or less like a head cold- with patience, it passes. Depression is like cancer.”
― Barbara Kingsolver