About Suicide

 Jay Asher 13 Reasons Why’

Suicide. It’s something I’ve been thinking about. Not too seriously, but I have been thinking about.

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Maybe I wanted someone to point the finger at me and say, “Hannah. Are you thinking about killing yourself? Please don’t do that, Hannah. Please.”

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You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part… you’re messing with their entire life.

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Fredrik Backman ‘A Man Called Ove’

Ove dislikes all of the empty places she has left behind in their silent little house. It is time now.

But it seems that someone, somewhere, knows the only way of stopping him is to put something in his way that makes him angry enough not to do it.

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Even though they kept the Saab’s windows rolled down all the way, it wasn’t possible to get rid of the stench. Their mother had asked Ove what he’d really been doing in there in the garage, but Ove had just answered with a sound more or less like when you try to move a bathtub by dragging it across the tiles.

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Parvaneh’s big brown eyes hold onto him in that piercing way, as they do more and more often these days, and which always makes him very unsettled. As if she’s filled with dark premonitions.

‘Okay,’ she says at last, without any real conviction in her voice. ‘Are we having a driving lesson tomorrow? I’ll ring your doorbell at eight,’ she suggests after that.

Ove nods.

‘Right. Tomorrow morning at eight, then.’

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David Baldacci ‘End Game’

“Roger Walton was the golden boy from Grand, Colorado, small as it is. Football and baseball star. Accepted at half a dozen Ivy League schools. Smartest person I’ve ever been around. And one of the kindest. He could’ve been an insufferable jock type, but he was the exact opposite. Ask anyone who knew him. He helped everybody when he lived here. Even those that didn’t deserve it.”
“Did you know his parents? asked Reel.
“Of course. What happened was so tragic.”
“What happened to them? asked Reel.
“Oh, I thought you knew.”
“Knew what?” said Reel.
“They apparently had a suicide pact. They were found in their car in their garage. They’d turned on the engine and stuffed the tailpipe.”
“When was this? Recently?”
“Oh, no. It was while Roger still lived here. He was the one to find them. He’d been away at some regional debate championship in Nebraska his senior year of high school. When he got back, we’ll… it was awful.”
“Damn,” said Robie. “Pretty tough situation for a teenager.”
Claire said, “Well, the town rallied around Roger, of course. In fact, he came to live with my family for the rest of the school year.”
“Does anyone know why they killed themselves?” asked Robie.
“Dorothy, Roger’s mum, had ovarian cancer. Late stage. Back then there was nothing to combat it. She was going to die. I don’t think Roger’s dad could live without her.”
Reel frowned. “So he kills himself and leaves his kid alone. If you ask me, that’s kind of selfish.”
“That’s what I thought, too. But Roger didn’t see it that way. He loved his parents. And he survived. He always survived.” She paused. “I’m counting on that right now. For him to survive.” She paused again. “He kept the house. He’s never been back there, as far as I know, but he never sold it, either. I drive by it every once in a while and think about Roger. All he went through at such a young age.”
“That’s very sad,” said Reel wistfully.

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Terence W. Barrett  ‘Life After Suicide’

Suicide is one of four ways life officially ends. The others are accident, homicide and natural causes.

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When considering suicide on an individual basis, it does not discriminate among sex, race, creed, nationality, intelligence, health, social or economic status, success level, occupation, marital status, or age.

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Suicide statistics are incomplete due to how suicide is defined and how it is reported.

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The human motivation for self-destruction cannot be eliminated from the human psyche. If an individual chooses to end his own life, for whatever reason, there are enough opportunities and enough lethal methods available for him to do so. When a person’s own suicidal intent overwhelms him, it seems no amount of intervention, love, or caring, will ultimately deter him from a self-destructive course. For this reason alone, preventing suicide within our culture assumes impossible proportions.

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Gillian Bouras ‘No Time For Dances’  

In one sense there is less mystery about suicide than about other deaths, because it can be viewed as simply an exercise in free will. The successful suicide merely changes dying from a matter of chance to a matter of choice.

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The world of a suicide is a closed one, a deeply foreign land.

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“A gesture like suicide is brewing in the silence of the heart just like a great work.” Albert Camus

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Durkheim defines suicide as follows:
…the term suicide is applied to all cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows will produce this result.
—Durkheim, 1897

Emile Durkheim (so-called father of sociology) – the suicide potential would be high in three prevailing circumstances.                                                                                                                                                                                “Where through excessive mother-love, father-rejection, inferiority induced by siblings, the individual is not readied for responsible adulthood according to the customs and mores of the society he is to participate in, the suicide potential of an individual may be very high.”

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Tim Costello ‘Faith’

Andrew came to the Christian faith through my influence. He had been doing some serious drugs, self-medicating his depression and living chaotically, but his conversion turned his life around. He was now clean, stable after stints in hospital for depression, and a terrific gift as Anne courage of others. He was also an amazing guitarist with a beautiful singing voice…

After a year of Andrew’s questions about God and the Bible – all answered with my usual self-assurance – I noticed he seemed a little less satisfied with our sessions and had withdrawn, so I made a time to catch up. But before that date he took a gun out to his garage and shot himself. I was utterly shattered. My faith had failed him. I obsessively retraced the answers I had given to his questions. They now seemed formulaic and hollow. I felt that I had failed him in my smugness and complacency.

I now know a lot more about mental illness, but at the time I framed it as a defect in my theology and faith. Andrew’s suicide changed me. After a period of unsettledness I turned down the partnership in the legal firm I worked at, packed my bags and together my wife and I headed off to Switzerland to study theology in an international student community with African, Asia, American and European students. I desperately needed deeper answers.

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Clifton Crais ‘History Lessons’

For a long time I refused the veracity of that first memory of my mother trying to take her life. I can see her on the bathroom floor. She wants to die. Even a child could tell something was terribly wrong but at the time I could not put into words my mother’s despair.

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Between her attempt on my life and the failed suicide, my mother’s world finally unravelled. I understood now that when she looked at me, her young son, she saw failure and hatred and everything that had gone wrong in her life.

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Trauma obliterates time. The memory is never past. My mother’s suicide attempt remains timeless amidst all my forgetting.

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Patty Dann ‘The Butterfly Hours’

Lauren began taking my class at eighty-five. The first day Lauren read, she read aloud quietly, with her head bent, of her father killing himself with a shotgun in the next room and from then on her mother coming to sleep in her bed.

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Robyn Davidson ‘Tracks’

I had gone to bed hours before but I couldn’t go to sleep. I was again overcome by a sense of failure. Not just of the trip but a kind of personal failure – the absolute impossibility of ever winning against brute force and domination. I was worrying it over and over, trying to seek a solution, impossible in that state of mind because of its nature. And then I thought: of course, the perfect way out – Suicide. Now, this was not the ordinary chest beating, why-are-we-born-to-suffer-and-die syndrome, this was something new. It was cold, rational, unemotional. And I wonder now if that’s how people usually come to it. Coldly. It was so simple really. I would walk way out bush, sit myself down somewhere, and calmly put a bullet in my brain. Yes, that would do nicely. No mess, no fuss. Just nice clean simple exit. Because no life was better than half-life. I was planning it out, the best place, the best time, when suddenly Gladdy sat bolt upright in the bed opposite me and said, ‘Rob, are you all right? Do you want a cup of coffee?’ It was the equivalent of a bucket of iced water thrown over someone in hysteria, waking me to the horror of what I was thinking, the enormity of it. I had never been to that point before, and don’t think I shall ever have to again.

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Robert Dykstra ‘She Never Said Goodbye’

One part of her story, ended or not, lingers on and its effects hold to me with tenacious power: the way she went. Her self-destruction made my grief so much more soul-numbing, called me to such deep soul-searching. I bow to its uncomfortable consequence. I shall never know why, yet I will never stop asking.

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But the signals were sparse and subtle. In her last year she began divesting herself of those details that reinforced what ego she had left. When her sense of vocation trickled away, the life-blood drained out of her soul.

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Death strikes with an all-or-nothing finality; it is the non-negotiable transaction that no one barters for; it is the finish of all finishes. The stunning, shuddering, incontrovertible fact pushes us around as a cat does a mouse. Death doesn’t listen to reason, hears no cries for mercy, knows no pity.

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The senselessness of death seems so easily to slip into the senselessness of life. The line between the two is fine as gossamer, and we too smoothly cross into that dangerous nihilistic darkness.

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She made that most painful decision possible, one that can never be called back. She made her final protest to what must have been an unbearable world; she put an end to the torment; and somehow, on her own, cast out the demons that haunted her fragile soul.

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Dr Edith Eger ‘The Choice’

I wasn’t suicidal at Auschwitz, when things were hopeless. Every day I was surrounded by people who said, “The only way you’ll get out of here is as a corpse.” But the dire prophecies give me something to fight against. Now that I’m recuperating, now that I am facing the irrevocable fact that my parents are never coming back, that Eric (her boyfriend) is never coming back, the only demons are within. I think of taking my own life. I want a way out of pain. Why not choose not to be?

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Carla Fine ‘No Time to Say Goodbye’

The suicide of a loved one irrevocably transforms us. Our world explodes and we are never the same.

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There is no dignity or privacy in suicide.

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Richard Flanagan ‘And what do you do, Mr Gable?’

It is right to ask for a culture that stops being so obsessed with the moment of violence, and instead starts to examine the consequences of violence, and then not simply in terms of physical injury and mutilation, but in the decades and often generations of suffering that ensue.

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In recent times we have lived through not so much a crisis of politics as a collapse of that most human attribute, empathy – a collapse so catastrophic it sometimes appears to be a crisis of love, manifest in epidemics of loneliness and depression.

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Victor Frankl ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’

The thought of suicide was entertained by nearly everyone, if only for a brief time. It was born of the hopelessness of the situation, the constant danger of death looming over us daily and hourly, and the closeness of the deaths suffered by many of the others.

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‘run into the wire’ – a phrase used in camp to describe the most popular method of suicide – touching the electrically charged barbed-wire fence.

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The prisoner who lost faith in the future – his future – was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and become subject to physical and mental decay.

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Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost. The typical reply with which such a man rejected all encouraging arguments was, ‘I have nothing to expect from life anymore.’

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A very strict camp ruling forbade any efforts to save a man who attempted suicide. It was forbidden, for example, to cut down a man who was trying to hang himself. Therefore, it was important to prevent these attempts from occurring.

I remember two cases of would-be suicide, which bore a striking similarity to each other. Both men had talked of their intentions to commit suicide. Both used the typical argument – they had nothing more to expect from life. In both cases it was a question of getting them to realise that life was still expecting something from them; something in the future was expected of them. We found, in fact, that for the one it was his child whom he adored and who was waiting for him in a foreign country. For the other, it was a thing, not a person. This man was a scientist and had written a series of books which still needed to be finished. His work could not be done by anyone else, any more than another person could ever take the place of the father in his child’s affections.

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The prevention of suicide:                                                                                As a young doctor I spent four years in Austria’s largest state hospital where I was in charge of the pavilion in which severely depressed patients were accommodated – most of them having been admitted after a suicide attempt. I once calculated that I must have explored twelve thousand patients during those four years. What accumulated was quite a store of experience from which I still draw whenever I am confronted with someone who is prone to suicide. I explain to such a person that patients have repeatedly told me how happy they were that the suicide attempt had not been successful; weeks, months, years later, they told me, it turned out there was a solution to their problem, an answer to their question, a meaning to their life. “Even if things only take such a good turn in one of a thousand cases,” my explanation continues, “who can guarantee that in your case it will not happen one day, sooner or later? But in the first place, you have to live to see the day on which it may happen, so you have to survive in order to see that day dawn, and from now on the responsibility for survival does not leave you.”

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John Grisham ‘The Rooster Bar’

Mark said, “I read a story once about a guy who killed himself. Some shrink was going on about the futility of trying to understand it. It’s impossible, makes no sense at all. Once a person reaches that point, he’s in another world, one that his survivors will never understand. And if you do figure it out, then you might be in trouble yourself.
“Well, I’m not in trouble, because I’ll never understand it. Sure he had a lot of problems, but suicide wasn’t the answer. Gordy could have cleaned up, got his meds straight, worked things out with Brenda, or not. If he had said no to the wedding, he would have been much happier in the long run. You and I have the same problems with law school, the bar exam, unemployment, loan sharks, and we’re not suicidal. In fact, we’re fighting back.”
“And we’re not bipolar, so we’ll never understand.”

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Frederic Gros ‘A Philosophy of Walking’

Gerard de Nerval: Walking made his illness flower. It completed the madness, because while walking everything becomes logical. Walking is a part of active melancholia.

Did he die of the unbearable bitterness of restored lucidity, or of an extreme eruption of the illness, its consummation? Nerval was found hanged in the pale dawn.

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Matt Haig ‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’

I had always, since I was first suicidally ill in my twenties, understood that getting better involved a kind of life edit. A take away.

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In this age people often live in fear, or feel inadequate, or even suicidal, when they have – materially – more than ever.

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Suicide: Although I was suicidal when I was younger, and very nearly threw myself off a cliff, in more recent times my obsession with suicide became more a fear of doing it, rather than a will to do it.

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We don’t really know how to talk about suicide. When we talk about it we tend to use that verb – commit – which carries connotations of taboo and criminality, an echo of the days when it was criminal. Many people struggle with the idea of taking you own life, as it seems a kind of insult to us all, if you see suicide as a choice, because someone has chosen to give up on living, this sacred precious thing, as fragile as a bird’s egg. But personally I know that suicide isn’t such a clear-cut choice. It can be something you dread and fear but feel compelled towards because of the new pain of living. So, it is uncomfortable talking about it. But talk we must, because an atmosphere of shame and silence prevents people getting the right help and can make them feel more freakishly lonely. It can, in short, be fatal.

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Matt Haig ‘Reasons To Stay Alive’

There is no right or wrong way to have depression, or to have a panic attack, or to feel suicidal. These things just are…. But I have found over the years that by reading about other people who have suffered, survived and overcome despair I have felt comforted. It has given me hope.

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“But in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.” Albert Camus ‘A Happy Death’

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The weirdest thing about a mind is that you can have the most intense things going on in there but no one else can see them. The world shrugs. Your pupils might dilate. You may sound incoherent. Your skin might shine with sweat. And there was no way anyone seeing me in that villa could have known what I was feeling, no way they could have appreciated the strange hell I was living through, or why death seemed such a phenomenally good idea.

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In my naivety I did not really think that what I was experiencing was something that other people had ever felt.

‘Andrea, I’m scared.’

‘It’s okay. It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay.’

‘What’s happening to me?’

‘I don’t know. But it’s going to be okay.’

‘I don’t understand how this can be happening.’

On the third day, I left the room and I left the villa, and I went outside to kill myself.

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The only plan I had was to take twenty-one steps in the direction of the cliff edge.

‘I want to die.’

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There was a lizard near my feet. A real lizard. I felt a kind of judgement. The thing with lizards is that they don’t kill themselves. Lizards are survivors. You take off their tail and another grows back. They aren’t movers. They don’t get depressed. They just get on with it, however harsh and inhospitable the landscape. I wanted, more than anything, to be that lizard.

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A sparkling Mediterranean, looking like a turquoise tablecloth scattered with tiny diamonds, fringed by a dramatic coastline of limestone cliffs and small, near-white forbidden beaches. It fit almost everyone’s definition of beautiful. And yet, the most beautiful view in the world could not stop me wanting to kill myself.

I was ill. It didn’t matter if it was society or science’s fault. I simply did not – could not – feel like this a second longer. I had to end myself.

I made it to the edge of the cliff. I could stop feeling this way simply by taking another step. It was so preposterously easy – a single step – versus the pain of being alive.

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The weird thing about depression is that, even though you might have more suicidal thoughts, the fear of death remains the same. The only difference is that the pain of life has rapidly increased.

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I stood there for a while. Summoning the courage to die, and then summoning the courage to live. To be. Not to be. Right there, Death was so close. An ounce more terror, and the scales would have tipped.

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I had a mother and a father and a sister and a girlfriend. That was four people right there who loved me. I wished, like mad, in that moment, that I had no one at all. Love was trapping me here.

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I was also scared. What if I didn’t die? What if I was just paralysed, and I was trapped, motionless, in that state, for ever?

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I think life always provides reasons not to die, if we listen hard enough. Those reasons can stem from the past – the people who raised us, maybe, or friends or lovers – or from the future – the possibilities we would be switching off.

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Life is never perfect. I still get depressed from time to time. But I’m at a better place. The pain is never as bad. I’ve found out who I am. I’m happy. Right now, I am happy. The storm ends. Believe me.

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Suicide is now a leading cause of death. According to figures from the World Health Organisation, it kills more people than stomach cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, colon cancer, breast cancer, and Alzheimer’s. As people who kill themselves are, more often than not, depressives, depression is one of the deadliest diseases on the planet.

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Even more staggeringly, depression is a disease so bad that people are killing themselves because of it in a way they do not kill themselves with any other illness. Yet people still don’t think depression really is that bad.

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When you are trapped inside something that feels so unreal, you look for anything that can give you a sense of your bearings. I craved knowledge. I craved facts. I searched for them like lifebuoys in the sea. But statistics are tricky things.

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Suicide is the leading cause of death among men under the age of thirty-five.

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Suicide rates vary widely depending on where you are in the world. For instance, if you live in Greenland you are twenty-seven times more likely to kill yourself than if you live in a Greece.

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A million people a year kill themselves. Between ten and twenty million people a year try to. Worldwide, men are over three times more likely to kill themselves than women.

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When you are at your lowest ebb, you imagine – wrongly – that no one else in the world has felt so bad.

I could not cope with the relentless self-torment or the sheer exhaustion of never being able to find mental comfort.

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Chris Hammer ‘Scrublands’

He’s dead. Topped himself. City bloke. Sank his pension into it. Did the place up, tried to make a go of a bistro. Anyway, his wife couldn’t stand it and went back to the city, then the drought really kicked in and the money dried up. Didn’t really know anyone, didn’t have anyone to talk to. Blew his brains out with a shotty. Happens more often than you think out here.

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Walker had been a proud man, ruling his fiefdom with impunity. Perhaps he couldn’t bear the thought of the impending humiliation, no matter that it loomed so much larger in his own mind than it ever would among the residents of Bellington. Who knows what dark thoughts and obsessions can take hold in the small hours of the morning, when the mind chases itself down dark passageways and perspective lost?

Has Walker really gone from defiance and anger to despair and hopelessness in mere hours?… Perhaps there were other issues, unknown issues, trapping a Walker, and he took the easy way out… Maybe.

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Anthony & Ben Holden (editors) ‘Poems That Make Grown Men Cry’

Melvin Bragg ‘Sonnet XXX’ – William Shakespeare

For me it paints a picture of my thoughts and feelings when I think of my first wife, who took her life more than forty years ago. I feel as responsible, as guilty, and as ashamed now as I was then.

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Harold Bloom ‘The Broken Tower’ – Hart Crane

Crane desperately needed reassurance that he was still a poet, but it was not forthcoming. His suicide (at the age of thirty-two) perhaps would have come even if he had been persuaded that his great gifts were intact. He had been doom-eager all his life.

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Nicholson Baker ‘End of Summer’ – Stanley Kunitz

Stanley Kunitz was a lonely, kind man, a conscientious objector during World War II who wrote a famous line: ‘The night nailed like an orange to my brow.’ It’s from a poem about his father, who killed himself by drinking poison shortly before Kunitz was born.

End of Summer
An agitation of the air,
A perturbation of the light
Admonished me the unloved year
Would turn on its hinge that night.

I stood in the disenchanted field
Amid the stubble and the stones,
Amazed, while a small worm listed to me
The song of my marrow-bones.

Blue poured into summer blue,
A hawk broke from his cloudless tower,
The roof of the silo blazed, and I knew
That part of my life was over.

Already the iron door of the north
Clangs open: bird’s, leaves, snows
Order their populations forth,
And a cruel wind blows.

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Nick Hornby A Long Way Down

A man who wants to die feels angry and full of life and desperate and bored and exhausted, all at the same time; he wants to fight everyone, and he wants to curl up in a ball and hide in the cupboard somewhere. He wants to say sorry to everyone, and he wants everyone to know just how badly they’ve all let him down.

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When you’re unhappy, I guess everything in the world – reading, eating, sleeping – has something buried somewhere inside it that just makes you unhappier.

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And it isn’t that I’m so unhappy I don’t want t live anymore. That’s not what it feels like. It feels more like I’m tired and bored and the party’s gone on too long and I want to go home. I feel flat and there doesn’t seem to be anything to look forward to, so I’d rather call it a day.

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About suicide: And why is it the biggest sin of all? All your life you’re told that you’ll be going to this marvellous place when you pass on. And the one thing you can do to get you there a bit quicker is something that stops you getting there at all. Oh, I can see that it’s a kind of queue-jumping. But if someone jumps the queue at the Post Office, people tut. Or sometimes they say, “Excuse me, I was here first.” They don’t say, “You will be consumed by hellfire for all eternity.” That would be a bit strong.

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You know that things aren’t going well for you when you can’t even tell people the simplest fact about your life, just because they’ll presume you’re asking them to feel sorry for you. I suppose it’s why you feel so far away from everyone, in the end; anything you can think of to tell them just ends up making them feel terrible.

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I’m not telling you that suicidal people aren’t so far away from people who can get by; I’m telling you that people who can get by aren’t so far away from being suicidal.

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I had wanted to kill myself, not because I hated living, but because I loved it. And the truth of the matter is, I think that a lot of people who think about killing themselves feel the same way. They love life but it’s all f….. up for them. We were up on that roof because we couldn’t find a way back into life, and being shut out of it like that…It just f…… destroys you, man.

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I loved them, and would always love them. But there was no place where they could fit anymore, so I had nowhere to put all the things I felt. I didn’t know what to do with them, and they didn’t know what to do with me, and isn’t that just life?

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Suicide is crossing a line.

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I can’t get used to the idea that my life is finished, pointless, too hard, completely without hope or colour.

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You know how I feel when I wake up in the morning? Humiliated. How do I feel at lunch time? Humiliated. My life flows in a steady stream of humiliation. I’m not sad, not angry, just humiliated.

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Vicki Hutchinson  ‘Death by Choice: Living with the impact of the suicide of a loved one’

Philip talks about depression:

Suicide was always something I had thought of before, but when that medication (Lexapro) got into my blood, it rose that level of thought to actual planning how I could do it, and it was just sickening how severe and the mess I was in. Then I was totally lost of what to do next.

…then the ugly ‘demon’ known to humans as anxiety forces you to deal with what to do next. Well the force and power of this revolting illness known as depression seems to automatically, almost in a robotic way push the victim so down and out that a word, replaces everything that just previously took a pounding then it is there ‘suicide’. Why on earth do we the sufferers or victims think about this? Well I know because when depression gets bad, I mean really bad and you feel like you have gone completely mad or crazy and every single one of billions or shooting, left, right, centre, backwards, up, down all around negative thoughts and not being able to think about one thing nice at all, then I suppose not being here and ‘lights out’ seems to be the only nice or comforting thought there is.

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I could see Philip slipping deeper into depression. He was more socially isolated and started neglecting his self-care. Day after day, things looked blacker and more hopeless for Philip. I was at a loss as to how to help him. I was his only support person. He was aware of the impact he was having one me. I was feeling helpless.

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The note he left:

Vicki and Emily and Meredith
If I have done something extremely selfish and taken my life, you need to know how sorry I am for firstly doing it in the first place, and secondly worst of all knowing how devastating it will be for you. Also I am sorry for how this may interfere with many things for you in the future….. I just can’t do it anymore…. I love you and I am so, so, sorry for landing this on you.

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I have not been able to return to work since Philip’s suicide. I have been traumatised by the event. Not only because of the ten months of intensive support and management of Philip living in my home, but the struggle to get acceptance into the system and of course the reality of the suicide in my home and its impact.

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As a mental health nurse I know how suicide impacts professionally. Now, I know also how it impacts personally. I have learnt from personal experience now how important the holistic picture is. The family and carers are extremely important in the process and the recovery. They know the patient much better than the mental health staff. It is essential to work together collaboratively. Of course, there are situations where the family dynamics can be destructive and require a different approach. In general healthy families working together are an essential ingredient for a good recovery.

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Kay Redfield Jamison ‘Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide’

Suicide is defined, succinctly as ‘death from injury, poisoning or suffocation where there is evidence (either explicit or implicit) that the injury was self inflicted and that the descendent intended to kill himself/herself.’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Atlanta)

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‘Suicide ideation’ is a term used to describe the process of thinking about suicide. Often people want to live and to die; ambivalence saturates the suicidal act. The borders between thinking, acting and fatal action are more tenuous, uncertain and dangerous than any of us would like to believe.

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Most people who decide to take their own lives have lost their ability to feel things grandly or deeply, to reflect profoundly or originally, to see the world other than monochromatically. Giving words to ultimate, dark, and interior acts is difficult enough for those with keen minds in active gear; for those depressed, confused, hopeless, and mentally constricted, eloquence is unlikely to be much in evidence.

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When people are suicidal, their thinking is paralysed, their options appear spare or nonexistent, their mood is despairing and hopelessness permeates their entire mental domain.

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Suicidal acts are often impulsive; that is, they are undertaken without much forethought or regard for consequence. More than half of suicide attempts occur within the context of a premeditation period of less than five minutes. Although many suicidal patients have well-formulated plans for suicide, the ultimate timing and final decision to act are often determined by impulse.

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“Suicide, I suspect, is very often the outcome of mere mental weariness – not an act of savage energy but the final symptom of complete collapse.” Joseph Conrad

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For some, suicide is a sudden act. For others, it is a long considered decision based on cumulative despair or dire circumstances. And for many, it is both: a brash moment of action taken during a span of settled and suicidal hopelessness.

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Suicide is not a blot on anyone’s name, it is a tragedy.

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The causes of suicide lie, for the most part, in an individual’s predisposing temperament and genetic vulnerabilities, in severe psychiatric illness; and in acute psychological stress.

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Suicide usually requires multiple ‘hits’ – a biological predisposition, a major psychiatric illness, and an acute life stress – but only some of these ‘hits’ are amenable to change.

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“As a society, we do not like to talk about suicide.” David Satcher

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Rachel Joyce ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’

As he walked on, all he could think of was the cycling mother. He wondered when it was that she had felt so desolate she had cut her arm, and left it to bleed. He wondered who had found her, and what they had done. Had she wanted to be saved? Or had they dragged her back to life just as she believed she was free of it? He wished he could have said something; something to make her never do it again. If he had comforted her he could have let her go. As it was, he knew that in meeting her, and listening, he was carrying another weight in his heart and he wasn’t sure how much more of that he could take.

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Though it had cleft them apart and plunged them into separate darkness, their son had after all done what he wanted.

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Rachel Joyce  ‘The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey’

After your son’s death, Harold, the world changed. It did not change for your neighbours… If it altered for them, the shift was brief, it was a hiccup, it was a missing of a step, the way the sudden removal of a person is a reminder of one’s own for fragility before we resume the familiar, ordinary things that make us feel untouchable again.

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Your son died and the world swallowed that piece of information and moved on. I never heard anyone refer to him after the first week.

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David’s death was not your fault. You couldn’t have stopped him. People do as they want.

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Rachel Joyce ‘Perfect’

When Byron heard about his father’s suicide, several months had passed. Things were different by this time and he had no space left in which to feel.

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Tom Keneally ‘Crimes of the Father’

Stephen Cosgrove, the young man whose life began to fall apart in high school. He experimented with drugs. Started university but dropped out. He began taking heroin again. His mother’s name was Liz. His brother’s name was Paul, who was a lawyer.

His suicide note:
To all of you. If I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t write anything, but I know I owe you an explanation and this is it.
I’m sorry that in wrecking my life I wrecked yours. I’m sorry for my rage. I was angry all the time, like the old man in his heyday. But the one person I go to hell cursing is not whom you expect. Monsignor Shannon. My rage was for him. And for myself as well. I take my hate for him to hell, matched by my own self-hate. He began when I was in Year 6 – I didn’t even know what he was talking about at the time, but I soon found out. Before I hit fourteen he went on to another boy. I thought of going to the Church, but it’s useless – he’s such a heavy figure with them. I know one thing – he will never kill himself. Too pleased with himself. And I’m too weary to take action. I don’t have the energy to keep going. The other kid, my successor, was Brian Wood. If you ever meet him, tell him to go after Shannon if he wants. He’s done OK for himself, I think. He can probably afford a lawyer. Good on him.
Again, sorry, sorry. I can’t face many more breaths though. Now I’m gone, you can both get on with life. The only two people I give a shit about! Don’t worry, I didn’t suffer. I’ve got a big raw dose ready.

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Barbara Kingsolver ‘Unsheltered’

“Mom, it’s me.”

“Oh Jesus, Zeke, you’re okay. Is the baby okay?

Zeke was sobbing. Choked. A level of desperation she couldn’t associate with her levelheaded son. She waited without realising she was holding her breath.

“The baby’s fine,” he said finally. “It’s Helene.”

“Oh no. Some problem from the C-section? It happens, honey. Did she have to go back to the hospital?

Iano was looking at her with mournful eyes, shaking his head. His face behind the dark, trimmed beard looked scarily pale, and his foreknowledge was disorientating. She turned her back on him and listened to her son’s silence, the gathering of his will.

“Mom, Helene’s dead. She died.”

“Jesus! How?”

The best of his silence lasted long enough for Willa to wonder if she’d been rude to ask. Her mind battered itself like a trapped bird.

“She took pills,” he finally said. “She killed herself.”

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She listened to Zeke’s breathing as it caught in a sob, tried and caught again, like a halting engine. “We didn’t talk about that, Mom,” he managed. When the subject of death came up, it was me telling her not to do it.”

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She should never have gone off the antidepressants, I shouldn’t have let her. Nobody should have asked her to do that.”

“Don’t blame yourself. The drugs were not your call. There must have been risks to the baby.”

“Maybe I expected too much from her. I do that, Mom, I feel like when things seem easy to me, they should be easy for other people. Maybe she felt guilty.”

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She knew she would have to guard against stereotyping, and try not to read Helene’s whole life backward as a reel of emotional injuries spooling toward suicide. Brain chemistry, Zeke kept saying, and Willa understood.

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Helene wrote in her suicide note her belief that her best gift to her partner and son was the removal of her poisonous self from their lives.

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The workings of love might be damaged, in a beginning overshadowed by despair. Zeke might end up blaming the child for his loss. The pregnancy had killed Helene; this was a fact.

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Willa recognised the same anger she’d been harbouring for days, toward Helene. They would have to take turns keeping a lid on that. The child would need to love his mother, and it was all on them, forever. “She wasn’t thinking right. We know that now.”

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She wouldn’t have plotted something like this. I mean yes, her death I guess, but not the fallout. She didn’t do it to wreck your life.

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Suicide is murder. A life had been brutally stolen from their family. A mother, a beloved.

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Olivia Laing ‘Crudo’

Kathy had no parents, which didn’t stop them annoying her. She thought about them a lot. Her mother had committed suicide; her father had vanished before she was ever born. She was an orphan, truly Dickensian.

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What had happened to her mother is that she’d cut her wrists in the bathtub. What had happened to her mother is that she had checked into a slightly rundown once quite exclusive still pretty nice hotel, tipped the bellboy, chatted to the night staff and then OD’d in the bedroom, not paying the bill. Kathy had spent maybe two days maybe two weeks hysterical, calling all the hospitals, trying to track down before the rest of the family thought to tell her. They were the kind of family, estranged, huge upholstered couches of absolute silence between them.

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Christy Lefteri ‘The Beekeeper of Aleppo’

Dear Nuri,
Each and every day I wonder how we got here, how life can be so cruel. Much of the time I can’t stand to be alive. The thoughts I have poison me and I am alone with them. I know that every person here is trapped in their own hell –

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I look at my face on the dark screen, thinking of what to write – ‘Mustafa, I believe I am unwell. I have no dreams left.’

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I catch sight of my face in the mirror above the sink and I pause with my hands by my ears. I look so different now, but I can’t quite put my finger on how. Yes, there are deep lines that were not there before, and even my eyes seem to have changed – they are darker and wider, always on the alert, like Mohammed’s eyes, but it’s not that; something else has changed, something unfathomable.

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The darkness now entered my mind from the sea and the sky, and I felt it again, that sense of being lost: the sky and the sea and the world seemed too big.

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‘You are lost in the darkness, Nuri,’ she says. ‘It is a fact. You’ve got completely lost somewhere in the dark.’

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‘Have you forgotten about the bees and the flowers? I think you’ve forgotten about all that. Mustafa is waiting for us and you haven’t even mentioned him. You’re lost in a different world. You’re not here at all. I don’t know you anymore.’

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Gordon Livingston  ‘Only Spring: on mourning the death of my son’

(Speaking of Andrew) – His death is a door forever slammed in our faces.
June 18, 1993
Dear Andrew,
You shouldn’t have done this. Your life, hard as it had become, was precious to a lot of people. None of our lives are completely our own to dispose of as we wish. We all have connections that are claims on our humanity and demand weight in our every decision – especially the choice to live or die.
I miss you. As I stood by the tree (two sons, two trees) yesterday I thought of your last moments, forever unknowable. Did you hesitate, contemplating the awful pain your death would bring to those who loved you? There has to be some meaning to this loss beyond the random inheritance of a bipolar gene. You were so much more than that illness. You were loved, Andrew, and that this was not enough to sustain you, that perhaps you couldn’t even feel it clearly, is sad beyond any consolation.

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Gordon Livingston  ‘Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart’

Depressed people tend naturally to focus on their symptoms: sadness, loss of energy, sleep disturbance, appetite changes, diminished capacity for happiness.

People who are overwhelmed by anxiety or depression often have no answer. The truly hopeless, of course, think about ending their lives.

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When confronted with a suicidal person I seldom try to talk them out of it. Instead I ask them to examine what it is that has so far dissuaded them for killing themselves. Usually this involves finding out what the connections are that tether that person to life in the face of nearly unbearable psychic pain. There is simply no denying the anger embedded in any decision to kill oneself. Suicide is a kind of curse forever on those who love us. It is, to be sure, the ultimate statement of hopelessness, but it is also a declaration to those closest to us that their caring for us and our caring for them was insufficient to the task of living through another day. People in despair are, naturally, intensely self-absorbed. Suicide is the ultimate expression of this preoccupation with self. Instead of just expressing the sympathy and fear that suicidal people evoke in those around them, therapists included, I think it is reasonable to confront them with the selfishness and anger implied in any act of self-destruction.

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Grant Lock  ‘I’d Rather Be Blind: My Life After Afghanistan’

Ali can hear the train in the distance. It has all been too much. Things are not working out. Better to end it all. Maria and the kids will go back to Italy. She will be happy back there.

He lays his body on the track and grips the far side rail. He’s chosen this place well. With the curve of the line and the summer darkness, the driver will not see him until it’s too late. He hears the rumbling clatter through the metal of the rails: better this way. Better this way. Better this way.

A hand touches his shoulder. “Bhai Jhi – Dear brother.” The voice is firm and strong. “What are you doing?”Ali doesn’t move.

“Aa-o Chai meraysaat pio – Come, drink tea with me. Come, Ali, come!”

But Ali is consumed by the call of the rails.
Better this way. Better this way. Better this way.
The train charges into the curve.
Ali stirs.

The voice, like the grip on his shoulder, is insistent, reassuring.
“Come, Ali, come!”

The pilot slowly looks up and reaches for the man’s hand. He rises. The hand pulls. The train carriages hurtle by.
Another day. Another day. Another day.
Up the embankment, through the bushes and over the road, the man leads Ali to a seat in a grotty chai shop.

“Doh cup subsay utchar chai,” he says to the waiter with the grimy towel draped over his forearm. “Bring two cups of your very best tea.”

Another train screams past. Only moments ago Ali had wanted to become one with that scream. Now it’s different. Ali stares at the man.
“Sir, how did you know my name? Who are you?”
“I am a messenger.”
“A messenger?”
The man does not smile, yet his whole face is a smile.
“You say I will find peace. Where? Tell me where?
“In the words of Isa. Read his book. Read the Injil.”

The train whistle blasts again. Ali glances toward the sound, then turns back.
The man is gone.

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Anthony McCarten ‘Darkest Hour’

When Clementine (Churchill’s wife) returned to London in April, however, it was to the tragic news that her brother, Bill Hozier, a charming but well-known gambler, had shot and killed himself in a Paris hotel room. Clementine and Winston had both been close to him, and the news hit the couple hard.

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Adele Ryan McDowell ‘Making Peace with Suicide’

When a suicide happens, the world – and our perception of it – turns upside down.

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Suicide is the antithesis of the urge to survive; it is often described as an act of violence against the self. However, for some, suicide may seem to be the one act that will bring release from suffering.

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Suicide is messy. It is weighted with shame and secrecy, criticism and judgment.

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The number of suicidal deaths has ratcheted upward exponentially with global wars, bullying, addiction, and economic crises in combination with too-fast, disconnected, joyless lifestyles.

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Suicide leaves a trail of questions and uncertainties. Knowledge can help make some sense of the unimaginable.

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Today, suicide is a worldwide epidemic that is indifferent to the boundaries between cultures, age, religion, gender and socioeconomic classes.

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Suicide may be a response to despair, pain, illness, and the pull of inner demons. It can be an act of war, a reaction to violence, or a final surrender.

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Suicide is the result of a confluence of factors, circumstances, pain, biological vulnerabilities, trauma, and more.

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It is not unusual to see a thread of suicides in a family tree – the taboo has been broken and it has become an acceptable option.

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What makes teen suicide especially difficult to accept is that, as adults, we see the potential of a full life and know that there are (or were) probable solutions to their pain and circumstances. We also know that because they are young, they are impulsive and take risks we no longer understand.

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Suicide can be a tipping point of pain or shame, a plea for help, a response to mental illness and haywire neurochemistry, as well as the last gasp of despair and resignation. Suicide can also be an impulsive mistake, a planned ending of life, a shredded soul, the death of the ego, or the ultimate act of rage and fury.

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Michelle Magorian ‘Goodnight Mister Tom’

‘Your mother killed herself.’

He stared at her in stunned disbelief. ‘Killed herself? But…but why?’

‘I don’t know. I suppose she just didn’t want to live anymore.’

How could anyone not want to live, thought Will, when there were so many things to live for. There were rainy nights and wind and the slap of the sea and the moon. There were books to read and pictures to paint and music.

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Paula Meehan  ‘The Wake Forest Book of Irish Women’s Poetry’ by Peggy O’Brien

Ashes

The tide comes in; the tide goes out again
washing the beach clear of what the storm
dumped. Where there were rocks, today there is sand;
where sand yesterday, now uncovered rocks.

So I think on where her mortal remains
might reach landfall in their transmuted forms,
a year now since I cast them from my hand
—wanting to stop the inexorable clock.

She who died by her own hand cannot know
the simple love I have for what she left
behind. I could not save her. I could not
even try. I watch the way the wind blows
life into slack sail: the stress of warp against weft
lifts the stalling craft, pushes it on out.

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Amy Meyerson ‘The Bookshop of Yesterdays’

A letter, from Sheila to Billy
…. Although we were wrong, there was something fundamentally right about what we did. You helped me take the necessary steps not only in my memoir but in coming to terms with Daniel’s death. Did I tell you Daniel committed suicide? We came together because of our beloveds’ deaths, yet we never told each other what happened to them, why we blamed ourselves. I was the one to find Daniel. I didn’t know he owned a gun. We’d lived together for ten years, and somewhere beneath the bed, in a box in the closet, in his desk, somewhere the bullets had lived with us. His death wasn’t my fault, I understand this now. I believe it. Evelyn’s death wasn’t your fault, either. You have to believe this, if you ever want to move on…

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Raymond R. Mitsch & Lynn Brookside ‘Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love’

Suicide is never an answer to any problem. It may seem a perfect way to end the pain you are feeling, but it is a very permanent end to a temporary problem.

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Like mushrooms, suicidal thoughts grow in the dark. They must be exposed to the light and uprooted, and you may need help to do it.

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Joe Moran ‘First You Write A Sentence’

In April 1972 the film star George Sanders checked into a hotel room in a seaside town near Barcelona and took five bottles of Nembutal. He left behind a note containing four pellucid sentences. Dear World: I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck. In under thirty words, Sanders managed to sound like an authentic voice speaking to an audience. His full stops were clean as bullet holes.

It might seem odd to think of a suicide note as showing the same kind of care for others as a cathedral. But, in one narrow sense, Sander’s note did. Like a message in a bottle flung into the sea, it was unsullied by any demands for a response from its reader. One might say that every successful piece of writing begins ‘Dear World’, even if the words are only implied. Sander’s life was a mess at its end His film career was over, he was broke, his fourth marriage had lasted eight weeks, he was drinking heavily and his health was poor. But his suicide note was as impeccable as his film persona – elegantly mannered, smoothly cynical and, in its own way, generous.

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Jane Newling ‘Missing Christopher’

“Most suicidal people are undecided about whether they really want to live or die. Sometimes when they attempt suicide they are gambling with death, and leave it to others to save them.” From The Cruellest Death: The Enigma of Adolescent Suicide by David Lester PhD

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When you fail, you lose everything – your self-esteem, confidence, the ability to love and care, and the will to live and to fight for life. The signs of wanting to die are often there but, in many cases, only after your child has killed himself. It’s an insidious secret. They’re not going to tell anyone and even if asked, it will almost always be denied. I f the parent knew the intention, the suicide may be prevented.

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When someone wants to die and they have made up their mind to go through with it, often a calm, an inner peace fills them and the inner turmoil of indecision disappears.

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Why teenagers decide the interminable future is too hard to bear? Their lives are lived for each day and when each day is wracked with angst, uncertainty and a heartbreaking pain and belief that nothing will get better, death can be their only way out, the key which opens their crypt and sets them free.

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“For anyone who is suicidal, a propensity for precipitous action can be one of the most worrying factors, as it can summarily override any self-protective strategies.” Gordon Parker

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Jennifer Niven ‘All The Bright Places’

It’s only when I’m awake that I think about dying.

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The thing suicides don’t focus on is their wake. Not just your parents and siblings, but your friends, your girlfriends, your classmates, your teachers.

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On March 23, 1950, Italian poet Cesare Pavese wrote: “Love is truly the great manifesto; the urge to be, to count for something, and, if death must come, to die valiantly, with acclamation – in short, to remain a memory.” Five months later, he walked into a newspaper office and chose his obituary photograph from the photo archive. He checked himself into a hotel, and days later an employee found him stretched out on the bed, dead. He was fully dressed except for his shoes. On the bedside table were sixteen empty packets of sleeping pills and a note: “I forgive everyone and ask forgiveness of everyone. OK? Not too much gossip, please.”

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Worthless. Stupid…. These are the words I grew up hearing. They’re the words I try to outrun, because if I let them in, they might stay there and grow and fill me up and in, until the only thing left of me is worthless stupid worthless stupid worthless stupid freak. – Theodore Finch

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Suicide note of Vladimir Mayakovski, poet of the Russian Revolution, who shot himself at the age of thirty-six.
My beloved boat
is broken on the rocks of daily life.
I’ve paid my debts
and no longer need to count
pains I’ve suffered at the hands of others.
The misfortunes
and the insults.
Good luck to those who remain.

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A string of thoughts runs through my head like a song I can’t get rid of, over and over in the same order: I am broken. I am a fraud. I am impossible to love. It’s only a matter of time until Violet figures it out. You warned her. What does she want from you? You told her how it was.

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And so I stand quietly in Finch’s black T-shirt, thinking. In all his words, the preacher doesn’t mention suicide. The family is calling his death an accident because they didn’t find a proper note, and so the preacher talks about the tragedy of someone dying so young, of a life ended too soon, of possibilities never realised. I stand, thinking how it wasn’t an accident at all and how “suicide victim” is an interesting term. The victim part of it implies they had no choice. And maybe Finch didn’t feel like he had a choice, or maybe he wasn’t trying to kill himself at all but just going in search of the bottom. But I’ll never really know, will I?

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What goes through your mind when your thinking about killing yourself?
Amanda stares at her hands. “I can only tell you how I felt. Ugly. Disgusting. Stupid. Small. Worthless. Forgotten. It just feels like there’s no choice. Like it’s the most logical thing to do because what else is there? You think, ‘No one will even miss me. They won’t know I’m gone. The world will go on, and it won’t matter that I’m not here. Maybe it’s better if I was never here.’”
“…all you feel is dark inside, and that darkness just kind of takes over. You don’t even really think about what might happen to the people you leave behind, because all you can think about is yourself.”

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Frank Page (with Lawrence Kimbrough) ‘Melissa’

The consequences of suicide go far beyond anything you have ever imagines, affecting relationships and changing the lives of those you leave behind.
Suicide in the life of a family often leads to the dissolution or destruction of marriages, of future plans, of dreams for many other siblings, parents, children, grandchildren, and others.

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The most notorious misconception about suicide is that anyone who takes his or her own life is destined for hell, that it automatically cuts them off from the grace of God, that they have committed the ‘unpardonable sin.’

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The final act of suicide is but a weary end to months and years of agonising struggle. The decisions and events that set the stage for this tragic conclusion could not be unravelled or understood if that’s all we ever did for the rest of our lives. The nature of suicide is characterised by complexity.

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But suicide? It makes no sense to the thinking mind. It goes against nature and impulse. Only in one’s utter desperation is this anomaly able somehow to contort itself into a shape that fits on the same grid with normal life processes. Otherwise, it’s something we would always run away from, never toward. Suicide is hard to understand.

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Oliver Sacks ‘Everything In Its Place’

In September 2002, Spaulding Gray jumped off his sailboat into the harbour, planning to drown himself ( he lost his nerve and clung to the boat). A few days later, he was found pacing on the Sag Harbour bridge, eyeing the water, until the police intervened and Kathie took him home.

Soon after this, Spaulding was admitted to Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic, on the Upper East Side. He spent four months there and was given more than twenty shock treatments and drugs of all kinds. He responded to none of them and, indeed, seemed to be getting worse by the day. When he emerged from Payne Whitney, his friends felt that something terrible and perhaps irreversible had happened. Kathie thought he was “a broken man.”

In July, when Spaulding first came to see Orrin and me, I asked him if there were any other themes besides the sale of his house that he ruminated about. He said yes: he often thought about his mother and the first twenty-six years of his life. It was when he was twenty-six that his mother, who had been intermittently psychotic since he was ten, fell into a self-torturing, remorseful state, focused on the selling of her family house. Unable to endure her torment, she had committed suicide.

In an uncanny way, he said, he felt that he was recapitulating what had happened with his mother. He felt the attraction of suicide and thought of it constantly. He said he regretted not having committed suicide at the UCLA hospital. Why there? I inquired. Because one day, he replied, someone had left a large plastic bag in his room – and it would have been “easy.” But he was pulled back by the thought of his wife and children. Nevertheless, he said, the idea of suicide rose “like a black sun” every day.

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Oliver Sacks ‘Gratitude’

After I qualified as a doctor in 1960, I removed myself abruptly from England and what family and community I had there, and went to the New World, where I knew nobody. When I moved to Los Angeles, I found a sort of community among the weight lifters on Muscle Beach, and with my fellow neurology residents at U.L.C.A., but I craved some deeper connection – ‘meaning’ – in my life, and it was the absence of this, I think, that drew me into near-suicidal addiction to amphetamines in the 1960s.

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Ann Smolin & John Guinan ‘Healing After the Suicide of a Loved One’

Every suicide is multi determined, that is, it is the product of a number of motivating factors interacting in a particularly fatal mix.

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The tragedy of suicide – a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

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Suicide – the worst of choices made by a mind no longer able to function in a rational manner.

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Rebecca Solnit ‘Hope in the Dark’

One of the essential aspects of depression is the sense that you will always be mired in this misery, that nothing can or will change. It’s what makes suicide so seductive as the only visible exit from the prison of the present.

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Jill Stark ‘Happy Never After’

Panic attack – being buried by an avalanche of panic.

Dying felt like a certainty. In these moments it often feels as if that would be a better option than living through another minute.

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But something wasn’t quite right. In truth, my joy was a free-falling, anchor-less kind of happy that at times bordered on mania. The more praise I got, the more I craved. It was like a crack addict chasing my next fix. And there was never enough. My self-worth had been pinned to an external vision of my life that was so distorted it was like looking at my reflection in a carnival hall of mirrors. Privately, I was falling down a rabbit hole. I felt lost and alone…

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I should have been at peace with myself. Instead, I was empty. This wasn’t just the absence of something; it was a ravenous hunger – an emptiness so absolute I felt starved deep in my bones.

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A year and a half after the realisation of a series of dreams that I thought would be my happy-ever-after, I was plunged into the darkest period of my life. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t eat, I barely left the house. After months of panic, a deep depression descended and things became desperate.

Googling – ‘how to kill yourself without hurting the people you love’

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When we’re on the road to the fairytale ending, our troubles are supposed to be short-lived and resolved neatly – a linear path from sickness to cure. It leaves no room for a backward step. As I’ve careered back and forth throughout my life between bouts of depression, times of acute anxiety, and periods of relative calm, I’ve felt as if I was constantly failing.

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So much of our inner life is a mystery. We react in ways that make no sense, and sometimes in ways that are self-destructive.

I often experience feelings of abandonment, isolation, and anger that are completely disproportionate to the situations that trigger them. The feelings come with a bewildering sense of being out of control, as if I’m being driven by unseen forces.

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Trauma, abuse, and neglect can have such a profound effect on the brain’s wiring that people are often left with emotional scars that can derail their entire adult lives.

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The digital revolution has given bullies 24/7 access to their victims, sometimes with Travis results. Jessica Cleland was 18 when she took her life in 2014, the day after being bombarded with nasty Facebook messages telling her she was hated by those she considered friends. Her parents found 87 messages sent by two boys the night before her death. Jessica had begged them to stop. The Victorian teenager had shown no signs of mental illness prior to the incident.

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We live in a society in which we are increasingly socially isolated and lonely, destroying one of the key mechanisms available to protect against mental anguish.

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On the way back from the doctor one day, I found myself standing at the pedestrian lights, watching cars speed past, drawn to the intoxicating freedom that would come from taking one simple step into the traffic. That month, I drafted suicide notes and then ripped them up in despair when I realised my hell could not be escaped by passing it on to those I loved. I looked for solace in this small concession. Despite the pain, I at least had the lucidity to know the people closest to me would not necessarily be better off without me. But that knowledge was its own prison. I felt trapped by this thing, this beast. It brought an endless grief as I mourned for my disappearing self and the lost concept of hope.

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Quote: Many people think that a suicide attempt is a selfish move because the person just does not care about the people left behind. I can tell you that when a person gets to that point, they truly believe that their loved ones will be much better off with them gone. This is mental illness, not selfishness.

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In Victoria, Australia, suicide was considered a crime until 1958. Sixty years later, and we still routinely talk about people ‘committing’ suicide.

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Shame is one of the most powerful human emotions. It’s also one of the most corrosive. Shame is destructive. It tells us we are undeserving of love and uses our poor behaviour as evidence.

Sometimes the shame is turned inwards, in acts of self-sabotage.

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Donna Tartt ‘The Goldfinch’

Mr. Borowsky, who taught math, took me aside out in the hall and told me how guilty he’d felt after his brother had died in a car accident. (Guilt came up a lot in these talks with the school counsellor. Did my teacher believe, as I did, that I was guilty of causing my mother’s death? Apparently so.) Mr. Borowsky had felt so guilty for letting his brother drive home drunk from the party that night that he’d even thought for a brief while about killing himself. Maybe I’d thought about suicide too. But suicide wasn’t the answer.

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Miriam Toews ‘All My Puny Sorrows’

She told me she’d never adjusted to the light, she just never developed a tolerance for the world, her inoculation hadn’t taken.

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The last time my sister tried to kill herself was by slowly evaporating into space. It was a furtive attempt to disappear by starving herself to death. She hated me for saving her life.

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This time her method wasn’t starving, it was pills. She had left a note …… written with a green marker. She listed the people she loved. “Please understand”, she’d also written. “Please let me go. I love you all.”

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What sorts of things do you google when your favourite person in the world is determined to leave it?

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I asked Elf if she was thinking at all of reasons to stay alive or if she was only trying to figure out an exit. She didn’t answer the question. I asked her if those forces were constantly battling it out in her mind and she said if they were then it was a lopsided fight. I asked her if she had any idea how much I would miss her. She looked at me. Her eyes filled up with tears. I shook my head. She didn’t speak. I left the room.

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She says isn’t it funny how every second, every minute, every day, month, year, is accounted for, capable of being named—when time, or life, is so unwieldy, so intangible and slippery?

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It was the first time that we had sort of articulated our major problem. She wanted to die and I wanted her to live and we were enemies who loved each other.

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Majok Tulba ‘When Elephants Fight’

Yomjima was happy about sharing our tent but I knew she never stopped thinking about her family and everyone she’d lost… I never suspected that beneath her hopeful manner she had already lost hope herself. And I couldn’t stop wondering if there was something we could have done to save her. Everything felt so dark.

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Jesmyn Ward ‘Men We Reaped’

I don’t know all Ronald’s demons… I don’t know what that debilitating darkness, that Nothing that pursued him, looked like, what shape his depression took. I know that when he looked down at his copper hands and in the mirror, that he thought it would be better if he were dead, because then all of it, every bit of it, would stop.

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Black men are more vulnerable to incarceration, homelessness, substance abuse, homicide, and suicide.

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Jesmyn Ward ‘Sing, Unburied, Sing’

I think Stag felt dead inside, and that’s why he couldn’t sit still and listen, why he had to climb the highest cliff when we went swimming at the river and jump off headfirst into the water. That’s why Stag went to the juke joint damn near every weekend when he got eighteen, nineteen, drinking, why he walked with a knife in each shoe and one up each sleeve, why he cut and came home cut so often – he needed that to feel more alive.

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H. Norman Wright ‘Experiencing the Loss of a Family Member’

Remember, the more secrets a family has, the more closed the family becomes and often the more regrets they experience.

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