A Month of Mental Health, An Eternity of Suicide


There seems to be a lot of chatter on the Interwebs today about suicide, quite possibly an offshoot of Mental Health Awareness Month or whatever they’re calling it this year. 
Have I written lately about how cynical I am about this subject? Read on.
First, understand that the vast majority of the chatter on suicide (the 10th leading killer of everyone in the US) is mostly lip service, in reality.
Recently, The Mightyhighlighted a set of suicide stories from the website Refinery29
What I found most ironic about this is that the website describes itself as:
“Refinery29, the fastest growing independent fashion and style website in the United States, is a lifestyle platform that delivers nonstop inspiration to help women live a more stylish and creative life. It connects over 25 million monthly visitors and over 175 million users across all platforms with 24/7 programming covering everything from shopping and beauty to wellness and celebrities, giving readers all the tips, tricks, and tools they need to live a more beautiful life — and share it with the world.”
Now look at the front page. Like most women’s magazines and websites, the implicit message is, as always: you’re not good enough. But don’t worry; we can help you to be socially acceptable. It will cost you a little though – not just money, but self-esteem. If you can’t measure up, kiss that great job or handsome husband goodbye.

It kind of seems like this.

Not just to pick on the ladies’ mags –the mens’ magazines do it too. Don’t have washboard abs or a hot girlfriend? Then you’re a loser.
Thankfully, The National Mental Health Awareness Month is one in which every media outlet, regardless of audience, can get in on the act by virtue signaling. It’s good for the bottom line. Next month it’ll be back to that trimmer, fitter, more glamorous you.
Advertising is designed to inculcate an ideal that no matter what you think of yourself, we’re here to tell you that you just don’t measure up in some way, but you can start improving yourself by buying this car/deodorant/cat food/shoe/diet plan, etc. etc. etc. It’s a game the vast majority can never win.
It’s a wonder suicide isn’t higher on the top ten list. If you, from the moment the flickering light of a TV (or nowadays the light from a laptop) comes through your crib slats, are told you will never be acceptable unless you spend your entire life chasing love through consumerism, what can be the logical result of that? Not everyone is mentally equipped to handle this message, especially when these principles are reinforced by the people and institutions that surround you.
There are those who jump headfirst into the game and swim happily upstream. These folks truly believe ‘he who dies with the most toys wins.’ In their defense, they keep the machine oiled with fresh victims. The truly believers who fail, betrayed by the system they thought would take care of them if they worked hard enough, end up like the fictitious Willy Loman.
Who killed himself.
Then there are those who figure out the game early in life and swim to survive. Some of the lucky ones are able to turn their inner demons into making others happy. They have a smile on their face even though their inner life is a torment as evidenced by their personal relationships. Like Robin Williams.
Who killed himself. 
Others are intelligent, sensitive people who write brilliantly, giving us a rare look into the minds of those with rich inner lives who are also tormented and try to help others by sharing what they’ve learned:
Like David Foster Wallace.
Who killed himself.
Some are like the woman who would have been in the primary target market for Refinery29, whose life in that world, and disillusionment with everything that went with it, would lead her to write the definitive semi-autobiographical novel on suicidal ideation. That would be Sylvia Plath.
Who killed herself.
The interesting thing about the above three (real) people is they were people of means who had access to state of the art mental health treatment (for their time) and still were lost.
There are ordinary people, of course, who do the deed. When they die, most of the time, it’s only their families who mourn. In many cases, the dead are hounded to their graves by a society who considers suicide the ultimate act of a loser and certain religions who believe the suicided go straight to Hell.

And we wonder where the stigma comes from. 

Growing up, Emilie Olsen had an infectious smile, a love for horses and a perfect attendance record. She was a straight-A student and an excellent volleyball player. Emilie “had an extremely sweet spirit about her,” a family friend recalled.
On Dec. 11, 2014, the 13-year-old shot and killed herself at home.
This occurred after years of bullying which the school district did little to stop. To add insult to injury, the grieving parents were themselves bullied by the local cops:
Five days after the suicide, the Olsens were in the throes of grief when they allegedly received a visit from Principal Butts and a group of police officers. According to the lawsuit, the officers coerced the Olsens to let them inside their home, then told Marc Olsen that he was “stirring the pot” and “entertaining rumors” by talking to the media about Emilie’s death.
Bullied children kill themselves almost every day across America. God forbid parents should stir the pot and bring shame and disgrace on the school district!
I have also read of cases where the tormentors took to social media even after their target killed themselves to gloat about it.
Where did they learn such behavior? Look around you.
There is a large subset of American culture who believes that bullying builds character. And that parents beating their children (‘spare the rod’) makes for an orderly society. I used to get calls from them when I hosted a radio talk show. Their stories all had a similar theme: ‘my father beat the shit out of me and look how well I turned out.’ Really?  How do you know that?
Of course, they also harbor the belief that those that don’t survive are the weak links that need (regrettably) to be culled from the herd. Remember that the Nazis learned the principles of eugenics by studying the movement in the Unites States
Even in the Refinery29 piece, one of the stories is about a histrionic mother with Borderline Personality Disorder whom, the author seems to indicate, might have been better served (along with her family) if her last suicide attempt had been successful.
Also, a recent xoJane piece by the ever self-indulgent Amanda Lauren, sees her wash her hands of a former ‘frenemy’ whose suicide freed everyone else from having to deal with this drama queen. Ms. Lauren would be an excellent spokesperson for the re-awakening of the Lebensunwertes Leben movement in the US. 
And don’t think that by honorably serving your country in the armed forces that will get you any special consideration. Ask Andi Nachman-Rhoads about her Veteran husband who took his life in a field in rural Pennsylvania due to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, no doubt brought on by the stress of a dozen deployments. This happens every day. Regrettable, yes, but, again, we have other priorities in this country. Perhaps Tom Rhoads would have had a better chance if he was standing in line at Disney World.

EDITED TO ADD: Or if he killed and dismembered his girlfriend in the jungles of Panama and lied about for two years. As the judge said at sentencing: No matter how heinous the crime, this is a man who has served his country for seven years, going on numerous tours including Iraq, Fallujah where he fought for his country,’ the judge said, according to the news station.

That spared the killer from a death sentence, Yes, we are a society with a pretty fucked up sense of justice. But if he wanted just to kill himself, well, he gets no consideration. 

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t write about those who reach the end of a long life and can’t go on for whatever reason. Many suffer from diseases and afflictions that provide nothing but misery (and since we’re not going to prescribe opiate painkillers unless a person is actively dying. . .). In many cases, seniors are alone and hurting and unwilling to be placed in the gulag of an ‘assisted care community.’ Our end-of-life care (and respect for our seniors) sucks for the most part. 
So we have sad cases like the elderly local couple who had a suicide pact. Only one died. I don’t know what service to society prosecuting the 80-year-old male survivor will accomplish other than to justify a prosecutor’s budget. This is how we honor the ‘culture of life’ in this country.
But as the police chief Resetar said:
“In Pennsylvania, there are no laws that support suicide committed with the aid of another person. It’s illegal. We have to work within the confines of the law as they exist.”
Westmoreland County District Attorney John W. Peck said Wednesday he is working closely with Rostraver police. He said he had twice prosecuted assisted suicide cases, winning guilty verdicts both times (yea! Two for two!). Will he follow suit in this case? “It’s too soon to speculate about how this will proceed,” he said.
Well, if it helps his chances of re-election, he’ll proceed. Drag the grieving man into court and sentence him to – what? Life in prison? He’s already there. 
So how do we help these people? 
We see that even if you are wealthy and connected, all the king’s horses and men marshalled by the mental health industry may not save you. 
From my viewpoint, the only reason there seems to be any mental health structure in the US at all is to make Big Pharma’s profits skyrocket. In most cases, psychiatrists don’t make enough money due to insurance restrictions to actually talk to their patients. They have to get them in and out if they want to make a living to justify years of expensive schooling. Therefore, they give them pills.
Lots of pills. If one doesn’t work, try another. And another. And another. 
IF (and that’s a big if) you have decent insurance you might be lucky enough to find a psychologist who actually will spend an hour doing talk therapy without depleting your savings. Of course, you still might be limited by your insurance company to a small group of psychologists and you may find one that does not click with you. In that case, you try another one. And another one. And another one. 
Once you run out of pills and shrinks, YOYO buddy.
As for emergency services, well, let’s put it this way: where I live there is exactly one psychiatric emergency room which, on most days, looks like the train station scene from Gone with the Wind. The room is lined with dozens of cots where suffering souls under blankets lay waiting to see one intake nurse and one psychiatrist. They will be there all day. They will get very little help.
Call the suicide hotline? From a comment at the end of the Refinery29 story:
donemmal • 6 days ago
I wouldn’t recommend calling a hotline. When I did the authorities came and took me to a “crisis unit” where they were concerned about my insurance most of all (emphasis mine) then put me in dark room with a stranger despite me telling them about my PTSD. Really the system is counterproductive and since suicides are increasing the system is not very good except for the “workers” in it. If you have a gun and are an hour away from pulling the trigger-call a hotline. If not….; anyway: I pray for peace in Heaven for all the suicides; today and every day.
And God help you if a loved one calls the police. You might as well pull the trigger because, if you’re armed (or not), when the cops come they stand a good chance of helping you complete the deed anyway. After all, you have a gun (or a knife or a wallet or a stick) and you’re a nutcase so who knows what you might do? The cop has a right to go home to his family. Your life is expendable due to your actions. Just read the comments. Stories like this happen with sickening regularity.
So here in the month of Mental Health Awareness, let’s be honest: society as a whole really doesn’t give a shit about the mentally ill/suicidal. Of course there are heroes who work in the field every day against long odds – understaffed, underpaid, underappreciated. For any meaningful change to occur, we need to change our society’s priorities, our budget priorities and our sense of empathy. I believe a former President mentioned something about ‘A Thousand Points of Light.’ What happened?
To be crass about it, how many institutions really want to expend time and energy in a person who may just go ahead and kill themselves anyway? Any way you look at it, from a cost-benefitstandpoint, it’s a bad long-term investment. And besides, there’s far more money to make in cardiology or bariatrics – it’s a growth industry!
So pardon my cynicism because, perhaps, I have seen and experienced too much of it. Either we are our brother’s keeper – all of our brothers and sister – or we are not. But please stop the hypocrisy.
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