An Open Discussion About Suicide Might Save Someone’s Life


woman-depressionFunny, talented, wealthy, generous, admired people aren’t supposed to want to die. People are supposed to live beyond the age of 63, Robin Williams’ age when he died August 11.

People aren’t supposed to die by suicide.

Yet, Williams is no different from thousands of other Americans who die that way. More than 39,000 people in this country died by suicide in 2011. According to the World Health Organization, 1 million people take their own lives worldwide each year — 3,000 a day. What’s more, for each person who dies by suicide, at least 20 other people attempt to take their lives each year.

Yes, suicide is a difficult subject. A stigma is attached to mental illness. People don’t even want to whisper about it, and instead avoid it altogether. But friends, we must talk about it. An open discussion might save someone’s life.

I have been open about my exposure to suicides and suicide attempts. I have written about it here, in a book and on my website. I have talked about it on Relevant Radio with Wendy Wiese. As a result, many people have told me about their attempts or the attempts of people they love or, so sadly, about people they love who died by suicide. My heart has broken from knowing several people who took their lives.

You should know that the tragedy claims people of all ages and races, all occupations and genders and faiths.

People like me.

I have been married almost 30 years to my incredible and supportive best friend. I always have held a job that allowed me to provide for my family. I have four wonderful children, two excellent sons-in-law and two grandsons who bring me great joy. I have fantastic relationships with my parents, my sisters, my in-laws, many friends, and a strong faith.

I also have struggled with depression for more than 12 years. That occasionally draws my attention away from the blessings and plunges my mind into sadness, tears, despair — and into the dark place where suicide seems like the only option.

Yet, even I don’t talk enough about depression, other mental illnesses and suicide. If Williams or any of my friends had felt comfortable sharing their plight with someone, if they had felt able to take a risk and talk about it knowing someone would listen, things might be different today.

The Catholic Church doesn’t preach condemnation of people who die by suicide. The Catechism states that “Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him” and that “it is not ours to dispose of.”

But also this:

Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.

My relationship with Jesus and my faith primarily have kept me alive the past dozen years. At my lowest, I still turn to him and ask for his guidance, his help, his strength. Even though there have been attempts, there could have been many more — probably, at some point, a successful one — if I didn’t have a strong prayer life. He has sent friends, family, the sacraments, Scriptures, a support group.

Not everyone in my life understands the disease. Not everyone understands why I openly talk about it. I know, though, that talking about it brings it out of the darkness, sheds a spotlight on it, creates an opportunity to reach out to someone when I feel the need.

Talking about it, I hope, gives someone else the strength to avoid the most frightening moments. Most people who attempt suicide really don’t want to be dead. They don’t want to hurt anyone, leave behind a mourning family and guilty friends. They just get tired of the depression, the hours of tears and overwhelming sadness.

As Roman philosopher Seneca said, “Sometimes, even to live is an act of courage.”

And we all need help in pursuit of courage.


About Author

Mike Eisenbath has been married to Donna for 30 years; they have four adult children and two grandsons. He was an award-winning sportswriter for 23 years, including 18 at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch with duties that included covering the St. Louis Cardinals and Major League Baseball. Severe depression forced him out of that career. He continues to write, with a monthly column in the St. Louis Review and his website featuring reflections on topics such as his Catholic faith and mental illness. Mike is a frequent speaker and radio guest involving those subjects. Among his three books is Hence My Eyes Are Turned Toward You: Confronting Depression With Faith and the Prayer of Jehoshaphat.