The ostrich approach

by +CrystalThieringer    @cdthieringer

“Please stop telling her that he is going to commit suicide,” the message said.

There was no introduction, no query about context. Just that. An out of nowhere demand to “stop telling her,” as though our conversation–one the message sender hadn’t been included in–was a continuous dialogue instead of an element to a broader discussion. As though I was the one who always brought it up, as though that mattered, and even if it did, how could I possibly know such a thing for sure?

“Because,” it continued, “I hear him talking and he’s happy. He is fine.”

Apparently, she got a better grade in “Omniscience 101” than I did.

How often does suicide catch us unaware? How often does a Left-Behind face devastating guilt because she missed visible signs, or becomes incapacitated while desperately searching for invisible ones? How often have we heard it said, “But I just laughed with him! I had no idea he was hurting so much.”

As a Left-Behind, I know this: our guts get yanked from our souls, the evisceration complete because there is no way to prepare for such catastrophic rawness. We blame ourselves before we blame them. Surely there must have been…something. We should have known. Shouldn’t we?

Even so, well, we wouldn’t want anyone to talk about it, would we? If we did, that would mean we might have known, and if something did happen, then maybe we should have done something different.

That’s a lot of maybes, should haves, and might haves.

The decisions others make belong to them. They aren’t our fault–but we can’t use that as an excuse to wish issues and responsibility away, either.

In some ways, it’s getting easier for people to discuss mental health issues the same way we mention physical health issues. This seems especially true with teenagers, less so with their parents and grandparents. The person who sent that message would have no issue discussing in detail “his” physical condition but to even approach an emotional issue continues to border on taboo.

It’s too bad the person hadn’t been more interested in the context of the entire conversation. We were discussing how people rush to judgement about things that frighten them the most, and how incredibly difficult it is to separate actions from reactions, sometimes. We talked about how hard it is to know what’s going on in someone else’s head. We had discussed how certain medications can play with emotional stability, how it had happened to me, how it could happen to anyone, even to him. Even to her. We’d even talked about how external circumstances can tip the balance on internal circumstances, but that doesn’t mean there’s someone to blame. It just means we have a responsibility to look beyond ourselves, to consider that our actions may affect other people in ways we don’t realize, in ways that aren’t always good.


Source: Wikipedia Commons

Mental health is seldom so black and white. It’s not about laying fault. It’s not about making excuses, either. And it certainly isn’t about burying things and hoping they will go away.

It’s about there being fewer successful suicides, and fewer people joining the Left-Behind ranks.

The ostrich approach doesn’t work.


13 thoughts on “The ostrich approach

  1. And you’ve done someone a great service by demonstrating how effective it is to pull our heads out of the sand and face the world.

    1. It’s hard, sometimes. Then again, sometimes the alternative is much, much harder. Thanks, friend.

  2. I just read your explanation about why you care about suicide. I am so sorry about your friend and your nephew.You are right, pretending there isn’t a problem is never an answer. I was lucky because the person I nearly lost sought help. We have to keep talking, and be a safe place for listening to take place.

    1. There are few days when I’m not thinking about one or the other, Denise. In both cases, I know people who wish they had known to do something. With my friend, I wish I had done more than wave hello the last morning I saw him. With my nephew, I wish so many things. It’s a frightening thing–you know that because you’ve almost lost someone. But in my opinion, the only thing scarier than not talking about the possibility of suicide is wishing you had. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. You’re so right. Pretending it’s not happening does not make it so.

    When Nathan made his attempt, had he succeeded I would have been one sitting there surprised. I had no clue what he was going through, and I thought we talked!

    1. We can’t tell what is in someone else’s head–and sometimes, neither can they. I honestly don’t know whether the ‘he’ in question is in that kind of trouble, and her concern was taken out of context. By the same token, she doesn’t really know that he isn’t. We don’t often reveal that kind of information to each other–unless we have been faced with these circumstances, as you were with Nathan. Knowing some of his story, knowing some of how he his life has impacted so many others, reminds me to be grateful that Nathan did not succeed. Oh Anne, I’m so glad you did not become a Left-Behind in that case (though I well understand you have in others)

  4. Thank you for this, Crystal. Mental health is complex on so many levels. I have a former student who is struggling, careening headlong into destruction, afraid of treatment or counseling or help of any kind that her parents are offering. I continue to reach out to her. I hope her story does not end tragically.

    1. I hope so too, Laura. It’s hard, on so many levels. Hard for her to be in it, hard you to watch, hard for her parents too. I will be praying for your former student.

  5. Crystal, this is such a hard topic to cover, and you do it so beautifully. I think I mentioned my mother’s twin brother’s suicide before – and she was one you mention, that found mental health issues taboo subjects. So she called it an accident, and refused to accept the truth. Denial doesn’t help. Thanks for your honest writing about suicide.

  6. It has to be discussed just as openly and honestly as possible. People have a right to help and also, to gentle guidance as they grow their skill set to move beyond suicide as part of the identity. Beautifully written post.

  7. Wow this isn’t an easy thing to talk about Crystal, but I think you did an awesome job. So many points you made resonated with me. I find I’m having a hard time commenting on this, because it is one of those topics where you find yourself wondering, “what can I say”.
    The ironic way the woman spoke from the fear of the subject to end a conversation that was discussing that very thing really just pinpointed so many aspects that define the tragedy of mental illness and suicide.
    In the end I would have to say “the ostrich approach doesn’t work” really packs a punch. Leaves you winded. Leaves you thinking.

    1. I apologize for the delay in getting back to you, JB Hendricks. Thank you for your kind words. It is a difficult subject, no doubt about it. Our fears are real no doubt about that too. Having lost friends and family to suicide, however, has made me think we must bring that dark fear into light. Will it help? I don’t know honestly. Thank you for stopping by.

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