I appreciate Dr. Palmer Meek’s recent effort to clarify the tragic death of Scott Marshall. I will always recall with great sadness the heartbreaking loss of a young man so filled with promise and potential.
I understand the need to correct the misleading information in the Manhattan Mercury’s April 8 article that stated Scott Marshall died from suicide. He did not.
Suicide in our culture still holds so many stigmas that most of us want to separate ourselves from any connection to such an outcome. Dr. Meek explained that Scott did not have “a wish to die.” Unfortunately, his letter seemed to reinforce the longstanding misconceptions that we as a society adhere to regarding suicide.
Three years ago I lost my son Matthew by suicide, and I can honestly tell you that he did not have a “wish to die” either. In fact, just the opposite was true. Matthew held a life-long desire to live, free from all the pain and suffering he had endured most of his life. His dreams and aspirations were like most young people’s: find a good job, meet the right girl, marry and have a family. Matthew found much pleasure in the time he spent with family and friends, K-State sports, music and the majestic Kansas prairie. His desire was to stay here with those he loved and enjoy all the beauty and goodness that surrounded him.
Sadly, Matthew suffered from severe depression and anxiety caused by mental illness, a disease as real and complex as any physical aliment, a disease that continues to impact the lives of millions of Americans every day.
My son was a hero to all of us who still love him dearly. He was killed in action fighting his own long, unending civil war. His adversaries were as real as the cancer cell is to the terminally ill patient. They were powerful adversaries that took all of his energies and all his endurance.
Matthew fought the battle as long as he could until the vestiges of his courage and strength were completely exhausted. His wish was to stay here with his family and many friends. His wish was to live and to see his dreams realized, but his mental illness overwhelmed him, and his disease, like so many others, became terminal.
Our attitudes serve to perpetuate the stigmatization of mental illness and suicide, discouraging people from seeking help, fearing they’ll be seen as weak or lacking discipline or faith. Those who have lost a loved one from suicide often feel isolated and stigmatized by a culture that holds on to old and hurtful taboos, by misguided and brutal comments, consequently making it even more difficult to seek support.
The words we use in referring to suicide are important. They reflect our values. People don’t “commit suicide” anymore than someone “commits cancer.” The world “commit” has been historically tied to the taboo and stigma surrounding suicide and often tied to illegal activity or sin. If we are to end the misconceptions of suicide, we must engage in language that demonstrates understanding and compassion.
A person whose death is a result of suicide didn’t have a wish to die. The wish was to end the often overwhelming and life destroying pain.
At a time when one American military veteran dies every 65 minutes from suicide, when suicide among the elderly is increasing at alarming rates and our teens are making the heartbreaking decision to end their lives, this is a conversation that is long overdue and certainly in need of our immediate attention.
We need to examine our beliefs and try and purge any misconceptions or insensitivities we may have with regards to mental illness and suicide. Any approach should include the removal of stigmatization of the individual and family. One would hope that all teachers, professionals, community and spiritual leaders will take into account the need to frame the conversation so that all of us become better educated on a topic that touches so many.
Melodie Pooler lives at 130 Longview Drive.