We Need to Make It Easier (and Safer) to Talk About Suicide


When the news about Robin Williams broke, it felt like someone punched me in the stomach. While I was deeply saddened to hear of his death, and that he committed suicide, I was not shocked. I did see him in real life once, in 2006, and while I can’t disclose the details of where I saw him, I can say that he appeared to be going through a very rough time. I remember thinking that he too was as fragile as any human, and how hard it must be to go through difficulties when everyone expects you to be on top of the world.

“My conscious was like, “Did you just say ‘Fuck life?’” ~Robin Williams

Yesterday, I listened to Marc Maron’s 2010 interview with Robin Williams, where Williams talked about the time he thought about suicide:

Maron: Before you had the heart problem, you don’t seem to be someone who is morbidly fascinated with death…

Williams: No. I mean, it’s weird, there was this ONE time, when I was drinking  I thought had this thought “Fuck life.” Then my conscious was like, “Did you just say ‘Fuck life?’… You know you have a pretty good life…even though it’s not working right now… First of all you don’t have the balls to do it… I mean, what are you going to do, cut your wrists with a water pick? That’s erosion.”

I highly recommend listening to the whole podcast, the conversation between Maron and Williams is just so real and uncontrived. It is actually, really beautiful.

Robin Williams was the first person on television I remember admiring. I loved Mork and Mindy, and had these rainbow suspenders like he wore on the show. They were my favorite, and I wore them often. Of course I loved a lot of his films, as we all did, but the real reason why his death hurt so much, because what happened to him could also happen to me. As horrible as it is, I get it. I’ve been there.

Now, before you call 9-1-1, allow me to explain.

I’m not going to kill myself.

For those of you who know me, already know that I have suffered from depression almost my entire life. Part of that depression has included the presence of suicidal ideation. Every since I can remember, I had this reflex where I imagine my demise every time there is a quiet moment in my brain. I don’t know where it comes from, and yes, I am seeking professional help. It’s like I have this, as Dexter, puts it a “dark passenger.” Only, my passenger just likes to tells me things like, “No one cares, so just drive a knife in your chest.” Obviously, my dark passenger isn’t a very strategic planner, since it often picks methods I’m not even physically able to do.

Over the years I’ve tried many things to silence this “passenger” including drinking,  and other things like shopping, working, relationships, diet, exercise, self-help books, professional help, etc. To this day, it’s always there, lurking in the quiet.

Why not talk about it? (Until now?)

It’s been reported that most cases of suicidal ideation go untreated. While I cannot tell you the details of those cases, I can tell you that above the stigma of talking about suicide, there is the real fear of being locked up and/or having your children taken away. Once, while I was in a particularly dark place, I called the doctors office, and they asked me if I had suicidal thoughts. When I asked, “Why?” they answered with, “Well if you have suicidal thoughts, we’ll have to send an ambulance and hospitalize you.” Then, I quickly answered with, “No. I do not have those thoughts.”

“Well if you have suicidal thoughts, we’ll have to send an ambulance and hospitalize you.”

So basically, even under the protection of “doctor-patient-confidentiality” it is not easy to talk about suicide. Would you talk about it to your doctor if you even thought  they were going to hospitalize you? If you tried to talk to your friends or family, they would freak out and treat you like a mental patient? Or worse, roll their eyes and think you were “just trying to get attention?” Would you talk about your thoughts  if they would become the subject of gossip and judgement?

Would you talk about your thoughts  if they would become the subject of gossip and judgement?

According to an article on Psychology Today, “The truth is that suicidal thoughts, even the fleeting ones, are a very serious symptom of illness.” While the thought of ending your own life is indeed serious, until discussion about suicide is normalized, then we have no idea how serious it can be.

Looking back on Robin William’s conversation with Maron about the ONE time he thought about suicide, it’s obvious now that it wasn’t just that one time. Williams was very open about a lot of dark details of his life, but maybe suicide was the thing he didn’t feel entirely comfortable talking about. Perhaps things would be different if he had been more comfortable talking about suicide. Or maybe things would have ended the same way.

One thing is clear, we need to make it easier and safer to talk honestly about suicide.



[Image credit: Shutterstock.com]
jennineWe Need to Make It Easier (and Safer) to Talk About Suicide

Comments 21

  1. Kristen

    Wow this was a very brave moving post Jennine. Anytime you want to talk about suicide with me, I’m 100% here for you and promise not to treat you like a mental patient. Love and hugs. xx

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  2. Lisa

    Very brave. Maybe some good will come of this sad thing after all. People like you telling your stories, raising our awareness, opening up networks of support. Thank you very much. And I am sorry your “dark passenger” is so tenacious. I hope you always prevail.

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  3. Heidi

    Thanks for this brave post…creating dialogue and sharing your perspective is so important to removing stigma and creating understanding.

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  4. rebeca

    Thank you for this. It’s a bit relieving knowing that I’m not the only one who is like this. Positive thoughts your way xo

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      We’re not the only ones, I think once people start becoming more open, we’ll see ourselves very differently.

  5. C.

    I’ve been struggling with the same since I was 15 years old (I am almost 30 now) While I never actually intend to finish my life, the tought and the fantasy was always there. Still is I think. After years of theraphy, meds and doing everything I can to battle this I came to accept that this ghost is probably always going to be there. It’s my job not to listen it and ask for help when I can’t do it alone. I was always very outspoken with my depression and my anxiety issues but through the years I discovered that the majority of the people is not ready to talk or listen about it. There’s such a stigma regarding mental illness, mostly because of the lack of information and “normalization” of it. We need to talk abou it. We need to start treating these diseases like any other diseases. We need to stop judging, depression is not an election, it’s an awful, awful disease, just like cancer or any other. When someone commits suicide people says that is because of cowardly or egoism. Everytime I read those comments my heart aches and it makes me feel so mad. I’ve always admired your work, I’ve following you since the very beginning and since you’re back here you are doing some of your best posts. I applaud you for sharing your history, we need to this, for me sharing my story it’s not about bravery, it’s about open minds. Telling to the whole blogosphere something like this it’s definitle not easy but I really, really appreciate and I am sure I am not the only one. I send you a big virtual hug and girl, you know you’re alone.

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      Thank you for sharing… yes, I too have gone through treatment, and all that stuff and still, it’s there. And you are 100% right, most people do not know how to react when you talk about depression, how it doesn’t really connect with things that are actually happening. How many times I’ve been like, “Everything is great, why do I feel like this?” Even to my therapist, I can’t explain. There are no words. Anyway… Thank you for sharing your experience as well.

  6. Mark

    Jennine, this is an important contribution for yourself and all your readers. It is about the courage to live. And this courage needs to be supported by examples of real persons who dare to talk about the diificulties whith which we or other people are faced in our life. To survive we need compassion…as babies from our parents, later on from all our friends, our neighbors and co-workers, our bosses, our clients. Compassion is a key - one of the great gifts the BUDDHA left to mankind. You are courageous to adress the problem that even the medical world lacks quite often in their routines the necessary compassion even when this should be part of a real professional knowledge. Your post can encourage everybody to think about how I am talking with other people…am I a courageous person or just a coward who does not dare to talk about the realities in life. There a sunny sides…and it is important to see them, but that does not need that kind of courage. But there are also dark sides which gives our life the necessary dephts and we should be courageous and compassionate enough to also look at them…suicide belongs to these dark sides. If we do not exclude this issue from our normal agenda this world can become a better place to live. Victor Frankel is a good teacher with his approach of logotherapy: he does nothing else than have such a courageous look at life and talk about it and teach it. I wish that many people get your message and thank you for your courage! Yours, Mark Schmid-Neuhaus, M.D.

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      Thanks, Mark. Especially for this: “the problem that even the medical world lacks quite often in their routines the necessary compassion even when this should be part of a real professional knowledge.”

      I wonder how much can the medical field ever truly understand if the standard treatment to those who live with suicidal ideation is to hospitalize or diagnose with mental illness. With those real consequences in mind, how can a person share their feelings before they get out of control and feel comfortable about it?

      Anyway… food for thought! Thanks for participating in the conversation. :)

      1. Mark

        Further food for thought:

        Saving Normal: An Insider’s Revolt Against Out-of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life by Allen Frances….

        This book takes a sharp look to the medical issue of your blog. Allen Frances is a top psychiatrist and was the chairman of the committee responsible for the DSM 3 & 4.

        Everybody is concerned by the way medical diagnoses are created. In this book Allen Frances draws a clear picture how the medical world creates their believe system and acts according to this system. The normal consumer should know about this.


    Brilliant, honest and raw post. Most of us have seen the face of darkness and it is good to know that we are not alone.
    Thank you Jenniene you have inspire me to re post this:

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  8. nicolette

    thank you so much for sharing this. i’ve lost entire chunks of my life to depression, and while i’m in a MUCH better place now, it’s so hard to explain to people who haven’t dealt with depression (lucky jerks) that you can’t just wake up and be like, i’m going to have a good day today - because it truly is a disease that has real psychological (and physical) manifestations beyond a persons control. i hate how stigmatized depression is, and how it’s often brushed off. i really think we’d all be in a better place, as a society, if we treated mental health with the same gravity as we do our physical health.

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      Thank you, Nicolette.

      Ha… I love how people are like, “Believe in yourself! Meditate! Yoga! Do something fun! Get a pedicure!”

      I spent a lot of time doing all those things trying to find that silver bullet that would kill the beast, but yeah… it’s more complicated than that.

  9. Kelley

    I’ve been a long-time reader and have never commented, but this is too brave to not commend you. As someone who has been there right along with you and had the same fears, it is so important to be able to talk about it. I think doctors are often too busy or ill-equipped to handle these symptoms, and the knee-jerk reaction is simply to hand it off to someone else in the form of hospitalization. Having the ability to talk about the ideation in a safe space without fear of hospitalization is essential to moving past the those thoughts and working toward a recovery process, which is a lifelong process at that. The stigma of depression and suicidal thoughts is an unnecessary weight added to the burden of having those feelings to begin with. Thank you for creating a space and being brave enough to open a discussion.

  10. Grace

    I am also a long time reader, seldom commenter, but I wanted to say thank you so much for posting this. I have also experienced the ‘dark passenger’ but it gives me a little bit more courage every time someone I respect acknowledges their life with mental illness. I think the most prevailing stigma is that experiencing depression and anxiety makes you unreliable or ineffective. Of course, it’s self perpetuating, because people who hold down good jobs and achieve success usually don’t talk about their problems, so it’s never challenged.

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