Weekly Feature

2018-06-13 / Editorials

Not all suicides get the headlines

Managing Editor

It has been a difficult week for anyone whose family has been touched by suicide. From Hollywood to our hometowns, the grief is deep.

Reports of Kate Spade’s struggle with depression and suicide instantly transformed her from fashion icon to a blunt reminder that suffering affects all types.

Three days later, we woke to the news that another internationally known figure, Anthony Bourdain, had taken his life.

“These two tragedies have inspired hundreds to tweet some version of the same message: Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of,” wrote Heather Murphy of The New York Times.

“You may not feel that your presence is wanted. But just being by the side of someone who is depressed, and reminding her that she is special to you, is important to ensuring that she does not feel alone,” said Dr. Norman Rosenthal, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine.

It occurs to me that suicide may take other forms than the obvious, more common means. Aren’t those who abuse alcohol, tobacco and drugs slowly walking down the same lonely path?

The Washington Examiner magazine last week published the story of a Western New York family who lost a daughter to the opioid crisis.

It’s heartbreaking.

“I didn’t know much about the opioid crisis until July 2, 2017, when I got a call telling me to come home because my youngest sister Jenny was in the hospital and had just been revived with Narcan. I had to look up Narcan on the internet to learn it was a drug used to reverse opioid overdoses,” writes Kelly O’Connor, now a resident of Washington, D.C.

“I remember first arriving at Kenmore Mercy Hospital last July and approaching Jenny’s hospital room. I could hear my sister from the hallway before I saw her. She was moaning for something over and over again — that something was Dilaudid, a synthetic opioid.” What awaited her inside that hospital room cannot be comprehended.

She said that when she entered her sister’s room, she barely recognized her.

”Jenny had been radically transformed from just a few months ago, when we’d all been together for the holidays. I didn’t understand how such a radical decomposition could have happened so quickly,” O’Connor said. “The whites of her beautiful light green eyes were an awful jaundiced color, with clear liquid bubbles all over her eyeballs like a monster; her legs were bones; and her skin was an unnatural yellow-maroonish color.”

While her sister was not intentionally trying to take her life, her addictions had her teetering at the point of life and death.

“Jenny never left the hospital.

She moved into a hospice room down the hall after four days and died quietly two days later with my parents on either side of her bed holding her hands. My mom never cried. My dad, a Vietnam combat veteran and Bronze Star recipient, was silent. It was so quiet.”

No family should have to endure anything of this nature. But it’s reality, the new norm in some parts of the country. For some Americans, substance abuse is the early onset of suicide. Yet receiving simple support may be the biggest first step for those in crisis.

Psychotherapist Megan Devine suggests you say, “I know you’ve been really struggling a lot, and I really want to be here for you.”

And call a suicide prevention line, such as a 1-800-273-TALK.

(David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.)

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