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Why the suicide of well known people scares me

Posted in Our Community @ Oct 2nd 2014 - By Judy Gillespie, Vetanswers
The Sun Always Rises 2

Whenever I hear of anyone committing suicide my heart drops as I imagine the pain their family must be going through, but I don’t know their story or the struggles they were experiencing and so it seems remote.  Whenever I hear of someone who is well known, respected, admired and well liked within an industry, who has an amazing level of knowledge, skill and talent in their chosen field and who has committed suicide – it scares me. 

I don’t know much about mental illness as I’ve had little personal experience and I really only know what I’ve read about it in the media.  But whenever I hear of the death of someone like actor Robin Williams and just recently veterinarian, animal behaviorist, and humane pet-training pioneer Dr Sophia Yin my head fills with questions.  Why?  How could they have decided that their life wasn’t worth living when they were so talented, so well loved and admired?  When they both seemed to be doing things they genuinely loved doing and seemed passionate about?  Didn’t they realise how well loved and admired they were? 

Maybe they didn’t or maybe the fact they were so loved was part of the problem. 

Maybe they were plagued with the feeling that they weren’t good enough, weren’t meeting the high expectations they felt everyone had for them – maybe they thought they just weren’t enough.

I obviously don’t know either of these high profile people and have little knowledge of their individual circumstances.  From where I stood – those people seemed to 'have it all’ but it wasn’t enough or maybe it was too much?  But I still can’t stop the questions. They could afford the best mental health treatment so why weren’t their loved ones making sure they received it? Didn’t those around them see how low they really were?  Or were they so very, very good at putting on their happy face that no one really knew what they were thinking?

And that’s what really what scares me. 

What happens if the people around me are like that?

How do you know if someone is struggling if they are really, really good at hiding it? If they are so determined that they will cope, so determined not to show any weakness, how do you know when it becomes too much? Or even worse, if you know they're struggling but  they refuse to seek help?

I can ask “R U Ok?” and share links to various websites & resources.  I can share posts and information about depression and the challenges of working in such an emotionally challenging industry such as the veterinary industry.  But is it enough?

I wasn’t sure whether I should write this blog post or not. 

For those that know me personally, they know that speaking my mind has never been an issue, I’m not afraid of conflict but I never aim to offend or hurt.  So why was I so hesitate to write this post?  Well, I didn’t want to offend.  I didn’t want to make things worse.  I didn’t want to talk about something I knew so little about.  I didn't want to say the wrong thing.  And then I thought.. hang on – maybe that’s the problem. 

Maybe there isn’t enough talk and we should all talk about mental health issues more.

Whether we’re experts or not, whether we have personal experience or not.  Maybe talking about it will encourage others to talk about it and then maybe some people might feel more comfortable dropping their ‘happy face’ at least to those around them and say “I don’t feel so good”.  

I have read that talking about suicide can encourage others and that is obviously a horrifying thought.  But I don’t really want to talk about suicide – I want to talk about what leads people to make that final decision. What stops them from seeing the beauty around them? The funny antics of their pets?  The sun shining? Their kids laughing? This is what I wish I understood better. 

I can’t imagine the depths of despair that some people must feel.  I can’t imagine what it must feel like to truly believe that the world and your family would be better off without you or to feel so much pain that you can no longer bear it.  

So what can we do about it? How do we get people talking? 

Not everyone wants to talk about how they feel but how can we recognise when someone is just putting on their ‘happy face’? Is it possible for untrained people like me to be able to help and make a difference when someone is really suffering?

VetGirl has made a webinar available for free: ‘Suicide Awareness in Veterinary Medicine’ and you can click here to view it.  I haven’t had the chance to watch it yet and maybe it will help to answer some of my questions but I did read the comments and they were enlightening, sad but enlightening.

I’d really love to hear your thoughts.  Will talking about mental health issues and depression help to bring it out into the open?  As an industry can we help each other?

I don’t know.  Maybe many of my questions don’t really have answers and maybe I’ll never understand “why?” but I know I won’t stop asking. 

There is a page on the Vetanswers website with resources on this topic: Are you ok? Don't let the silence win


Louise Kerr @ Oct 3rd 2014 8:23am
No talking about it is a total waste of time because that is all people do and it is not what those who are suicidal need. How do I know? There has not been one day in the last 40 years where I have not thought about suicide and will one day commit Voluntary Euthanasia. There is so much that is so wrong about how suicide is discussed.
Gillian Shippen @ Oct 3rd 2014 10:26am
I have dealt with mental illness within my circle for many years (not myself personally I might add - although given what I have gone through over the years and what I put myself through, I should be a candidate for RUOK)....I have stopped someone harming themselves - actually two people within the one family (the second I wasn't aware of until their friends told me they were worried for his safety until I came along). My best friend also came to the conclusion one day as she was driving, that things would be just so much easier if she crashed the car! She fortunately recognised she had a problem and discussed it with her husband and they sought help. I continue to deal with mental illness both in my personal circle and professional circle and am a big advocate of mental health issues. The same day of Dr Yin's passing, a client told me her nephew had committed suicide and the family was in great turmoil. I can tell you over the years working at the vet clinic we have heard a significant number (I think anything over one to be a significant number on this matter but I really am talking about a significant number here) of our clients that have been affected by suicide. The predominant thing was mainly teenagers, but people of all ages. One of our clients whom attempted to take her life twice I am glad to say is now going forth and is happy after 15 years. Suicide is often linked to depression and mental illness but I wonder if sometimes people just have a 'brain snap'. Certainly it cannot be denied that depression and mental illness has a strong link, but I really believe that sometimes there is no symptom other than just a snap. We need to be aware of others but we also need to be aware of ourselves. Did you know that 5-10th October is Mental Health Week (with World Mental Health Day on the 10 October!) Suicide Prevention Australia (see their Facebook page) and the ABC is asking Australians to share their tip for a healthy mind. Write it on your hand, take a photo & share it on social media using #mentalas #abcopen
Gillian Shippen @ Oct 3rd 2014 12:13pm
Must clarify - by having a "brain snap" I mean that things just simply become has now been confirmed with Sophia. The beloved people around her had recognised that she was feeling overwhelmed recently, and had been trying to help her.
Judy @ Oct 5th 2014 9:58am
Hi Louise, thanks for your honest comment. I knew my clumsy words might trip me up.I guess I was thinking about talking about mental health issues amongst ourselves - especially within the veterinary industry - to try and bring depression and other mental health issues out into the open. Maybe if it was discussed more freely others might realise that 'not coping' is more common than they thought & isn't something that needs to be hidden. Maybe then they would seek help. I guess I also didn't really want to talk about suicide as such - more about mental health issues as I think if those areas were talked about and supported then maybe suicide wouldn't need to become an option for many. Thanks again Louise. Judy
Judy @ Oct 6th 2014 10:19am
Hi Gillian, I was interested to read your idea of a 'brain snap'. I've wondered myself if perhaps the decision to commit suicide might be a very sudden one which would make it difficult for family & friends to be able to help. Which I guess leads us back to support and maybe asking "RuOk?" Thanks again Judy
Louise @ Nov 21st 2014 9:35am
Yes a brain snap is exactly what happens in Suicide as distinct from a carefully thought out decision in Voluntary Euthanasia. The two get very confused as every time a person kills themselves it is called suicide. Unless the person leaves a note you never know if it was a a brain snap or a carefully thought out decision. What is a brain snap - it is when the emotional pain is so intolerable your head literally explodes and the only option to stop the pain is to kill yourself. I have been there to many times to count over the last 40 years. It is not a rational decision as it does not come from a brain that is any longer thinking rationally. It is too late at that point to try and "help" the person. It needs to be done way before the triggers stack up (yes a deliberate dog training term as it applies) that cause the brain snap. This help should be talk but more importantly practical help for day to day tasks that are overwhelming to a person in this situation.
Judy @ Nov 21st 2014 11:35am
Thank you so much for your comment Louise. You've done a great job explaining 'brain snap' and I think that also helps me to understand how some people make these decisions. I hope you have lots of people around you to offer support so the triggers no longer stack up. Thank you again for helping me to understand a little more. Judy

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