Gary Speed and suicide

Sometimes we have to make assumptions.  Not being a close member of the family, I of course don’t know the true facts.  I, like you, can only go on what’s made public.  The Inquest is still to be completed at the time of writing this, but it appears that Wales manager and footballing hero Gary Speed hung himself.  We assume at this point he made the decision to commit suicide.

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Now I have to be honest and say that until I heard the story in the news I had never heard of Gary Speed before.  My lack of interest in football is a complete and genuine one, and so I really don’t know any of the names or what they do or are famous for.  So, I come at this without any personal pre-conceived ideas about Gary and how he was as a person.

It does appear that he was much loved, much liked, and had a very happy life.  He appears to have not realistically been under any more stress than usual, hadn’t been in a fight or argument with wife or family, and on the outside showed no signs, and no reason for choosing to end his life. He was always there for others and seemed happy and content.

So, when the news broke that his wife had found his body in their garage, nothing made sense to anybody who knew him.  A lot of people from the sporting world were seriously upset.

As I said earlier, we have to make assumptions.  We have to assume that Gary was suffering from depression.  We have to assume that he had successfully been hiding his depression from everybody around him.  Real depression is a mental illness, a disease that takes hold of anybody, no matter how jolly and fun the person might seem to others.

One way to deal with depression is to ‘internalise’ and pretend it’s not there.  Certainly sharing it with others the way one might share the fact that one has a cold or flu is not an option.  There is nobody to reach out to.  This is compounded if the sufferer’s normal demeanour is to be jolly and friendly and ‘there for everybody’, and they are a proud person.  There’s nobody there for them.  Or, that’s how it feels.  To reach out for somebody wouldn’t feel right, and might not be taken seriously.  Or, that’s how it feels.

Hence why it seemed incomprehensible that Gary had decided to end his life.

Suicide is something I’ve never contemplated for myself, even in my darkest hours, and I’ve had a good few of those.  I thought about suicide as a concept and mulled over my own views about it once a very long time ago, and came to the conclusion that life could never be that bad, so it would never be an option.  Obviously, things can change, and nobody can say that rules they make as a teenager will still apply when they are old and grey, but so far those are my rules.  I think I have always had a zest for life and want to experience it, even the bad bits, and I enjoy being me.  I’m not looking forward to no longer existing.  As an atheist I don’t have anywhere to go after experiencing this life, so I want to keep experiencing it for as long as possible before absolutely everything just stops.

Luckily, I’ve not suffered from depression or suicidal thoughts.  However, had I ever, I think I can fully appreciate feeling the need to not share them with others and to internalise.  Sharing with others that one has a cold or flu is completely different to sharing with others something life threatening like having cancer.  However, most people realise that you don’t choose to have cancer.  This isn’t the case if one is feeling suicidal and depressed, which are equally out of the control of those afflicted.  People think they can just snap sufferers out of it.  There’s a compulsion to almost dismissively say, “Come on lad, pull yourself together.”  Hence why suicidal despair just can’t be shared and is hidden.  On the surface everything is business as usual.

We are told that Gary was happily taking about future plans, had said he’d be at future meetings, and it had been business as usual with not a hint that he’d not be attending any of the things in his diary.  This hurt and confused those left behind for whom Gary’s suicide made even less sense.

However, I think I understand the problem faced by somebody contemplating suicide.  The problem is how to avoid ‘burdening’ anybody.  An aware and sensitive person thinking over their own suicide will feel the inescapable guilt of the cul-de-sac they are in.  For whatever reason, they will believe that the ‘answer’ lies in killing themselves. However, nobody else will ever agree with this solution.  Nobody will ever just ‘accept’ it.

Should somebody seriously turn to their friends and family and say they are about to commit suicide, then they know that there will be a phenomenal amount of turmoil, upset, emotional pressure and attempts to stop them and lay guilt on them.  Unlike the person in the final stages of dying from cancer, there will never be an ‘acceptance’ of what’s happening by loved ones and an opportunity to be there at the final stages of something that’s outside of anybody’s control.  Instead, more guilt and more pressure will be thrown on top of whatever thoughts and hopelessness has led to the decision to end it all.

The world of the suicidal must be a living hell.  They feel damned if they don’t kill themselves, damned if they do. “But I don’t want you to,” will be the strong message from their partner and children, their friends and anybody who has ever been touched by them.  The message will be accompanied by emotion and upset, once again compounding the guilt that must already be consuming the suicidal.  The look on the face of his children would be unbearable.  But, life itself is unbearable.  There’s no escape from the guilt and hurt felt at seeing others hurting and desperate to stop the suicide from happening.

That’s why it’s not something to share.

Going through the mind of the person about to commit suicide is the knowledge that those he leaves behind will be upset and hurt, but possibly it’s a lesser hurt, a hurt more easily faced, than the hurt of watching them die when there was no need to.  Again, a complete guilt ridden living hell in the mind of the suicidal.

I suppose we don’t accept suicide as a legitimate option for others in this life unless maybe they are already terminally ill and suffering extreme pain.  We don’t accept that the conscious decision to die should be allowable other than under these pre-conditions.  But, maybe we should.

All too easily we assume that suicide is an act of a person suffering from mental illness.  We assume that we can stop the suicidal thoughts with chemicals and treatment.  We assume we can ‘fix’ them.  And in truth, we usually can.

But, what if a rational person without depression comes to a logical conclusion that they’ve done all they want to do in this life?  They want to be in control of the point of the end of that life, and so have rationally and calmly decided to kill themselves.  Should we just accept this?  Should we comfort them and not judge them, not make them feel guilty, not put our own needs onto them, not throw guilt at them, and not make them feel they are doing anything wrong?

Maybe if we lifted the all-consuming need to tell the suicidal that they are wrong and that what they are doing is taboo, then more people would come forward and make their peace with friends and family before that act of making their peace with themselves.

One comment

  1. I think it's only natural to want to stop someone from killing themselves, especially when they have everything to live for. In addition, it is devastating for the children left behind. Research has shown that there is an increased risk that later in life the children will also choose to end their lives when faced with loss or depression. I've also experienced years of anguish, when life seemed to be a huge burden to live, but knowing about this likely effect on my children I decided that suicide was out of question.
    Hence I don't think it's a good idea to ask for more tolerance for suicide.


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