The “Choice” of Suicide

I like Matt Walsh. I like a lot of his blogs and tweets. I’ll continue to read them every now & then.

I not only read every word of Walsh’s original blog on Robin William’s suicide, I took notes so I wouldn’t be guilty of misquoting him.

I have also read Walsh’s follow-up blog – and thought it was good.

Just one year ago, my 19 year old son, Jordan, took his own life. The earth shifted under my family’s feet. We will never be the same. So, as you can imagine, this topic sits on a razor’s edge for my family. Comments can be helpful. But, one insensitive comment can bring memories we wish we never had.

Since suicide is the third leading cause of death in teens & young adults, I can confidently say that my family, unfortunately, is part of a large demographic.

Really, the “spark” that ignited the “volcanic blast” of public reaction has been Walsh’s wooden insistence that “suicide is a choice.” He ignorantly opened up a can of something he knew very little about. The very title he used in his original blog was foolish, horribly insensitive, and inflammatory: “Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his choice.”

It is this single debate of “choice” that I would like to address here.

Clinical Depression is an altogether different animal from “normal” depression that most everyone on planet earth endures from time to time i.e. the everyday blues, “I’m in a funk” mentality, I’m heartbroken because my significant other dumped me.

Clinical Depression is a disease. My own family physician explained to my family, “If a patient comes in and we discover they’re diabetic, I don’t tell them to pray more. If a patient comes in with a thyroid condition, I don’t tell them to read their Bible more. Clinical Depression is no different.

It is breakdown of the chemical structure of the human brain – a depletion of chemicals that prevent the synapse of the brain from functioning properly. It is an altering of the chemical structure of the brain and the central nervous system that, without proper medication, can easily lead to self-destruction. It is a disease that physicians & psychiatrists are desperately trying to understand.”

Let me illustrate: you’ve seen, either on tv or in real life, people on heroin, crack, etc., (even drunk from alcohol) do heinous, psychotic, horrible things they would never consider doing had they not been under the influence of that drug. However, they did it – because the chemical structure of their brain had been altered. Was what they chose to do while under the influence of that drug a choice? Yes. And, no. After they sober up, dry up, or clean up in a cell somewhere those people normally can’t believe they did what they did. Some, in fact, won’t even remember what they did.

Let’s take this a step further. Were those people (while under the influence of a drug) making a conscious, intelligent choice when their decision to, for example, drive drunk ended in them killing a family in a minivan? Were they making a conscious, intelligent choice when they, for another example, jumped from an overpass into traffic below because, high on crack, they thought they could fly? No, of course not. The chemical structure of their brain had been altered and the rules of their reality had drastically changed.  As I wrote in another blog, information and data about the disease of Mental Illness is readily available from many reputable web sites such as the Mayo Clinic, the American Psychiatric Association, and  the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Technically, Williams – as well as my son – died not by choice, but of a disease.  (For further insight, see “The Terrorist Inside my Husband’s Brain” by Susan Williams, Robin’s wife.)

Walsh was surprised at the vitriolic reaction by the public. But he shouldn’t have been. Had he known just a little about depth of mystery behind Clinical Depression – especially its relation to suicide – he would’ve been far more careful.

My son was funny, adventurous, and compassionate to a fault. (Christians and atheists, alike, packed the building during his memorial service.) He was the coolest cat I’ve ever known.

But he was sick.

He suffered from a disease called Clinical Depression. He was on medication. But, for whatever reason, something went horribly wrong.

As in the case of a cancer patient, sometimes chemo works for a while and then stops. In the case of my son, the medicine that once worked, stopped working.

The chemical structure in his brain changed.

His reality changed. The very part of his brain required for him to be able to cry for help was now inaccessible to him.

His alternate rationale during those final moments closed in on him and he believed a lie – just like the people in the illustrations above.

Did Jordan choose to take his life? Yes. And, no. It’s complicated – because the human brain and psyche are complicated. Is it “technically” a choice? Yes – just as in the case of the drunk driver and crack addict. But, not a conscious choice.

To reduce suicide to a benign “choice” is shallow, uninformed, and extremely hurtful to people (as Walsh painfully learned.)

In Walsh’s follow-up blog, he wisely wrote,

“Many intelligent folks have pointed out that suicide is a choice, but one made by a mind submerged in an unspeakable darkness.”

Really, the only ones qualified to teach us the truth about this “unspeakable darkness” are those who’ve succumbed to it.

As such, it would behoove the rest of us to be careful with our words and resist making sweeping statements. Or, as one comment I read states, “Why is it that those who are free of depression or bouts of it (or its relation to suicide) think they know so much about it?”


P.S.  I love you, Jordan.  I love you so much.  One day….

Watts Family - July 2012

NOTE:  If you have been, or are, suicidal, please do not misconstrue my intent here by interpreting this blog as it being ok to take your life. Suicide is never the answer to one’s problems.  I know from personal experience the devastation suicide has on a family and friends.  If you are depressed and/or suicidal, get help immediately. Talk to someone – anyone.  Help and hope are available in abundance. (Click here for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.)