We all empathize with our friends and family, when they are going through a rough time. All we want to do is help take their pain away—and there are a variety of paths we can take to help them with that pain. For loved ones struggling with their mental health, there are also multiple ways to try and alleviate that pain, but suicide should never be one that is encouraged because no matter how bad life can seem, there are always better routes to take.
About three weeks ago, Michelle Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in a widely publicized trial known as the “texting suicide case”. This case, exploring the July 13, 2014 death of Carter’s boyfriend Conrad Roy III, left the world in a tailspin – including suicide prevention advocates.
Three years after Roy's death, what can we continue to learn from this tragedy? For starters, we can have earnest and open conversations about options.
Suicidal individuals often feel trapped in seemingly inescapable pain. But when Michelle Carter promoted suicide as the one and only path left for her boyfriend Conrad Roy III to take, he actually had many other options. In Carter’s text messages to Roy, she at first urged Roy to get medical help, then a few weeks later, Carter changed positions, encouraging Roy to end his life and telling him how to do it.
No matter how much pain someone is in, there are always people that can help get them out of that pain. The people that Roy should be turning to are crisis hotline counselors and mental health professionals, and possibly even looking into a treatment facility. These are the people and places that know how to help those that are suffering. In addition to that, telling someone like Roy their worth and importance, and showing how much they care about him, is also necessary. People who are suicidal need to know how much they valued and how much they are cared for.
That being said, Carter is not the sole factor Roy took his life. We have to remember how complex of an issue suicide really is, and that no one factor like cyberbullying can cause someone to take their life. Similarly to how legal experts think Carter’s guilty verdict sets a bad precedent for the law, the guilty verdict also misrepresents suicide.
As I wrote in a previous blog post, bullying and suicide are not simply cause and effect.
People don’t take their lives because someone bullies them into it or tells them to; people take their lives because of their mental illness and their struggles with depression and anxiety. Bullying does, of course, add flame to fire, but bullying alone does not lead someone to suicide, nor should we belittle the complexity of suicide to one sole factor. In the New York Times article about Carter’s guilty verdict, Matthew Segal, a lawyer from the American Liberties Union of Massachusetts, discusses how the guilty verdict implies that “her words literally killed him, that the murder weapon here was her words.” Although he explains how this reflects badly on the law, this also reflects badly on suicide because while words have immense power to hurt, they are rarely the sole factor in making someone decide to end their life.
Although suicide is a decision, there is the question of whether it is an act of free will. According to Dr. John Grohol in his blog about suicide being a false choice, not a free choice, he uses the definition of free will to prove that suicide is not a free choice. According to the definition, a free choice means that a person cannot be under any emotional turmoil, but people that are wanting to end their life are struggling “in extreme emotional turmoil, usually as a result of clinical depression.” A free choice, by the definition, also means that it is a rational act, which suicide is not. Suicide is an irrational act “since it is a permanent end to a person’s life to deal with what is nearly always temporary emotional pain.”
Although Carter made a bad situation worse through talking to Roy about suicide by encouraging him to take action, talking to someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts in the right way can really make a positive impact. First off, asking a friend if they are thinking about suicide does not put the idea in their head. Forefront promotes the LEARN™ intervention steps: Look for warning signs, Empathize with them, Ask the person clearly, directly, and compassionately about suicide, Remove the danger (guns, ropes, excess medication), and Next level of care (trying to connect them to someone who has more expertise).
LEARN™ is an example of paths that we can and should take to help alleviate pain from people struggling with their mental health. There are various ways to help people with their emotional pain, but suicide should never be one that is promoted - because it means you not giving your loved one the hope they need to see past this hurdle in their life.