Why are young men and women choosing to take their own lives?

Another young man kills himself in St. John’s.

Is this news? Consider just this for now: another in some series of events, self-killings or suicides, not even a specific name given.

The one I have in mind happened – was committed or engaged in – recently in St. John’s. I had met the young man, in his early 20s, a sometime student at Memorial University, recently. Pause.

Pause here, and there, and everywhere, in writing about such ‘things’ to consider the dangers and difficulties involved. Dangers and difficulties which may make writing, speaking, reading, listening, and thinking about ‘it’ problematic, to say the least; perhaps impossible for some, extremely difficult for many.

Yet what are some of the opposite dangers? Of not acknowledging such things, of not being able to even name or speak ‘self-killing’ or ‘suicide’? At a time when drug use – prescription and recreational – together with mental disorder diagnoses are often parts of the event, not speaking about such ideas and actions means abandoning those enmeshed in the turbulence and trauma, leaving them to themselves: sometimes aided, sometimes not, by medical treatment.

…not speaking…means abandoning those enmeshed in the turbulence and trauma…

If we speak about ‘it,’ what words do we use? The ambiguous overdose, the clear and distinct suicide, the suicide blurred by its association with mental disorder, and so on. There are many ways and reasons for avoiding the topic or for getting lost in it, and for the best of us it is a draining and difficult thing.

Consider the number of suicides of young men and women in St. John’s in 2012 and the difficulties in determining the number accurately, given the above. Has it ‘always been that way’ or is there a ‘rash’? If it’s the latter, what then?

Consider, if you never have, what thinking, and feeling, about suicide might be for someone who thinks about it just about all the time, who’s tried it many times, been hospitalized many times. What then?

It is no accident that many of the bodies, male and female, found in St. John’s in 2012 – dead from overdose, hanging, shooting, and other violent acts – have been young, between seventeen and thirty-four, with many in their early twenties. Early adulthood is a critical time: self-formation, including eating, exercise, and work habits, drug and medical habits; competitive higher education (discussion of recent Canadian universities’ ‘initiatives’ in addressing such issues I delay for another two weeks); work and career entry and challenge; sexual definition and ‘partnership’ and cohabitation choices.

…neither ‘drugs’ nor ‘diagnoses’ nor a combination of the two can explain away all the people and all the events.

It is no accident that drugs, prescription and recreational, somatic and psychoactive, are frequently a factor. It is no accident that medical, including psychiatric diagnoses, are frequently a factor. But neither ‘drugs’ nor ‘diagnoses’ nor a combination of the two can explain away all the people and all the events. Each person differs, each event combines patterns and choices, predispositions and acquired habits, preferences and choices differently. No reductive medical materialism or outdated genetic determinism will convince me otherwise.

Why all the silence? The evasion, quiet discomfort, murmuring, quick passing over, euphemistic brief reference, renaming, rebranding, explaining away? Perhaps the difficulty in posing a question: why are young men and women choosing to take their own lives? Whether the choice is clear and distinct, or by way of high risk patterns of circumstance and behavior, what is making young men and women want to take their own lives?

At this point, certainly, if I have not already done so, I will disappoint with what I have to offer. I don’t know. I’m not sure. I have been willing to listen, to talk about ‘it’, and so to learn from other points of view and life experiences, sometimes far different from my own. I know that ‘it’ has much to do with being young and figuring out if you are good at anything. If your problems are ‘regular’ or medical, druggable symptoms of illness, or some combination of the two. If you stand a chance in the more and more specularized and monstrified struggle for status. How you should be normal and exceptional, average and high class, individual and utterly, unnoticeably generic and lost in the crowd: nameless. And if anyone cares. Suicide is a public, political phenomenon; it deserves open, public discussion in the era of what Steven Rose has called ‘the politics of life.’ My thoughts go to the brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, friends and lovers involved. I invite your insight and comment.

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