a woman looking distraught

Suicide rates in the United States rose by 24 percent between 1999 and 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Despite suicide’s growing prevalence, many people remain uncomfortable talking about it, adding to the tragedy and grief when a loved one kills him or herself. Our guests share their stories of coping with the suicide of a loved one.

Related Resources and Information:

When a Loved One Commits Suicide 17 May,2016Michael Krasny

Guests:
Joyce Brady, mother who lost her 52 year-old son to suicide
John Brooks, author of "The Girl Behind the Door: A Father's Quest to Understand His Daughter's Suicide"
Eli Merritt, psychiatrist, Merritt Mental Health; author of "Suicide Risk in the Bay Area: A Guide for Families, Physicians, Therapists, and Other Professionals"; and lost his mother to suicide when he was six

  • Skip Conrad

    The top nation is Guyana, where the JonesTown suicide-murders happened, at 44 per 100,000. The USA ranks 50th with 12 suicides per 100,000.

  • 4KConelove

    Depression is a sometimes temporary brain imbalance or disease . Unlike a broken arm, it’s not easily visible, yet needs to be treated without prejudice. After we lost our daughter to suicide, I have met dozens of people who dread ” coming out” to their families, friends or employers, for fear of having it held against them. People have told me that I’m the first person they have ever shared this with,and they felt safe telling me after hearing about the tragedy of my daughter’s death.

    Needless to say, I am a big advocate for getting help and support immediately. Someday, science will find the answers to end all this soul- crushing pain, which in many cases, people suffer through alone.

    • William – SF

      I knew Steve for nearly 25 years.
      He would talk about it.
      Life was very stressful for him.
      He was haunted by his mother’s suicide.
      I didn’t think he would do it.
      I was wrong.

      • 4KConelove

        I’m very sorry for the loss of your friend Steve. It’s true that sometimes the whole situation just becomes something we take for granted , and never ever believe that it could turn out this way. In my opinion, more is understood about outer space, then we know about our inner space – our brains.
        Someday people will look back on our time and see us as having been in the Stone Age in terms of our understanding of brain diseases and imbalances.

        • William – SF

          Agreed. And we often have no tools to recognize and offer help to those in need. I want a do over.

          And I too, am sorry for your loss and the losses experienced by others here.

          • 4KConelove

            Yes indeed, we all wish for a do over. Thank you. We have strength and healing that we can lend to one another for sure. I am living it. Never could I have imagined the road which life would take me on.. Those who walk it have much to offer in solidarity and love.

  • Another Mike

    Suicide can sometimes be a rational decision. A great-uncle, given a terminal cancer diagnosis, jumped out a window rather than continue to suffer.

  • Mary R

    I am in my mid thirties, and have had episodes of suicidal depression since I was a teenager. I have a large, loving social circle as well as a successful career. The thought of what my death would do to my mother has always stopped me when I have been close. I have good periods, but I’m resigned to know that I’ll have to get through the dark periods for my entire life.

    • 4KConelove

      Imagine a world in which you will find just the right brain ” diet” to gently heal the imbalances when they come and banish them for good <3

  • Erica L. Holloway

    Today happens to be the two year anniversary of the loss of my big sister Sarah to suicide. My sister was pretty open about her depression- she wanted to spread awareness of the reality of what it means to be depressed, free of stigma. She was an amazing person; intelligent, charming, creative and hilarious. She struggled for over twenty years with her illness, attempting suicide at least a dozen times in a myriad of ways. She wanted to stay alive for the people she loved, and we did our damnedest to be there for her.
    It’s been a hard two years without my sister. Sometimes I get mad at her even though I know it really wasn’t up to her. But mostly I just miss her.
    Thank you for having this discussion.

    • 4KConelove

      Erica, I hope you have a support group to help you talk about your sister and your bereavement <3

    • 4KConelove

      With such a long period of suffering, your dear sister was indeed a very strong person to manage to go on. We who are now suffering might know a bit of what it felt like for them..

  • Jennifer Lopez

    Firstly, I want to say I am so sorry to anyone who has lost someone to suicide, it is devastating. I lost my fiance to suicide in May of 2009, and I still feel the pain and sadness of loss but have been able to grow from then. I will say what I don’t often hear about and am interested in is the anger I felt at the abandonment of my loved one. At the time I was also struggling with depression and felt left behind. I wonder if this is something others have felt, as well as the subsequent shame of the anger towards someone who is no longer with us?

  • MikeCassady

    Like many people, I’m sure, I had suicidal thoughts a number of times growing up, but in my mid 20’s I had an experience that stopped me rather suddenly from further flirting with life and death as “personal cinema”, if you will. This happened some 75 feet underwater, at night, offshore from Saudi Arabia in the Arabian Sea, where I was working as a novice oilfield diver in the offshore oil industry.

    I’d been a moody kid, prone to bursts of self-righteous anger, and, perhaps too often lived whole worlds and life-times in my head safe from pressures to compromise my feelings of true uniqueness and life-breathing passion and “grow up,” i.e., accept to make myself visible (socially readable) and publicly recognizable rather then risk social death as a cipher and threat to the prinicple of that one must conform to make others who have not look silly.

    I’d finished university and had abandoned a long project of going to graduate school to become a professor of philosophy, which put me on a reverse path to that of my parents who had finished World War II with a frantic desire to leave the citified urban world for rural and pastoral bliss, a bit closer to Eden. The graduate school idea had given me an explanation my more intellectual firends found more in keeping with an idea of me they could tolerate, and it was open-ended enough to not be taken by my parents as a straightforward condemnation of all they saw themselves to be about. I liked philosophy, and still do, but my country boyhood had also given me some respect and sympathy with cool headed problem solving and the deep pleasure of productive hard work.

    By the end of my studies (that included a hiatus of three years in the Army, but not any in Vietnam) I had become disenchanted with what I estimated to be silly politics among the professors in the philsophy department and ceased to see myself any longer (impossibly) fitting myself in to that brand of drama. But, giving up a not quite beiievable sophisticatd “me” I’d lived with for quite some time left me narrativeless and nearly broke.

    Country boy that I was, diving and construction were in line with my practical experience, and the work proved to be intellectually exciitng in ways I couldn’t have imagined at the outset. Besides that, hours of decompression— “gassing off” to those in the trade —provided many opportunities for philosophical pondering and working intellectual puzzles. The people I worked with in dive teams and on the construction barges were not sophisticated in the manner of academics, but they were every bit as bright in their own ways, and not annoying to be around at all when reasonably sober.

    Anyway, to get on with the story, I was about 80 feet underwater that night and the seas were pretty rough for trying to place a big pipeline in the riser mountings of an offshore platform. When I reached the bottom where some lights had been suspended over the piple near the platform, which served best to blind the diver for the most part, the pipe, still suspended from lifting cables from the barge, was surging up and down at least a foot, and throwing up a cloud of mud that made really hellish visual scene with the horrible lighting playing through. But, I was a novice diver and a new guy on the dive team, so did I dare complain? I tried moving down the pipe toward the manufactured bend in the pipe that leads up the side of the paltform, but I soon saw I could easily be sucked under the bouncing pipe and get myself crushed. What to do?

    At moments during my training as an oildfield diver, down in Los Angeles, I had thought now and then that if I got killed doing this kind of work, at least my parents could credit it to the dangerous work. I was often low enough at that point to imagine an explainable death as not entirely unattractive. Without a college program or the Army to organize my life for me, or provide something to resist, I had decided to do the diving training without much enthousiasm, so I felt myself to be just drifting along toward something, whatever, and who knows what,? and at least it would be in some other world than the one I had grown up in. I’d been a soldier, but opposed to Vietnam, so I was not at home in Ronald Reagan’s California either, to speak it right out.

    As I worked myself back along the pipeline to the where the pipe was safely on the seabed, I felt a very clear change of gears in my moral person, such as he may be, which I characterize as going from passive mode to active, from being a spectator to being an author. I found myself telling the surface diving supervisor in the microphone in my diving helmet, “This is too dangerous, I’m coming out.” I was sure he’d scream. Barges rent by the hour at a phenomenal cost, so downtime is not welcome. But, no, the supervisor said back to me, “If you think it’s too dangerous, get yourself out of there.” I had acted, I had written the story, and it took my breath away, and I knew that I had only myself to anwer to from here on. I would no longer go looking about me to see the right way to be, or how a real life should look.

    When I reached the diving the top of the ladder and climbed out onto the deck, I knew I was in charge of what I was doing, and pleasing people, i.e., concerned with havign an ‘effect’, including myself, was no longer at the top of my “must-do” list. To anyone who shows even now any vicarious plearsure in the imagined dangers of working underwater, I learned sometime ago just to say very calmly, “Diving in the right way is a profession, it’s not a circus performance.” The break with passivity ended any fantasies about killing myself, directly or by arranging events to make it happen. The thought of putting that load on my family and friends, and on anyone I can even imagine, including you, is no longer in my world of actual possibles.

  • Ireneb

    Sending love and healing thoughts to all who share here, and on the air today. Kudos to KQED, and other media outlets who don’t shy away from this painful and difficult topic! My mother, who was schizophrenic, attempted suicide several times, and an old friend just lost his husband to suicide after struggling many years with severe bipolar disorder. I find it difficult to bring up or discuss suicide or mental illness at times, even with my closest friends or relatives. People often don’t know what to say, and of course are uncomfortable with such deep feelings – having support groups and therapists is so crucial to getting thru these times!

  • Michelle Rutz

    I humbly ask you to refrain in future articles from using the phrase “commit suicide.” Died of mental illness is one other alternative. People don’t commit cancer and people don’t commit mental illness. Help us stop the stigma. Mahalo.

Host

Michael Krasny

Michael Krasny, PhD, has been in broadcast journalism since 1983. He was with ABC in both radio and television and migrated to public broadcasting in 1993. He has been Professor of English at San Francisco State University and also taught at Stanford, the University of San Francisco and the University of California, as well as in the Fulbright International Institutes. A veteran interviewer for the nationally broadcast City Arts and Lectures, he is the author of a number of books, including “Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life” (Stanford University Press) “Spiritual Envy” (New World); “Sound Ideas” (with M.E. Sokolik/ McGraw-Hill); “Let There Be Laughter” (Harper-Collins) as well as the twenty-four lecture series in DVD, audio and book, “Short Story Masterpieces” (The Teaching Company). He has interviewed many of the world’s leading political, cultural, literary, science and technology figures, as well as major figures from the world of entertainment. He is the recipient of many awards and honors including the S.Y. Agnon Medal for Intellectual Achievement; The Eugene Block Award for Human Rights Journalism; the James Madison Freedom of Information Award; the Excellence in Journalism Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association; Career Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and an award from the Radio and Television News Directors Association. He holds a B.A. (cum laude) and M.A. from Ohio University and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin.

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