“Kevin Briggs, a friendly, sandy-haired motorcycle patrolman, has a knack for spotting jumpers and talking them back from the edge; he has coaxed in more than two hundred potential jumpers without losing one over the side. He won the Highway Patrol’s Marin County Uniformed Employee of the Year Award last year. Briggs told me that he starts talking to a potential jumper by asking, ‘How are you feeling today?’ Then, ‘What’s your plan for tomorrow?’ If the person doesn’t have a plan, Briggs says, ‘Well, let’s make one. If it doesn’t work out, you can always come back here later.'”
I cried when I read that passage. Later in the essay, Friend reports:
“Kevin Briggs, the empathic patrolman, was surprised to learn, when he and some colleagues had a week’s training with a psychiatrist earlier this year, that suicidal people ‘are real people—not crazy people but real people suffering from depression.'”
The implied dichotomy is crazy people versus real people. So… I’m not a real person? Or maybe he means that paranoid schizophrenics, “raving” homeless people, aren’t real. If you’re too crazy you don’t qualify as “normal” so you’re hardly a person at all, right? This is Briggs’ insight after mental health training.
I can’t believe this ludicrous world. Whenever it starts to seem okay, I read something like this.
But listen, suicide is not a crime and we should stop describing it as such. I don’t have any beef with Connors and I don’t begrudge his bitterness. However, phrases like “victim of suicide” don’t make sense — is that the dead kid or the family? Which I guess is supposed to be the point. It’s a rhetorical device.
Suicide is definitely a tragedy. However, not every sad, violent thing that happens is a crime. (Although suicide is against the law, after a fashion, it doesn’t qualify as “a grave offense […] against morality” unless you’re a terrible kind of Catholic.) Let’s not blame people who commit suicide for suffering so much that they felt the only choice was to snuff out their own existence. They are brave in the sense of “persevering even though you’re scared”, and sometimes even justified. Suicide is not an ignominious act.
You might think that cultivating shame around suicide will discourage people from killing themselves. What actually happens is that suicidal people who haven’t taken the proverbial-or-literal plunge are too embarrassed to talk about their despair. Mental illness is isolating enough already. Let’s just say, I speak from experience.