“O fathers, where art thou?” – One dad’s musings on the eve of World Suicide Prevention Day

Sep 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day

Tomorrow is World Suicide Prevention Day (WSP Day) but, I have to confess, the reality of suicide used to baffle me when I was younger and none the wiser.

How could anyone summon up that much courage to inflict the kind of bodily pain that would end your life permanently?! To have reached that level of despair and hopelessness?

Even now, a small part of me still wonders, though I’ve read enough to know that many seek this way out for various reasons. These include mental illness, family history, loss of a deep and personal relationship, or prolonged stress, desperation and loneliness (perceived or otherwise).

At the risk of sounding insensitive, I have to say that I’ve been ‘fortunate’ to never have anyone I know commit suicide. But I do recall many years ago a close friend telling me his college girlfriend took her own life. In more recent times, the eldest son of an ex-colleague ended his too, well before hitting 30.

So in truth suicide isn’t such a distant and abstract issue, even for those of us relatively cushioned from its direct impact. Unlike loved ones the victims leave behind.

The Stark Stats

Photo: Markus Winkler/unsplash

The World Health Organization (WHO) tells us that suicide is totally preventable, yet it’s one of the top reasons for deaths in many parts of the world.

According to WHO’s Mental Health homepage, some 800,000 people in the world die from suicide annually. That’s literally one person every 40 seconds! And, mind you, those numbers are based on reported cases only.

What’s particularly disturbing for me is that male suicides consistently top the list.

Not to say that a female suicide is any less tragic or, God forbid, that I prefer female suicides to rank on top. In fact, the gap between genders (in this unwanted ‘race to the finish line’) is apparently closing fast in places like Australia and the US, and likely (I fear) here in Singapore as well.

So. ladies and gentlemen alike, this plaintive tune for either gender is one that will sound increasingly haunting in the years ahead.

A crisis that unfortunately will continue to loom and expand writ large.

Loss Adjustment – A Cautionary Tale

Photo: Molly Belle/unsplash

Linda Collins, a copy editor with a local daily, wrote “Loss Adjustment“, a heart-wrenching book that chronicled the suicide of her one and only child. In 2014, her daughter Victoria took her own life at the tender age of 17.

I remember all too well how brutal being 17 can be, all that jostling for acceptance and recognition. It’s worst now in this social media era we live in. All the obsessive chase for Instagram likes, and the ever-escalating flaming and bullying that goes on daily in cyberspace, will cripple even the toughest kid you can find.

Still. To go at 17. Just like that.

Makes me pause to take a deep breath.

One of the really sad revelations for me after reading this book was how the writer was able to discern the signs of her daughter’s tragic intention only AFTER the fact. I’m not casting any blame; conversely, I felt deeply for Linda and her husband’s immeasurable loss, and found myself unable to hold back my tears at various points of reading the memoir.

Their experience warns me that even the most careful of parents can still be caught off-guard, especially if our children are able to skilfully hide their mental descent from us.

Why this ‘morbid fascination’?

Photo: Steve Harvey/unsplash

If I have to pin down exactly when my ‘morbid fascination’ with this troubling issue arose, it would have to be when I became a parent. More specifically, a father of sons. A newly-minted father who came to realise a sobering fact: the world now had more ways to hurt me!

What’s worse is the harsh reality that I live in a country where, like elsewhere, males have been the chief cause for the rise in suicide cases, especially in the past two years – over 66%! And they are typically between the ages of ten and 29.

My boys turn ten and 12 next year, so I would be lying if I said that this issue didn’t rankle. I can’t wear blinkers around my eyes and pretend that I don’t see or know that it exists.

Or think that it’ll never in a million years happen to someone I know.

Or worse.

It could happen to…(gosh, I can’t even bring myself to say it).

So what’s a parent to do?

Photo: Mothership

In October last year, a group of courageous parents stepped into the spotlight to highlight the need here for better nation-wide coordination to tackle this issue. Each of the four founders for the PleaseStay Movement lost a son to suicide, each one below 30.

None of these founders was a father.

(Excuse me while I pause again and take another deep breath here)

Earlier this year, a Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) also brought up the critical need to put in place a national suicide prevention strategy to address the issue. Though the relevant authority’s response (to the NMP’s call) was to say that there were measures in place, it had to concede that the way forward must involve a whole-of-society approach. The issue was too complex to be solely handled by a government agency or a ground-up advocacy group.

And yes, you guessed it. Neither the NMP nor the relevant authority’s spokesperson was a father!

O Fathers, Where Art Thou?

Photo: Dan Meyers/unsplash

So to my fellow countrymen and fathers, especially those who have experienced such crippling loss, my question to you is simple: “Where art thou?”

I don’t have the answer yet, though I suspect much has to do with the centuries-old ‘boys don’t cry’ and ‘men mustn’t fail’ script society has written for us. And, since fathers seem to be out of this picture, I find myself without a masculine model or reference point.

No matter. I know what I need to do as a dad.

I need to ensure my sons know that they …
1)…matter. Always.
2)…aren’t alone. Ever.
3)…should try hard and never give up; but even if they do, I will still love them and I won’t give up on them. Not ever.

Most importantly, I need to pray and let them know they have a dad who loves them deeply and makes time to pursue their hearts and devotions. Daily.

I also need to stop tip-toeing around this ‘socially-taboo’ topic. Instead, I need to meet it head on, since there’s no sufficiently-compelling evidence that talking about it will make it more likely to happen.

So on WSP Day 2020, perhaps I should take the bold step during our nightly family time, to begin this conversation, sensitively but intentionally.

And maybe in the years to come, we as a family can grow stronger together, emotionally and relationally.

Because as a father, I dared to be vulnerable and to lead my family to talk about “life”.

Because the life of every son (and daughter) is precious.

Because #everylifematters

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