At the beginning of February, I journeyed north to Niwot near Boulder, Colorado, where I spoke with a class of high school kids.  Kids?  Some already had kids, all had problems.  They were young men and women with life’s terror about to become life’s tale. 

Asked them to write down one question they had about suicide and place the torn pieces of paper into my Cavs hat (yes, I’m still a post-LeBron fan).  Read the questions aloud and guess what? 

They want to talk about it. 

The most common question from the students: “Why do people do it?” 

Of course, the How is always of morbid interest, but in a theoretical discussion of suicide, the Why becomes the most pressing inquiry.  I tried to simplify my response since no one under the age of eighteen wants a lecture, so I straight up told them, “Why not?”

Perhaps not the best answer.  I should have followed up with four concise reasons why people kill themselves:

  • Mental health disorders – depression, insanity, anxiety. You know, the usual. 
  • Stop the Pain – whether physical, emotional or psychic pain. They just want the suffering to end.
  • Shame – guilt, failure, a life of perceived mistakes. A dark and powerful motivator. 
  • Incidental – a spontaneous decision from a traumatic event. In a word, heart-broken.

A few of the students asked the same question in a different way.  “What intends them to do it?”  Intends.  I found that particular word-choice interesting.  To commit suicide is an intention, a commitment, offering great relief once the decision has been made.  Unfortunately, the pain is merely passed on.  

As for the other questions:

“Does it solve their problems?”  Only if they succeed, whereas failure leads to repetition.  Suicide has been called the most selfish act.  I don’t see it that way.  It’s a plan to permanently hurt everyone else.  You give them the gift of pain, like a lump of coal in your family's Christmas stocking.  Except the coal catches fire and burns their house down.

“What’s the age group, gender, and race of those who attempt the most?”  I usually say teenagers have the most non-fatal suicide attempts, but a 40-year-old white male with a gun is the most dangerous person to himself.  They do it the most often. 

“What’s the one thing you can say to someone that’s feeling that way because I have been in places and I don’t know what to say.  What should I do?”   Fuck if I know.

“How often do people unexpectedly commit suicide?”   I like the unexpectedly here, because for those left behind, suicide often does feel unexpected.  The suicide rate in the United States has increased in the last 20 years.  In 2000, the rate was about 10 suicides per 100,000 people.  Now it’s 13.  That’s a 25% increase. 

“What’s the most usual approach to prevent it?  Are most depressed and addicted?”  In my experience, those with a flare up of suicidal ideation are drunk, depressed and hooked on smack, whack or pills.  Like they’ve been trying to deaden the pain for years.  

“Is it emotionally and mentally hard to take suicide calls?”  Every time. 

The hardest question, for me, was asked by a quiet girl with heavy mascara in the back row.  “Do you think your work as a counselor is worth it?”  I’d like to think so. 

Before I left, the students pressed me again.  Damn kids, always pushing, but that’s what I love about them.  “No, really,” they asked, “why do they do it?  Why do people kill themselves?”

I pounded my chest and tossed up a peace sign as I headed out the door before saying,

  “To end the pain.”


(*see pic under REVIEWS)