Throughout the COVID pandemic, we continuously received ongoing updates on the number of people who were infected, hospitalized and placed on respirators. We know exactly how many Israelis were killed in the latest wave of Palestinian terror attacks, and every Sunday morning, we wake up to learn of yet another deadly head-on collision that occurred on Shabbat and how many people were injured and the number of fatalities.
Suicides don’t make the news.
Yet, according to the Ministry of Health (Psychology Center update on November 16, 2021), more than 500 people complete their lives by suicide each year (1.5 more than traffic accident casualties), and more than 7,000 people end up in intensive care after suicide attempts.
Even when suicides do make the news, the media prefers to soften the language by using expressions like “the person died by unknown circumstances.” When a soldier ends his life by suicide, the catchphrase usually is, “There was no foul play involved, the matter of his/her death will be looked into.”
Suicide is unbearable, incomprehensible, unnatural, and excruciatingly painful to the loved ones who are left behind to live their lives with a question that often has no answer – why? Why did my son Ariel z”l end his life five and a half years ago without at least trying Cognitive Behavior Therapy – a treatment modality that has proven successful with people suffering from Obsessive Compulsive disorders and anxiety? Why couldn’t the mental health professionals save my son? Why couldn’t I save my son?
I have no answers, only questions.
Because there are no simple answers and because the thought of suicide is so terrifying and frightening to so many people, society prefers to focus on more solvable issues. If we only had better roads and more police monitoring traffic, there would be less accidents. Some Israelis are convinced that the present government with a wide range of political parties from the left to right is a wonderful achievement. While other Israelis are equally convinced that the government is illegitimate and should be immediately be ousted from power.
The feeling of certainty is intoxicating. It gives people a sense of purpose, stability, safety, and comfort. The feeling of uncertainty is terribly unnerving and unsettling. We prefer the order of the Seder and the Shulchan Aruch (the “Arranged Table.” A codified book of Jewish Law written by Joseph Karo in 1563) to the uncertainty of Purim. So, we mask up and get drunk. But I would contend that it is time to sober up, take off our masks and confront the intolerable: Suicide.
I will never be healed after the loss of my son. But there is a healing process, and that process begins with a serious confrontation of loss, excruciating pain, guilt, anger, and bewilderment. Through the head-on engagement with loss and anguish due to suicide, I’ve slowly learned that while my why questions will never be answered, I can “ride through” (my personal mantra for the past five years that gives me strength and determination to live life to the fullest) the unending difficulties and vicissitudes of life and live with joy, despite the pain of losing my son to suicide.
Until society begins to seriously address this modern-day plague, instead of engaging in either outright denial or attempts to soften the language and discussion of suicide, we’ll continue to lose over 500 Israelis a year to this scourge. But we’ll never even know this because suicide doesn’t make the news. This needs to change. All forms of death should be noted. Perhaps, this will reduce the stigmatization of suicide and lead to less loss of life.
Suicide doesn’t have a vaccine so let’s start engaging with this painful topic.
Suicide is newsworthy.