Suicide: Why Ask “Why”?

The death of Lee Thompson Young has stuck with me. Not only because he was one of the characters on my favorite television series, but also because he was my age.  It really gets me thinking and drives home the fact that we never really know what is going on in other people’s lives. Why would anyone decide that committing suicide is the BEST or ONLY option?

This post is not about statistics, depression, or suicide. It is about society and how we seem to act towards one another. I have been doing a bit of research on Lee Thompson Young, trying to find answers to the question, “WHY would he commit suicide?” I will admit that I too have fallen into the trap of “but things looked as if they were going so well for him.” His show, TNT’s Rizzoli and Isles, was picked up for a 5th season just a few days prior to his death, and the articles I read suggested that he was happy with his career. So the question of “why” continues to run through my mind.

The real question is why does the answer to “why” matter? Yes, it does often times bring some closure. BUT at the same time, it brings up a number of other questions and feelings associated with the answer. When I was a teen, a relative, to whom I was not very close, committed suicide. When I found out the answer to “why,” I felt extremely guilty because I unintentionally contributed to her pain. Had I known and understood depression at that time, I’d like to think I would have acted differently. Do I think my actions could have changed the end result? Who knows? Maybe. About 10 years after her passing, her stepfather asked me, “What would drive anyone to commit suicide?” He was clearly still looking for the answer to “why” and struggling with the answers he had already been given in her suicide note.

Don’t get me wrong; there is a “good” in answering the “why”. It shows that we care enough and were impacted enough to look for answers that might help someone else make a different choice.

I wonder how things would be different if instead of asking “why” AFTER someone took their own life, we asked important questions, such as “Why”, “How” and “What”, BEFORE it was too late.

Let us start with some “Whys”…

Why are we so cruel towards one another? In reading the comments people posted online about Lee Thompson Young, I was struck by how some of them were insulting and hurtful. One person called another “dumb” because they thought the other’s facts were incorrect. Why not simply point out or correct the information instead of making a personal attack? Ironically, the person’s facts were not incorrect and their response was an attack back. Why the need to criticize and attack? Why?

Why do we need, or even think we have the right, to pass judgment on one another? Over the last few days, I found myself wondering if Lee reached out to anyone. I wondered if the people close to him suspected anything, tried to reach out or if this was a complete surprise to them. I must admit that these questions were actually veiled judgments. I had to stop and ask myself: Why would I judge those around him? I don’t know the circumstances, and I don’t know what I would have done if I knew what they knew, however much or little that may have been. Why would I judge Lee for committing this final act, which numerous people consider to be “selfish”? Why is it selfish? He did what he thought was the only thing he could do. Do I agree with it? No, but I am not him and I don’t know what he knew or felt. Why does anyone have the right to tell someone to feel differently? A person feels what they feel, whether we agree with it or not. Who wants someone to tell them that what they feel is not correct? Or that they should stop feeling as they do? Or that they should just feel differently?

Some “Hows”….

How can we learn and grow from this tragedy? Many of us have so much going on in our daily lives that we forget to take care of ourselves, much less extend that care-taking to others. We are often so overwhelmed by our own problems and thoughts that we forget, or simply cannot muster up enough energy, to help someone else. I wonder – How would our lives be different if we stopped and asked a complete stranger about their day? Hearing the stories I hear in my office, I try to practice this regularly, although I am not always successful. I try to be mindful of the fact that if I am too preoccupied to ask someone about his or her day, other people may also be forgetting. If the stranger was the only person who asked about their day, in the hallway, in the elevator, in the checkout line, how might this change the life of the person who may have been feeling unnoticed? The truth is that we are powerful individuals and we have the power to influence other people’s lives; the question is how? How would noticing and talking to someone change their life, and how would it change your life?  It may take a lot of energy to block out our thoughts and feelings in order to listen to a stranger, but maybe that’s just what we need…to block out our thoughts and our feelings for a few minutes…and listen and support someone else.

When someone dies in a car accident or from an illness we learn and apply the “life is short” mentality. When someone chooses to end their own life, we might benefit by applying a “be kind to others” mentality, which includes taking time out of our busy schedules to genuinely care and listen to one another. Maybe if we start asking “HOW” type questions, we will find the answers to prevent suicide, instead of having to ask “WHY” in order to understand suicide.

Now some “Whats”…

What are some causes and risk factors for depression?[1]

  1. Loneliness
  2. Lack of social support
  3. Recent stressful life experiences
  4. Family history of depression
  5. Marital or relationship problems
  6. Financial strain
  7. Early childhood trauma or abuse
  8. Alcohol or drug abuse
  9. Unemployment or underemployment
  10. Health problems or chronic pain

What to do if your friend or relative is suffering from depression?[2]

  1. Offer emotional support, understanding, patience, and encouragement.
  2. Talk to him or her, and listen carefully.
  3. Never dismiss feelings, but point out realities and offer hope.
  4. Never ignore comments about suicide, and report them to your loved one’s therapist or doctor.
  5. Invite your loved one out for walks, outings, and other activities. Keep trying if he or she declines, but don’t push him or her to take on too much too soon.
  6. Provide assistance in getting to the doctor’s appointments.
  7. Remind your loved one that with time and treatment, the depression will lift.

What to do if you or someone you love is currently suicidal?

 Call the suicide hotline at



[1] The HelpGuide.orgMelinda Smith, M.A., Joanna Saisan, M.S.W., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: July 2013.

[2] The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). What is depression?

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