Shakespeare writes about suicide, in fact focuses on it in Hamlet. Hamlet, the protagonist, suffers the death of his father and the remarriage of his mother to his father’s brother — the one who murdered old Hamlet. Hamlet’s first words in private are these: “O, that this too solid flesh would melt…/ Or that the Everlasting had not fixed / His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter!” (I.1.130–132). He wants to die or kill himself because he has lost his father and then his mother to a hasty, questionable marriage to her brother-in-law. Hamlet has lost joy to the point of wanting to die — not good.
Shakespeare remains popular because his work looks into the human psyche in profound ways. Suicide plagues America today in profound ways, more deeply than I was aware of. Here are some facts that surprised me.
According to some studies, I live in the worst city in the United States when it comes to homicides. We have all sorts of laws and debates and social response to such violence, including gun control. A little over 19,000 people were murdered in the U.S. in 2016.
About 45,000 people committed suicide. Shocked? I was. Reports of murder garner media and legislative attention, yet suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10–34, and the fourth for 35–54. Well over twice as many people die every year from suicide as homicide, and 51% of those suicides are performed with a gun.
Did you know that the cost of suicide to the economy has been estimated at $69 billion per year, or that for every suicide, at least 25 other people attempt it? (Source: https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/)
We tend to pay more attention to issues when high profile people commit suicide: Robin Williams, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain. It’s sad. So is murder. In reality, though, many more survivors are affected by suicide than murder.
Why? Many say it’s such a waste of human life. I wouldn’t say that. I would say suicide is a phenomenon characterized by the concept of loss, the loss of a number of things.
Loss characterizes suicide; loss establishes the conditions necessary for it. It begins with the loss of a sense of Self. How can we tell if we are losing Self? Shakespeare explores this.
What is a symptom of suffering the loss of the vision and value of Self? Hamlet says, “How weary stale, flat, and unprofitable / Seem to me all the uses of this world!” (I.1.l33–134). Having no interest in life, feeling no enthusiasm, or seeing no good in anything should set off an alarm in us, one blaring like a tornado warning siren, prolonged, insistent.
Respond to that warning. Call a trusted friend to help evaluate what’s going on. I think it’s important to every one of us who has suffered any depression, or worse, to have a friend or two designated for times like this, because when we are feeling like Hamlet, we think no one wants to hear or help us. Put someone in your mind and maybe even mention it to them — today.
Just a few months ago — it seems longer than that — a friend of mine and many other people took his life. No details here, but even his closest friends had absolutely no idea that this thirty-something, likable, humorous, hardworking, loving, devoted dad and husband was suffering. After his death, his closest friend has made it a point to follow up whenever he asks any of us how we are. “Great!” we reply. “No, really, how are you?” That’s the kind of friend I’m talking about. (Thanks, Shannon!)
In the play Hamlet, Shakespeare further examines suicide. Hamlet tells his childhood friends, who are not true friends, that he finds no delight, no joy, no happiness in the glory of nature or the marvels of humans. Then, in the famous “To be, or not to be” soliloquy, Hamlet debates taking the final step. He thinks everyone and everything is against him. He sees no value in himself.
Losing self initiates the spiral that may lead to suicide. When we lose that vital, healthy sense of the life force that constitutes each of us, we need help.
Becoming aware of little signs like not enjoying things we have in the past, not laughing or even desiring to laugh, not valuing others, not seeing the majesty of nature, having no enthusiasm for life, or other symptoms should trigger a text or call to a friend, one who will understand that you are reaching out for help, the kind of help that will call you back to the reality of the greatness, power, and creativity you are.
We need to guard the preciousness that is Self. We are simply worth too much to lose.
Make no mistake; I’m not a mental health provider. I’m only seeking to raise self-awareness here. If anyone reads this and can’t bring themselves to reach out to anyone they trust, please call a help line and/or a professional counselor.
(1–800–273–8255 — National Suicide Prevention Lifeline)
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Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!