At a recent dinner with a friend, my wife and his girlfriend, we started talking about the circumstances under which he would kill himself.
It wasn’t as strange as it sounds. We are all healthcare professionals and we had been talking about some suicide prevention presentations I’d been giving recently.
Many would draw a distinction between suicide and what my friend meant. They would call his plans “dying with dignity” because his actions would be in response to diseases that would take away his freedom and independence.
Still, I didn’t hear much of the conversation for the next several minutes.
Instead, I started to think about whether or not I would ever ask him if he wanted to kill himself.
I have known this guy for more than half my life. I care about him more than many men would admit.
He has guns. If I ever asked him to give them to me, he might think long and hard about shooting me instead.
He values his independence. The only times he would consider killing himself involve the loss of that independence.
Then I started to think about whether or not I would want someone to ask me. What would it mean if someone thought that I wanted to kill myself? What if I had considered it? What would that do to my family? My credibility? My career?
I shook them off at the time and returned to the conversation, but those thoughts still haunt me.
Men kill themselves at three and a half times the rate that women do. My friend and I are running headlong into the time in a white, American male’s life when our chances of dying by suicide or substance abuse increase dramatically. Both of us work in professions that have higher than average suicide rates. At least in my case, there is a family history of all kinds of things that put me at greater risk.
I hope—because I cannot know—that I would be a man and ask if he was going to kill himself.
I hope—because I cannot know—that I would ask my father
… and my brothers
… and my son
… and my friends, and their fathers, and their brothers and sons …
Because without asking, you cannot know.
And I hope that someone would be a man and ask me.
Contact Dr. Owens.