Introduction to Why Suicide? Questions & Answers About Suicide, Suicide Prevention, and Coping with the Suicide of Someone You Know

by Eric Marcus

I’m sorry that you have any reason to read this book.  But the sad fact is that almost everyone is touched at some point in life by suicide, whether it’s the suicide or attempted suicide of someone we know or our own passing self-destructive thoughts.

No matter what the circumstances, there are always questions for those of us who are affected by suicide.  When I was twelve, my father took his life.  His death was devastating, the circumstances painfully perplexing and embarrassing.  I was hurt, angry, guilt-ridden, and ashamed, and I didn’t know why.  I had so many questions, but there was no one who could provide the answers and perspective I desperately needed.  The adults in my life didn’t have the answers to give and, as I later learned, had few places in 1970 to find them even if they had looked.  And to be fair, most of them were devastated themselves and had little emotional energy or wherewithal to consider what was going on for a well-behaved and outwardly brave little boy who didn’t shed a tear at his father’s funeral.

From the start of my writing career, I was determined to create the kind of book that would have helped my family help me cope with the circumstances of my father’s death.  I also wanted to write a book that could serve as a broad resource for anyone whose life has been touched by suicide.

Inevitably, the experience of writing the original Why Suicide?—and then revisiting the book fourteen years later to write this new edition—has helped me find answers to many of the unanswered questions about suicide that I carried with me for years.  Writing this book gave me the excuse I needed to ask the questions I was afraid to ask and to find answers when there were answers to be found.  And it certainly gave me the excuse to talk to family members, track down my father’s old friends, and to subsequently fill in as many blanks as I could about what was going on in my father’s mind and in his life at the time he killed himself.  Through my research I also had the opportunity to speak with many people who have lived through a similar experience.   Perhaps that was most comforting of all—to discover that I wasn’t alone, that there are plenty of people in the world who understand in a visceral way what it is like to live through (and with) the trauma of a loved one’s suicide.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on the subject of suicide.  And I’m not a psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker.  I’m a journalist by training.  So in researching this book I did what journalists do and interviewed a lot of people—including many experts.  I read magazine and newspaper articles, scanned the pages of numerous books, and searched the web.  I also watched educational videos and documentary films about suicide.

What I learned about suicide, you’ll find in the pages that follow.  I’ve included a broad range of questions, from the very basic to the extremely specific.  In response to these questions, you’ll find brief answers, long answers, anecdotes, opinion, and conjecture.  A few questions will leave you with more questions, because I’ve included questions that don’t yet have definitive answers.  And in the end you may not find the answers you were looking for because, as I discovered in my own search for answers, it’s almost impossible to find satisfying or complete answers to the question of why someone we care about would want to die by suicide.

You’ll meet many different people in Why Suicide? Some give answers to questions; others provide stories that help support a point.  When I’ve used quotes or anecdotes from experts and those whose stories have been made public previously, I’ve used complete names.  When I’ve quoted private citizens or used their anecdotes—some of which are composites drawn from several different people—I’ve used only first names and altered identifying characteristics when asked to protect the privacy of the people I’m quoting.  (Several of the private citizens I interviewed were perfectly comfortable using their full names, but I wasn’t comfortable putting them in the public eye.)

Why Suicide? includes scores of questions, but not all the possible questions are here, nor are all the answers.  My goal in writing this book was to create a resource that was easy to read, easy to digest, and not overwhelming in details or length.  There are plenty of other books on this subject—many of which were very useful resources for me in writing this one—that provide in depth and very detailed information about suicide (for a list of these books please have a look at the “Appendix”).  But if there’s a question I’ve missed that you would like answered, or if you have an answer to a question that I didn’t have an answer for or that you feel I didn’t answer adequately, write to me at eric@ericmarcus.com or through my web site, www.whysuicidebook.com, and I promise to write you back with the information you need or I’ll recommend a resource that can be of help.

I hope that the questions and answers in Why Suicide? bring understanding and comfort for all of you who have in some way been touched by suicide.

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