Suicide is no laughing matter

A white male with a graying beard is standing in front of what appears to be a lake, smiling . He has on a white t-shirt and mirrored sunglasses that show the reflection of someone taking his photograph. Under his t-shirt is a pen clipped to his collar.Video description: Trudy, a white woman with shoulder-length brown hair, is wearing a navy blue shirt with a red, white, light blue, tan, and navy blue striped scarf. She is seated in the corner with brown bookshelves on her right and a sea blue wall on her left.

Image descriptions: The first image shows a white man with a graying beard in front of what appears to be a lake. He is wearing a white t-shirt with a black pen clipped onto his collar from under his shirt. Smiling broadly, his mirrored sunglasses show the reflection of the photographer.  The next image is a screenshot of the number of shares, comments, and likes for Ronnie’s video.

Late in the evening on Friday, May 6, I watched a video by a friend, Renee, sharing how upset she was about another video she saw. Of course, I checked this other video out to see what she was talking about — and became equally troubled. I’ve been thinking about it all weekend and will continue thinking about it for a long time to come.

On Friday (or late Thursday night) at 3:07 a.m., Ronnie Craft of Virginia posted a video on his Facebook page. He stated he was upset about his girlfriend’s infidelity and the man “bothering” his girlfriend. Behind him was what appeared to be a rifle or shotgun of some sort, although it could very well have been a pipe. After he shared his hurt and anger, he said he would be dead the next morning.

Ronnie indeed committed suicide that morning, just as he had threatened. Although the video has since been removed, it stayed on his page for several days — and the comments continued even after the confirmation of his passing. One person, a couple of days after the video, posted that Ronnie was a “f**ktard” just trying to get attention and that we shouldn’t give him any.

A screenshot shows that the video was shared 83 times with four likes.That wasn’t the most troubling thing about the video, though. What stunned my friend Renee, and me, was that at least 83 people shared the video on their Facebook pages. Although the comments showed that people did try to get help for Ronnie, there were also four people who clicked “like.” This is where social media sometimes gets confusing: many people will click “like” as a way of showing empathy. Even so, anytime someones makes a threat to harm himself or someone else, we must always choose immediate safety.

I have never met Ronnie, nor will I ever have the opportunity to. As I watched his video, my heart ached at his hurt and anger. I was even more disturbed by the response (especially the shares), trying to understand why they would do such a thing. Have we really become so immune to online “drama” that we simply repost angry and hurt videos to revel in people’s emotions? Is it worse to watch a video like this and say nothing? I saw the video far too late; had I seen it in time, I would have immediately contacted area authorities, especially since his post showed his location.

Suicide is not a rare act. According to dosomething.org, nearly 30,000 Americans commit suicide every year. This doesn’t include attempted suicide; each suicide represents 25 attempts. The website also says that one person commits suicide every 16.2 minutes on the average, and over 50% are committed with a firearm. These are eye-opening numbers. So why is there still such a stigma accompanying suicide? Aside from historical and religious teachings that identify suicide as a sin, it may be because we get worked up about the aftermath of a suicide and all the people left behind. Or it could be because we’re angry we didn’t help the person in time. Maybe the suicide hits too close to home, or we think the person is crazy to even consider death.

I’ve lost quite a few people to suicide over the years, and there’s a common thread that I see in each and every suicide: people saying that it is such a selfish act. While it may seem selfish to the people left behind, it isn’t selfish for the person committing it. Rather, it’s a final act of desperation to stop the intense, searing pain of hurt and anger. This suicide risk is heightened among people not fully aware of the tools for dealing with of depression, hopelessness, and pain. Add to that the fact that there is a severe lack of access to mental health services for deaf people, and it’s a volatile matter.

Back in 2005, I wrote about a friend who attempted suicide:

She changed her mind in the process, and decided to call local suicide resources to try and get some help. Nine of the ten places hung up immediately when they heard that it was a relay call. The tenth one said, “We don’t provide interpreters,” and hung up before my friend even said a word. Eventually, she found a friend to confide in, but still needs counseling services that are American Sign Language (ASL) accessible.

Another friend had suicidal thoughts several years ago. When I drove him to the hospital at his request, he was sent home after an overnight stay because they didn’t have the appropriate services. The interpreters sent for this assignment all knew my friend through work. My friend was embarrassed and frustrated, and to date, has never gotten the counseling and help he wants.

Meanwhile, until better alternatives are developed, people like my friends will continue wrestling with their emotional and mental needs, and feeling desolate and dismal about recovering from their emotional/mental pain. The Deaf community cannot let this go on anymore. We need to have mental health services immediately available and accessible for Deaf people in ASL with no rescheduling, no delay, and no cultural barriers.  Read the full article here.

It’s been 20 years since these incidents, and little seems to have changed. Today we have counselors such as the Deaf Counseling Center with deaf licensed therapists specializing in services to Deaf people, but they are few and far in between. More and more therapists are providing services via videophones or via email, but that’s not the same as face-to-face services.

At 3:07 a.m. on May 6, when Ronnie Craft posted his video, he certainly could have called a hotline using video relay services. Yet would the hotline worker have understood what Ronnie was dealing with? Would the video interpreter have the skills to interpret this call? The scrutiny found within the close-knit deaf community, the language barriers, and all the cultural differences? Probably not.

Let’s go back to people’s sick fascination with online drama, especially suicide. What can we do to change this? I don’t know. Suicide is such a hot button, and can set off a lot of negative reactions from people, deaf or hearing. But get this: suicide is never a joke, and should never be taken lightly. If ever we can get rid of the stigma attached to suicide and stop being such jerks online, maybe we can learn how to help people feeling desolate and hurt. It’s often misstated that people who really want to commit suicide often will do it without calling attention to themselves, so those who post public comments, videos, or letters are simply “attention whores.”

Here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter if someone is trying to get attention by threatening suicide; we need to pay attention every single time. Even if a person is threatening suicide just for the sake of getting attention, that itself shows the person needs help. Anyone threatening suicide — seriously or jokingly — must be taken seriously at all times, and respected.

This article can not be copied, reproduced, or redistributed without the written consent of the author.

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Comments

  1. Mary Ruth Summers says:

    He simply wanted to share his frustration. I admire they do so even though it’s a tragedy. He was mainly expressing himself which could have been a good thing and led to care, however he did this video at 3 am and probably did that on purpose.

  2. Well said…. I know some friends who struggle with depression and they feel very embarrassed about it. We all know that they should not feel embarrassed but it is how people react/treat them play a role in making their lives difficult. A lot of people will say, move on, eat better, exercise more and hang around with positive people. This is not the answer. What we can do is to empathize with them with a lot of compassion and for some people, we have to do it every day with them. It is a lifetime struggle. Social Media does have a lot to contribute to those people with depression and other issues. Social Media is like cancer in many ways yet they can be resourceful. Just wished that people would wake up and become more true and compassionate. I don’t usually comment or anything about things in general and I don’t have time for BS! But, after having watched your video about Ronnie hurts and I feel I should speak my mind. Thank you.

  3. Dale Ritter says:

    I have worked with several suicidals and led them to salvation in Jesus Christ. It always works. Religions do fail, but Jesus Christ never fails. So, come to Jesus. I mean it.

  4. Suicide hotlines hanging up on people is a horrid problem, I’ve experienced it firsthand. Luckily, i wasn’t needing that kind of support personally, and all resolved okay, but, there is no excuse for this to ever happen; people undertrained to the point of hanging up on anyone bothering to call a suicide hotline, unfathomable.
    I followed up on my call, demanded training for the situation and personal follow up with the operator i spoke to.
    Not a bad idea to call and assure the system will respond appropriately, especially if a friend,family member… is struggling.

  5. I never thought people who committed suicide selfish. I understand why they do it. I agree that the deaf community needs help in this area. I totally understand with the interpreter situation – I know all of interpreters in the area and I consider them my friends as well. This means if I need to go counseling I will have to drive over an hour away to receive counseling. I do not have money for that.

  6. Karen Scott says:

    Thank you for writing this. I’ve seen the effects of public shaming online and offline among friends towards others whose emotional/or mental problems they are indifferent to. This form of public shaming is beyond cruelty. And even if one expresses pain or thoughts of suicide, we must take it seriously at all times and try to help. I think as we get older, we become numb to the callousness of social environment that we lose some sense of humanity towards others. We lose sensitivity. We forget we are equally worthy despite our differences and limitations within ourselves that leads one to believe there is no hope and we are alone and the solution is “eternal sleep” from pain. What can be done to change that norm? Impossible. The world is too critical and harsh. Fear of being criticized for helping others. Fear of being ridiculed for being sensitive to others. The list goes on and I ask again–what can be done to change that norm of thinking towards others going through difficulties? This is profound for me–my daughter has ADHD and was ridiculed and criticized by her peers and embarrassingly from my friends (no longer friends with them anymore) for not learning or listening at same level as other kids’ level. Public humiliation is damaging to her self-esteem. I have to work harder to help her build tough skin but nevertheless, it dramatically changed my views towards others while she struggled with depression. She now has peers like herself for support and she fights others” ignorance with our support. She does not express anger and depression for attention. Her feelings are real. Dismissing her feelings or telling her “that’s life” is a cruel form of apathy and it leads to suicide or more emotional problems. Again, how do we change that norm of indifference?

  7. Most much wonderful piece of writing Trudy. I’ve written and deleted six things here so far. This is something I know well. It is one of the 40 Year conversations I have with the world as well as a few specific people. For those who have not experienced this pain I say Bravo. I’m glad. I hope you and no one you know ever will. But it is very likely that if there is someone they will probably not confide, probably not say anything. As with the treatment of any illness the start of the treatment is the apogee of the pain. WIth depression we know this all to well; it is one of the reasons we delay, very commonly until it’s too late. Until we can only see the ‘cure.’ Once and final. The ‘cure.’ The end. So it is incumbent upon those of us who are not mired to reach out to those who are. Not by asking “Are you OK?” (That’s pretty close to being the worst thing you can say.) But by saying “I’m glad you are here. That you are nearby. I’d miss you terribly if you weren’t.” Better yet, show that by some action. Particularly to someone who gets on your nerves. Many so much love to you Ms. Suggs!

    Oh! And there is this really excellent TedX Talk:
    https://youtu.be/D1QoyTmeAYw

  8. Paul Kiel says:

    Thanks for bringing it up. It is no laughing matter. It is serious either way seriously or jokingly. It is very important to pay attention to that individual who may be contemplating suicide or not. I have attempted that enough times as teenager and young adult. I went through difficult times. It was a powerful emotion that overtakes us at the end of rope as the saying goes. Take it or leave it was the option. I was close to death few times from hanging, swallowing turpentine, gassing my car in garage and tried knife wounds to no avail. I am in mid-60s now and I thank everyday for another day in my life. I put myself up in trusting the Man Upstairs for taking charge. Likewise the late Robert Schuller said, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.! This quote is a reminder each day I look back on those unfortunate times. Gladly, I am counting my blessings with what I have. Please be considerate of others in time of their needs. The guilt is a powerful emotion thrown upon us each time someone dies. Lastly, I look forward to the sunrises and sunsets for the remaining days of my life. =0)

  9. suicidal is no laughing matter!

    I am glad you brought attention to the insensitivity and immaturity of our deaf community on their
    understanding of mental health severity.

    What can we do to raise awareness so that one in need will get the compassionate help?

    Awhile ago, I read an article of family who came across a video being shared. To their curiosity, the family members viewed and their stomach was turned that it was their daughter/sister being murdered. It was the first time they find out their child had died. The family asked, why those who took pictures and videos did not help stop this terrible murder?

    At the reaction of our community regarding Ronnie Craft “suicide letter” was laughed. I now fear for my life if I was under attack or being harm will my deaf community come to aid?

  10. I want to bring to an interesting note about this organization, Crisis Text Line. The organization have data scientist on the job analyzing the data. They notice a spike in deaf people using the hotline. Therefore, they want to hiring more deaf people to serve as hotline counselor because of their tacit and understanding see through their deaf lens.

    Unfortunately, no ASL-based hotline. It is all English in text. Not inclusive enough for those deaf people who have low English writing ability. I was wonder if the Crisis Text Line would move into video messaging capability option according to the demand they receive on their ends?

    You can check out this organization. They published the data at large available to public to see the trending the people are struggling mentally.

    http://www.crisistextline.org/

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