I just read online that the death of singer Marie Osmond’s son Michael Blosil was a suicide. This comes on the heels of the suicide of Andrew Koenig, son of Star Trek actor Walter Koenig. Andrew’s body was found in a Vancouver park on February 25, 2010. He’d been missing since Valentine’s Day. I find myself wondering if Blosil was inspired to act on his depression because another celebrity’s offspring did–a copycat.
Heathcote Community, where I live, recently endured a traumatic event, in which a person living here made a half-hearted suicide attempt. Clearly in this case, we could all tell it was a cry for help, not a serious try. And we directed the person into counseling. I was inspired to start a discussion with long-time members of several Communities about how we support each other through tough times and mental illness, and how much an Intentional Community can handle.
Suicide in Community is rare, but it does happen. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues in Community probably parallel the general public. Intentional Community is not Utopia, and although we form close relationships, Community can also be isolating, especially in rural settings. And when we arrive in Community, we bring our chemical makeup and all our baggage with us.
Sadly, I’ve met many seekers of Community who believe living in a tribal, cooperative setting will somehow change this for them, and it won’t. Mental health is personal growth work that must be done by each of us, whether we live in Community or not. In our IC’s, we can ask for support. And each IC has to determine whether it can be a container for what a member needs.
As that ongoing discussion evolves, I find myself realizing that, although I may not be able to dissuade a friend from suicide, if s/he is determined, I can reach out and check in regularly with the people in my life, let them hear from me that I care about them, encourage them to avail themselves of professional help and offer the support I can handle.
This is a little personal. If you search back over the HCD posts, you’ll see a period from September 19, 2009 to January 3, 2010 when I didn’t post. I was in a deep depression. My tendency was to isolate but my friends intervened, inviting me out, getting me traveling and working, telling me how they felt about me, and of course, listening to me whine. If you read posts from January, as I started to write again, you can get a sense that I was pulling myself out. I have also tended to give a clue that I’m down on my Facebook profile. When I replace the profile picture of me with the one of the lonely folding chair in the woods, it’s bad.
But not everyone sends signals. I don’t want to set myself up to believe that I’m going to cure every friend of depression by engaging them. The person who seriously wants to die will succeed, I imagine. But if I reach out, I might learn a friend’s folding-chair-in-the-woods signals.
Celebrity suicides are often followed by a rash of copycats. As these headlines crest and fade, who do you know who’s dealing with depression, anxiety or other stress? I invite you to reach out and make yourself available. Know your limits, of course, and urge her/him to get more experienced help if you’re in over your head. I feel like this post is so Pollyanna, and doesn’t take into account the subtleties of every situation. But I don’t care. Pick up the phone and check in.
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