Posts Tagged ‘suicide’

Aokigahara forest.

On December 31st, YouTube star Logan Paul visited Aokigahara, a forest in Japan that is visited by thousands of tourists, families, and school trips, but has a dark side. Aokigahara is a popular suicide spot, to the point that its nickname is Suicide Forest. The Japanese government has even posted signs throughout the forest encouraging visitors to choose life rather than take their own lives. While there, Paul and his friends came across a hanging body, filmed it, and posted the video on YouTube (the body’s face was blurred out). The video quickly went viral, garnering a lot of negative controversy. Within a day, Paul took down the video, and issued an apology over Twitter, but people are still very upset and there has been a lot of talk online about his actions.

Before I get into the main thrust of what I wanted to talk about with this post. Firstly, I am about to talk about a sensitive subject, and I am going to approach this with as much care and respect as possible. Still, I am an imperfect being and I make mistakes, like everyone. So if I say something that offends you or that you disagree with, please understand that is not what I intended. I’m just trying to make sense of a difficult topic in a world that doesn’t make sense that often, and sometimes I miss things that cause misunderstanding between others and myself without meaning to. So please bear with me as I try and explore a topic that a lot of people have strong opinions about.

Second, there are two things about me I would like to tell you all. One is that I have experienced depression before, and a couple of times it made me think of suicide. Those times when I considered suicide, it was because I had toxic people in my life who made me miserable. I still remember the crushing despair, the feeling that things were never going to get better, and the thought that I could just make it all better by leaving this life and falling into–I don’t know. Something better. It took the extraction of these toxic people in my life, as well as the help of a lot of good friends and family to help me find happiness and hope again.

The Yahrtzeit candle I lit at Sachsenhausen.

The other thing I would like you to know is that back in 2014, I visited Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp twenty-two miles north of Berlin as part of my study-abroad trip. Around thirty-thousand people died at that camp while it was operational. When I arrived, it struck me as a very tranquil place. There was lots of grass and trees, the sun was shining, and there were only a few buildings left from when the camp was operational. But you spend enough time there, and this pall of despair settled over me. It was like the prisoners had felt over seventy years ago had seeped into my very body. An hour there, and it was just hard to even breathe there. I lit a Yahrtzeit candle, a ritual candle in Judaism for memorializing the dead, at a wall used by firing squads. And when I left, I was glad to get out of that anguish-infected place, even as I was glad to have visited a place connected to the history of my people.

Now to the point of why I’m writing this blog post. You see, a month before I went to Sachsenhausen, I wrote a blog post about haunted locations I wanted to visit, and Aokigahara was on that list (even before it became a suicide hotspot, the forest was well-known as a place for hauntings, hence why it was on the list). Given that, I feel like I have a responsibility to talk about this controversy, as well as my desire then, and now, to visit Aokigahara.

Obviously, what Logan Paul did was extremely disrespectful, the equivalent of taking a photo of the corpse at a funeral, or a selfie at Auschwitz or at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial. It shows total disregard for the deceased and their loved ones in favor of quick-lived social media attention, and should be discouraged at every opportunity.

However, there is nothing wrong with wanting to visit Aokigahara in itself (hold your comments, let me finish). As I pointed out above. Aokigahara is visited every year for totally innocent reasons. However, no matter what reason you go to visit the forest, it should be done with respect. Any death is horrible, and suicides are especially tragic. We can never know what is going through someone’s mind or what is happening in their lives, let alone someone dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts. Not unless we’ve been there ourselves, and sometimes not even then. But in every case, it is terrible, and shouldn’t be treated lightly.

With that in mind, anyone who visits the forest should do so with respect and cognizance for what has happened there, the same same way I approached visiting Sachsenhausen. Be respectful of what has happened and is happening there, understand that depression, suicide, and the forest itself has affected a lot of people in horrible ways, and if God forbid you do come across a body, leave it alone and notify the authorities. Only take photographs or footage if it is to help the authorities find the deceased, not for views or likes or whatever. Other photographs can be taken of the forest, or of the tourist attractions there such as the Narusawa Ice Cave and Fugaku Wind Cave, but definitely not of the bodies.

Remember, 1-800-273-TALK.

This is how, if I am ever lucky enough to visit Japan and I end up visiting Aokigahara, I will approach the forest. Not for ghosts, not for likes, and definitely not for suicide, but to pay respects to the dead and to draw attention to the ongoing struggle of suicide the world over. I may even bring a Yahrtzeit candle or some incense to burn, provided I can make sure it won’t cause a forest fire or injuries. Because what happens in this forest is a tragedy, and should be treated as such, no matter who you are or what your background is. Even as I enjoy the beauty of the forest and the tourist sites, I will remember these people, and hope they find rest, even as I hope others find the will to continue on and live.

And if you’re dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts, please know that things do get better. There were times when I thought my life couldn’t get better, but it did, and now, my life is great. And if you keep living, there’s always a chance your life could get better too. Every day is an opportunity for improvement. All it takes is the will to continue on. I support you, I’m there for you, and I hope you take this message to heart.

And again, if I said something wrong or caused offense, I beg your forgiveness. It is not my intention to cause any hurt feelings. I only want to make sense of something horrible and help those in troubled times. Thank you for reading.

If you’re dealing with suicidal thoughts, please also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. The counselors there will help you through this crisis, and help you find the light to fight off the darkness.

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Gene Simmons, frontman of KISS

Since the unfortunate death of Robin William on Monday, there’s been a lot of memorials, tributes, and discussions about the loss of this famous entertainer and his battles with depression, substance abuse, and, as we learned recently, with Parkinson’s disease. While most of the discussion has been rather good and dedicated to healing and trying to understand the tragedy, there’s been a lot of people whose contributions have been less than helpful. After the coroner’s report came out, some news networks chose to focus on the degree of rigor mortis that had set into Williams’ body or how he killed himself rather than have a meaningful discussion on the effects of depression or on the actor’s life (why would we want to know that CSI stuff on a real actor?). Rush Limbaugh said that the reason Williams took his life was that, as a leftist, he was never satisfied with what he had and kept wanting more, and his dissatisfaction led him to ultimately take his life (why does anyone listen to this guy anymore?). And that group of ignoramuses who think they’re Christians but are not, Westboro Baptist, has announced plans to picket Robin Williams’ funeral (do any of these people have day jobs, or do they make and sell crystal meth to finance their protests?). And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that numerous people sent hurtful and abusive tweets to Robin Williams’ daughter Zelda on Twitter, causing her to shut down her account (sometimes I think the Internet just brings out more of the worst in us than the best).

But the worst reaction I’ve heard is from Gene Simmons, frontman from popular band KISS. Mere days after telling immigrants to the United States to “learn goddamn English” on a HuffPost Live interview, Simmons said during an interview with SongFacts.com that he doesn’t “get along with anybody who’s a drug addict and has a dark cloud over their head and sees themselves as a victim.” He went further to say:

Drug addicts and alcoholics are always, “The world is a harsh place.” My mother was in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. I don’t want to hear fuck all about “the world as a harsh place.” She gets up every day, smells the roses and loves life. And for a putz, 20-year-old kid to say, “I’m depressed, I live in Seattle.” Fuck you, then kill yourself.

I never understand, because I always call them on their bluff. I’m the guy who says “Jump!” when there’s a guy on top of a building who says, “That’s it, I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to jump.” Are you kidding? Why are you announcing it? Shut the fuck up, have some dignity and jump! You’ve got the crowd.

Now, I’ve never exactly been a big KISS fan to begin with, but Simmons’ comment have definitely made it very unlikely that I ever will become one. Sure, your representative has sent a message to the HuffPost saying that you regret your comments and that they were spur of the moment, but I’m not sure how many people will be forgiving you any time soon for this. Especially since you didn’t come out and say it yourself but had your representative shoot off an email.

And let me take the time to point out a few things about depression, and other mental disorders that can cause suicidal thoughts and behaviors. First, let’s get one thing in the open right now. Depression is an illness. Sometimes it’s even a chronic illness, like diabetes or cystic fibrosis. Plenty of people forget or don’t realize that depression is an illness, maybe because it’s in the brain and isn’t caused by a virus. Even so, telling people with a chronic illness that they should kill themselves is just wrong. We don’t tell people with MS, Crohns disease, and lupus to kill themselves. Instead we tell them to have hope that treatments will emerge someday and give money to the charities that raise money for research. I don’t see why people with depression have to be treated differently.

Not to mention that if every person with serious depression followed your advice and actually took their lives rather than mope around, we’d have a lot of deaths. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 16 million adults aged 18 and over suffered from at least one major depressive episode in 2012, or 7% of the US population. Some of those people would be people I know. I and many of my friends and family have dealt with depression or know someone who has dealt with it over the years. That’s how prevalent depression is. At one point in my life my own depression was bad enough to make me consider suicide. Should I kill myself then? Or should I work on treatment and making myself better?

And I applaud your mother for being able to continue living and finding meaning in life after her experiences with the Holocaust. It’s not easy to do that. Many survivors suffered from problems afterwards, including depression, paranoia, anxiety, and many other disorders. A few even took their own lives. And they probably felt the same sort of feelings of darkness that the kid in Seattle felt.

That’s the insidious thing about depression. It affects people in different ways, from all walks of life, and it affects so many. And still we have no idea what causes it. There’s plenty of research that points to it to being a biological or genetic disorder, as well as research that points to environmental or social causes. And there’s even evidence to support that a combination of these factors could cause depression. Depression can also be a side effect of other chronic illnesses. Plenty of people with cancer, Parkinson’s, or MS end up developing depression. We don’t entirely understand what causes depression like that either, but we do research and we try to fight back.

And don’t be the person who yells at the person on the ledge to just jump and get it over with. Very rarely is anything ever grained by taking a life, especially one’s own. And people kill themselves for a number of reasons: depression, anxiety, paranoia, schizophrenia. Sometimes they feel they are actually helping people or the world by taking their lives. Other times they feel that they don’t matter in the long run and no one will miss them. And occasionally we can’t understand the reasons why people take their lives. But that does’t mean we should ignore them or egg them on. That’d just be too cruel and would mean humanity isn’t worth savng after all.

Rest in peace, O Captain, My Captain.

So let me do what you obviously couldn’t do, Chaim Witz. I’m not going to tell people with depression or considering taking their lives to either have an attitude adjustment or just get it over with and kill themselves. If you are depressed or considering suicide, talk to a licensed therapist. If you can’t afford one or there’s none in your area, talk to a teacher, counselor, clergymen, or someone you trust who is in a position to help you. Or if you live in the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, where therapists and counselors are standing by to help you.

And I know things won’t always be sunshine and daisies. In fact, even with treatment there are plenty of people who have trouble and feel down or upset. But that doesn’t mean it’s hopeless. Like any illness, you’ve just got to keep working at it and hoping that things will improve. Perhaps then, things will get better.