I have been burdened this week with the news out of Vancouver regarding the disappearance of actor Andrew Koenig, 41, who among other things, played the role of “Boner” in the 80’s sitcom “Growing Pains” on ABC.
His family apparently became alarmed when he did not board a flight from Vancouver to Los Angeles. As the family made contacts to his friends, they became even more alarmed to find that on top of a particularly despondent-sounding letter to them, Andrew had also sold or given away many of his possessions.
Today the family’s worst fears were confirmed when Andrew’s body was found in his beloved Stanley Park.
Andrew, like many people in our society, suffered from depression. He had reportedly stopped taking his medication a year or so ago. Andrew’s decision to take his life was clearly not a hasty choice. The path of his recent days was strewn with warning signs.
Suicide is described so often as “a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” yet it is a decision made by more than 33,000 Americans each year. In 2007, suicide was the third leading cause of death among people age 15-24. Overall in the U.S., suicide is the 11th leading cause of death, with one suicide every sixteen minutes — and an attempt almost every minute. (More facts and figures here.)
I often hear people say that they could not imagine taking their own life. However, I contend that suicidal thoughts are not strangers to most people. Thankfully the majority of suicidal thoughts can be characterized as fleeting — come and go. But when those thoughts begin to come and stay — even take root — then trouble is on the horizon.
Here are some of the thoughts that fuel suicidal behavior:
- “No one will miss me when I’m gone.”
- “Life is just not worth living.”
- “I’m just a screw-up.”
- “I’m just tired of fighting.”
I am certainly no stranger to suicidal thoughts. I remember those come-and-go thoughts when I was in ninth grade. Fortunately, the come-and-stay thoughts have never been a part of my life. But I think a lot of that has to do with my sense of connectedness to family and friends.
It’s no wonder that so many people consider suicide. Our technologically connected society has in many ways reduced friendship to a collection of tweets and status updates . . . which might help a person feel connected but does very little to speak to a hurting heart.
In a day and age marked by economic strife and increasing pressure on many fronts, I expect that we will see a rise in suicides over the next several years. Keep in mind though that there is no such thing as a ‘successful’ suicide attempt.
Andrew Koenig’s mother, Judith, said, “In his pain, he didn’t realize help was available to him.”
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please don’t think you are all alone. Help is available. If you know someone who may be considering suicide, by all means talk with them. One thing is for sure: talking about it will not give them the idea. Your concern might just be the reminder they need that someone truly does care.
Just think . . . in the time it has taken you to read this article, as many as three people have tried to kill themselves. You can make a difference to someone who has lost hope. As you go through life, take time to listen to others. Take time to be a friend. Take time to care.