"…false stereotyping takes place in the area of mental illness and suicide. There is no question that there still is some stigma attached to mental illness and suicide. People can draw false conclusions regarding mental illness and suicide. For example, some people can conclude that suicides occur in families where there is a lot of turmoil and severe dysfunction. Nothing could be further from the truth. From my experience suicides occur in very normal families where there is mental illness. This does not make this family “odd” or “bad” or “different.” Such a family had the misfortune of having one of their own succumb to a very deadly illness. There is nothing “wrong” with this family. Most families have illnesses that are part of the genetic makeup of the family. In families where there is mental illness or suicide the results are the same as with other illnesses --- sometimes the illness results in death and sometimes the illness results in creating havoc in the family. It is very important that he public not be allowed to stereotype families where there are incidents of mental illness or suicide. To allow this to happen is to erroneously continue the stigma that is attached to these two incidents.
The only way that this stereotyping will decrease is to educate people about suicide and mental illness. This means overcoming any embarrassment about suicide or the fact that mental illness is part of a genetic makeup of one’s family. It takes courage to stand up and be counted among those who have had the misfortune of having a family member complete suicide. The worst thing that could happen is to hide the fact or pretend that it was not a suicide. As long as incidents of suicide are happen then the stereotyping will continue and people will carry on with false impressions and conclusions about suicide and mental illness.
People who suffer from mental illness are often characterized as useless or incapable of making any positive contributions to society. This is one of the most egregious examples of misinformation. Some of our great artists have suffered from various forms of mental illness. People like Van Gogh, Lautrec and Hemmingway all suffered from mental illness. This is just to name a few. There are others who made great contributions to the world who suffered from some form of mental illness. In our current times people like Mike Douglas and William Styron come to mind. The more that survivors can inform people about the valuable contributions that some mentally ill people have made to our world the sooner will the negative stereotyping cease."
Except from Obelisk Newsletter March 2007
Father Rubey is the founder of the Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide Program (LOSS) of Catholic Charities of the Archdioses of Chicago. His monthly column appears in the Obelisk Newsletter, providing comfort to hundreds survivors.