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In the wake of a suicide at Yale…

Elaine Ellis Thomas, a Yale Divinity student, writes beautifully about the suicide of her son two years ago.

Suicide brings on a very particular and peculiar kind of grief. The guilt and second-guessing and pure horror that someone could end one’s own life cause excruciating pain for family and friends. I have learned more about this than I care to know in the time since Seth died. Although we still know very little about John Miller’s tragic passing, I thought it might be helpful to share some of that hard-earned knowledge.

You could not have prevented it. Even if you think that you could have on that particular occasion, there is no guarantee that it would not have happened some other time. If you are wondering why you didn’t go with John or ask him to come over if he seemed out of sorts, don’t blame yourself. Seth’s roommate was in an adjoining room when he died. Having someone nearby made no difference at all.

If you’re trying to make rational sense of how something like this could happen to someone with such talent and such a bright future, you really can’t think about it rationally — there is no rational explanation. Normal people, those who are not sick in some way, do not kill themselves. Our most basic human instinct is for survival, so to cause one’s own demise subverts that in ways our healthy intellects can’t imagine.

If you’re thinking that John made a choice to end his life, I can’t agree. Whatever was tormenting him — depression, mental illness, some event that threw his mental wiring off kilter — that is what took him. As I said before, it isn’t a rational choice. Suicides are committed by people driven by a distorted mental and emotional reality. It isn’t really a choice.

Thursday’s suicide – John Miller, a dedicated musician and teacher – had all the marks of impulsivity and enigma that Thomas talks about. He jumped from an open window in a music department building.

An acquaintance describes Miller as a “‘workaholic’ who would log 18-hour days, only to arrive at the office again the next day at 6 a.m.

A note from the Yale Daily News reviews the vexed business of covering these stories – in particular, the business of trying to avoid copycat suicides.

Margaret Soltan, September 19, 2011 9:51AM
Posted in: STUDENTS

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7 Responses to “In the wake of a suicide at Yale…”

  1. dmf Says:

    never sure what the public value is of such news reports.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    A violent death on a major university campus is a news story, dmf.

  3. dmf Says:

    but why? what is the public “takeaway” from such an event? not an attack I’m really wondering.

  4. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Well, suicide is arguably a public health crisis in this country, especially among young people (Miller was 29). People need to know what’s happening, where it’s happening, how it’s happening.

    These are also traumatic events for the communities in which they take place. It’s not uncommon for universities, after such an event, to hold a school-wide discussion about causes, prevention, etc.

  5. dmf Says:

    I see, the truth is that we know next to nothing about suicide (if we can say there is any one such ‘thing’) in terms of causes/prevention, but perhaps that is in and of itself worth public exposure/conversation. My experience has been that the press is awful about reporting what we don’t know in science.
    Reporting on public places/events of mourning seems to be a separate matter from reporting on the event itself.

  6. University Diaries » “[He] opposed all malicious gossip, stopping all such gossipers with a trademark Tommy line — ‘forgive me, but it’s hard to be a human.’” Says:

    […] she’s done a lot of thinking and reading and writing about the act, and these words by Elaine Ellis Thomas (her son Seth killed himself) convey a good deal of what UD has concluded about […]

  7. University Diaries » Another campus suicide cluster. Says:

    […] mental wiring off kilter — that is what took him. As I said before, it isn’t a rational choice. Suicides are committed by people driven by a distorted mental and emotional reality. It isn’t really a […]

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