Writer's simplistic view of mental illness

To the editor:

While I follow and applaud Deborah Alecson's work on death, dying and bereavement, there are a few points in her Sept. 6 essay in The Eagle on the differences between suicide and medical aid in dying that require further discussion or clarification.

Not all acts of suicide are acts of desperation and self-destruction. Often, people who complete suicide are in their "dying time," having lived for years or the majority of their lives struggling with painful mental illnesses, unable to find treatment that works over the long haul. Sometimes, they have just had enough of living with excruciating mental pain, of multiple medication trials with all of the associated side effects, of years of therapy and doctor appointments, of multiple hospitalizations, or of waking up each morning and realizing that they have to go through another agonizing day with no relief.

Imagine being in the end stages of a terminal physical illness with no pain medication available. We would not expect anyone to suffer through that. When suicide is completed under these circumstances, it too is a deeply compassionate act of relief.

Alecson states that "There are consequences for a patient in therapy to even talk about suicide. The therapist must report him or her to the authorities." A therapist does not have to report a patient who discusses suicidal feelings, thoughts or ideations with him or her to the authorities. If a patient discloses an imminent plan to commit suicide during therapy and cannot be persuaded to go to a safe place such as the hospital, then the therapist will contact the police.


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Just as some people survive cancer and other life-threatening illnesses, while some do not, the same is true of those with mental illnesses. As a society, we never look at a person who has died of a physical illness as "a failure." We should not look at someone who has completed suicide in that way either. Many of those who complete suicide have lived with incredible bravery and courage, just as those who fight physical illnesses have.

As a society, we need to provide the resources and support to adequately understand and treat mental illnesses and to reduce the associated stigma and fear that surrounds them.

Lori Murphy, Dalton