When generalizations miss their mark. Questioning suicide does not equal unable to accept suicide.

Every now and then you read an opinion piece that make your blood pressure rise. Some are aggravating because of their perceived social injustice or political corruptness. Some are just plain ridiculous. The ones that hurt are the opinions that hit close to home. When someone make derogatory comments about families who doubt the conclusion of suicide as argued by the police and public attorney. It is hard to not take them personally.

Today, December 8th, marks the 5th anniversary of my sister’s death. In a month or so we’ll learn how the public attorney will proceed with Eline’s case after their review.

Allow me to start a short rant.

Far too often the argument is made that people like me, simply cannot accept that their loved took their own lives. Sure you can be disappointed by people who are just happy to be uncritical about the authorities, but being disappointed is not the same as being aggravated. People like Mick van Wely or Hendrik-Jan Korterink, two prominent crime journalists in the Netherlands, have focalized on various occasions that people, like myself, just cannot accept the fact that e.g. Eline committed suicide. They use their authority as a crime journalist to make their point. It is not that a journalist doesn’t take your story seriously. Every journalist has to make up their own mind which story to break and which one to leave on the shelf. That is part of their business. It is not that a journalist lacks a willingness to question the field of their choice. They are human after all, even when they display signs of hypocrisy. I understand that. It is that a journalist already claims to know the crux of a story before (s)he has bothered to read up on it and waves away any claim made by families as proof that they simply cannot accept the suicide of their loved ones. It is hard to consider this disdain as part of an expected repertoire of a professional journalist. This disdain hurts. Maybe it is just me who was raised with the thought that a journalist’s job is to question and criticize the ruling powers. If I have to believe journalists such as Mick van Wely and Hendrik-Jan Korterink, this is not the case. At least when it comes to families questioning suicide by their loved ones because we are told by the police and public attorney that is what happened. That evidence to support the claim by the police and public attorney are often hidden away from families such as myself doesn’t seem to perturb these people. The authorities have spoken. So be it.

Maybe I haven’t talked enough with psychiatrists about suicides and other mental diseases whereas Van Wely and Korterink have. Maybe they are just more up to date about the latest research and clinical findings. For instance, Van Wely interviewed the controversial and very vocal psychiatrist Bram Bakker. I wouldn’t be surprised if both Van Wely and Korterink have talked to various Dutch forensic psychiatrists (short intro), something I haven’t, that is to say I haven’t spoken with Dutch psychiatrists.

This is not to say that they don’t have criticisms about the Dutch legal system. In a recent article Chris Klomp articulated that a new law that would allow victims or families of victims gain substantial rights during the trial to argue how the crime affected their lives and any comments they may have towards the suspect. Klomp argues that the position of the suspect is already very precarious as the entire legal proceedings are set up against him/her. A stance I agree with. Just how the court is physically set-up works against the suspect’s anticipated guilt. Also, another recent law that allows for the public attorney to prosecute a suspect for minor crimes proofs that the public attorney punishes harsher than judges. The police frequently records conversations between lawyers and their clients because they use rooms that are also used to interrogate people. The public has to trust the police that they won’t listen to these recordings. Just to mention a few points where the position of suspects is in distress. Klomp goes further than this. He goes to say that the foundation of the Dutch legal system is at risk with this newly proposed law. Maybe he is right. But this argument stands in contrast to his observation that suspects have to prove their innocence in court, more so than the public attorney has to prove their guilt. This discordance would argue that a change in the legal system would be warranted to guarantee a fair trial. In his book, Richard Korver, a Dutch lawyer, suggests that it might be worth to have a two-step trial. First the guilt is determined and next the punishment. During the latter part the victim could have a more pronounced role, whereas in the first one, it really comes down to did anyone break the law. To me this seems like a very reasonable suggestion.

Let’s not forget that a crime always has three parties: a victim (often known), a perpetrator (if all goes well the suspect at trial), and the law (represented by the public attorney). The former party already suffers from a cultural disdain in the Netherlands. I’m not sure why. Maybe it is a remnant of the calvinistic rhetoric that still strongly resonates. Victims are too frequently asked why they allowed themselves to be in a position where they could become a victim of a crime (think of The Rape of Mr. Smith by Borkenhagen). This leaves the suspect as a soul that needs to be saved. The task for the latter party is to present a case and execute upon conviction. The entire trial is focussed on the alleged crime and the person of the suspect. Ergo psychiatric evaluation are commonly requested. Focussing on the person of the suspect. At the end of his article Klomp does mention that a role for victims would be appropriate, but it is unclear what kind of a role he envisions victims would have. Currently, the law allows for victims of serious crimes to express to the court how the crime impacted their lives. A right not often used.

To suggest that I cannot accept suicides is merely laughable. A few months ago I lost a dear friend to suicide. She hung herself after fighting bipolar disorder for many many years. A battle she lost. She is not the first person I know who has committed suicide. This is not to say that I will go along with statements such as “you have to accept their personal choice to end their lives.” A remark I hear and read far too often. These remarks display a gross naïvity with regards to people suffering from pervasive suicidal thoughts. I don’t have them myself or recall that I ever had them, but I do know people who suffer from such thoughts. They do not think rationally anymore. Ask yourself: how many people with pervasive suicidal thoughts would fight for their lives if their lives were imminently at stake? How many of these suicidal people would avert a car-accident-to-happen by slamming the brakes or steering out of danger such as a crossing deer? How many of these suicidal people would run out of a burning house to save their own lives if they wake up to a sudden fire? How many of these suicidal people would jump back from a cliff when all of a sudden a few rocks under their feet let go and fall in the ravine? How many of these suicidal people would give up their wallet when someone tries to rob them at gunpoint?

If all it is that suicidal people want is to do is die, why would they avert imminent death? It is not a matter of making a personal choice. People who suffer from pervasive suicidal thoughts, for whatever underlying reason, do not think rationally. Treating their final action (a successful suicide attempt) as a rationally made decision is ignorant at every level imaginable.

All in all, mental health still suffers from extremely debilitating stigma, but I’ll get to this subject in a later post. The problem of this debilitating stigma is universally pervasive in our society. That people such as Van Wely and Korterink, who devoted their lives to being a crime journalist, simply accept a judgement call by the police and public attorney as if it was as simple as 1 + 1 = 2. No critical note to found, because people like me are too weak to accept the simple equation presented to us. Eline committed suicide because we, the police, say so. Why would you question us? Because she stabbed herself three time in her heart while at arm’s length of her boyfriend and she subsequently ran out of their house? Of course that is a normal suicide for anyone who is psychotic and the boyfriend said she was psychotic. Again, why question us? Many people, including journalist, far too often don’t. Treating people who do with disdain is not only hurtful, it is showing pride in their own ignorance. Status quo is not to be touched. How dare I.

I’ll leave my rant at this. I’ve probably already said too much. I’ve probably already been too emotional.

2 thoughts on “When generalizations miss their mark. Questioning suicide does not equal unable to accept suicide.

  1. astrid

    Beste Familie,

    Sterkte vandaag en de komende tijd ! Jammer genoeg ben ik een van die mensen die kan voelen wat jullie voelen……
    Ik wil je nog bedanken voor de andere goed geschreven blogs.

    Groet, Astrid ( moeder van Talitha )

    > Op 8 dec. 2014 om 06:21 heeft Melters’ Blog het volgende geschreven:
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    Like

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