'It's Not a Choice:' Trying to Understand Suicide

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June 8, 2018 — Mike Williams was a pastor who was boundlessly compassionate to those who knew him. He loved being outdoors. He was smart enough to teach himself computer programming. “He was an amazing man,” says his daughter, Anna Ruth Williams of Atlanta.

He also killed himself at the age of 55.

In coming to terms with his death, there’s one question Anna Ruth has come to loathe above all others: “Why do you think he did it?” She once walked out on a date who asked her that.

“It’s not a choice. When you live in an orbit of despair, it’s not a choice to you. You have no way out. It’s like your final days of cancer. You have no choice. It is eating your body. You are going to pass, right?
The only choice I think you do have to make is to reach out for help,” she says.

Anna Ruth Williams’ father, Mike, died of suicide when he was 55.

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Asking “why,” she explains, assumes that there was a single cause, when in reality, people die by suicide for complicated reasons.

Her dad, she says, had several important risk factors for suicide.

He had a chronic health condition — type 1 diabetes. People with serious or chronic health and mental health problems, those who have limited access to health care, and people struggling with addiction or substance abuse or who are having trouble sleeping have a higher chance of dying by suicide.

Mike Williams was also in the midst of a life transition. He had recently left a church in Denver to accept a post with another congregation in Tennessee. People going through stressful life events — like relationship problems, job loss, or financial or school difficulties — have a higher chance of death from suicide. Other things in the environment increase the risk, too, including access to lethal means — like drugs or guns — and exposure to suicides in the news or in the community.

With the recent deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain in the news this week, health professionals are worried others could follow suit. Studies have shown that the suicide rate rises after intense news coverage of these deaths.

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