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The Other Half of Suicide: Who is the LaShonda Armstrong in Your Life?

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“The only thing she’d say was that she was so alone.”

“Sometimes she’d be holding the baby on her hip, and one child in each hand and trying to walk with her groceries at the same time, and she’d drop the diapers or something on the ground. She couldn’t handle everything at once.”

“She started calling family and apologizing and saying sorry and it was like nobody knew why.”

It isn’t hindsight that tells us why LaShonda Armstrong drove herself and her family into the Hudson River, killing herself and three of her four children. It isn’t the sum of her life as recalled by others. Any one stressful detail of her life put her at risk for depression. One detail in particular doubled her risk for suicide—and no one is talking about it.

The why is answered in the information about recognizing and helping the depressed and suicidal person, which has been spoken, printed, published and repeated thousands of times over. So for the umpteen-thousandth time—plus one:

FACT: No one can predict what a distressed person will do.

That’s the whole point of every book, video, lecture, seminar, brochure, leaflet, pamphlet, and billboard listing the warning signs and risk factors for depression and suicide. No one can predict what the depressed and suicidal person will do.

MYTH: No one can assume a distressed person will do something.

Yes, you can assume the distressed person is going to do something and it won’t be pretty. Assume it and act accordingly. An overwhelmed person’s signs of distress must be taken seriously, be given due attention, and be reported to a help agency when things don’t get better. Don’t leave this person to their own devices.

MYTH: Depressed people are always sad and/or crying.

FACT: Not all depressed people express sadness and/or cry.

Depression is a vacuum on emotion, motivation, and energy. It leaves a person numb, and ironically, in pain. Some rage, others drink heavily or do drugs. Some hold their pain inside, and as a result may suddenly lose or gain a lot of weight, have anxiety or panic attacks or suffer stress cardiomyopathy (Broken Heart Syndrome).

If someone is suddenly saying/doing uncharacteristic things; if someone expresses distress or despair; if someone suddenly begins chronic use of phrases that include (but are not limited to) “I’m overwhelmed,” “Everything’s so crazy,” “My life is spinning out of control,” or “I don’t know how much longer I can go on like this,” assume s/he is in danger of doing something that could harm him/herself and/or others.

If someone suddenly begins to make widespread amends or apologies; if they start giving away possessions, especially of great sentimental value; if they were depressed for a long time but are suddenly cheerful; or if an already distressed person’s mood suddenly worsens, assume s/he is in danger of doing something that could harm him/herself and/or others.

MYTH: Only a professional can help a suicidal person.

FACT: Professionals are not psychic.

Not understanding all the nuances of depression and suicide is not justification for doing nothing. If you know someone is distressed, that’s all you need to know to call for help. Professionals can’t help someone they don’t know is in trouble. If the person is in imminent danger or threatening others, call 911.

MYTH: Depressed people sleep a lot.

FACT: Depressed people sleep a lot if they can.

This single detail of LaShonda Armstrong’s life was one of her most obvious risk factors. She had four children, the youngest not a year old. She’d been a single mother for 10 years, since age 15. Taking nothing else about her life into consideration, this situation alone has chronic sleep deprivation written all over it, and with that, her risk of suicide was doubled.

MYTH: LaShonda’s last Facebook post was “cryptic.”

FACT: “Cryptic” means “mysterious in meaning.”

Only the unfeeling would read “I’m so sorry everyone forgive me please for what I’m gonna do…. This Is It!!!!” and think, “Oh, it’s so mysterious. I wonder what it means.”

MYTH: Preventing a suicide saves a life.

FACT: Preventing a suicide prevents a death. Saving a life takes work.

Author Robert Fulghum said, “There are many ways to lose your life. Death is just one of them.” Suicide is the worst thing a person can do to themselves, but that doesn’t mean self-destructive behavior that doesn’t result in death should be dismissed.

Not liking the answer to the question of why doesn’t mean there isn’t one. LaShonda ran out of ways to keep her life from getting any worse. There is no evidence she knew another way out. Options aren’t instinctual and no one has come forward to say, “I told her about this or that resource.”

Not until LaShonda’s to-do list was too-gone did anyone step forward. Her words and actions were meaningful enough for reporters the day after, but not meaningful enough to call a help agency the day before. This habit of speaking knowledgably about the person after the fact debunks the myth that most suicidal people hide their pain too well for others to see it.

Until someone commits suicide, a lot of people think there’s nothing they can do. After they’re gone, help is no longer an issue. The suicidal person who cannot be stopped is rare. The person who could help but doesn’t is common.

It would’ve been handy if LaShonda had taken to the streets with a megaphone and announced her plans, but that isn’t how it works. Suicidal ideation does not come with skywriting or declaration in 3D Technicolor. It does, however, come with a host of warning signs and risk factors.

Millions suffer with arms as laden and hearts as heavy as LaShonda’s, and they’re just as disregarded. When even our military servicemen and women who are among the most highly regarded members of our society have a hard time catching a preventative break, what chance does someone like LaShonda have?

Unfortunately, we’ve made it clear that the distressed person won’t be news to us until they do something newsworthy.

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About Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse, mother of three and a Wichita, Kansas native. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to Holiday Writes. She hates liver & motivational speakers. She loves science & naps.
  • Dee

    Loved the educational commentary. Depression is REAL and the fallout from it can be devestating.

  • Dee

    I did not know what she posted on Facebook, but if it indeed WAS: “I’m so sorry everyone forgive me please for what I’m gonna do…. This Is It!!!!” all I can say is, “Wow.” The fact that no one saw fit to communicate with her then but will bring it out now is shameful and so sad. …best to have said something BEFORE she drove off a pier. I wonder what is going through the minds of people who saw this Facebook and said and did nothing.

    A myth about suicidal people is that they won’t really do anything. “She’s just talking. She won’t do anything.” I did a speech over a decade ago about suicide and one of the points was that a person who threatens suicide should be taken seriously. And I agree.

    -Dee

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/diana-hartman/ Diana Hartman

    Dee, LaShonda had a lot of caring family, some of whom insisted she let them help her weeks ago. LaShonda declined the help. It is very sad that a call to a crisis center was not made.

  • http://readingreadingandlife.blogspot.com SenoraG

    Wonderful article, very informative and well written. Depression is very real and can hit anyone at anytime. We all need to be on lookout and more importantly get involved. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Anonymous

    22 years ago in Newburgh, I too was (what I now call) A VICTIM OF TEEN PREGNANCY giving birth at 15 yrs.old. The father was 29 at that time. I had Post Partum Depression AND he admitted he was cheating a week after my daughter was born. He said he was with an older woman cause she was sexy, and that she could do this and that. I was soooo depressed even all my hair just fell out outta nowhere. When my daughter cried, I cried and my mother and sister used to laugh at me saying I was just crazy. I couldn’t take anything anymore. Very often thinking of what I could do to prove to everybody I was really sad, something crazy enough to hurt the father too. With the grace of God, I got the phone book and called a #. It was the year 1989 and her name was Susan..the only reason we are still here today. I can only imagine LaShanda’s pain with 4 kids and emotionally abusive partner. Cause when something happens everybody says how supportive they were..but were they really. Yes people can really do A WHOLE LOT MORE! Too often ppl think you’re just talking. R.I.P LaShanda and children.

  • Felicia Grant

    I’ve definitely learned a great deal on this site. I’m thinking that although LaShanda had a loving family, due to the depth of her depression, it’s possible that what she needed was far greater than what they would’ve been able to do. Then, since her youngest was only 11 mos. (at the time) she may have had Post Partum Depression, which ALONE can take you to a breaking point, then all the other stress and pain on top of that. I can see how she felt alone. My heart goes out to her son La’Shaun and the Armstrong family: May God guide you every step of the way.

  • Panic Attacks

    I’m a little bit late with my comment, but I was touched by this story.

    Trough my work (helping people with panic attacks) I’ve had the luck to steer people away from commiting to this act, but it’s not always easy.

    Some people indeed feel so alone, and when they try to talk about it to others, they feel as if they aren’t understood. ‘Other people’ will quite often react with: it’s just in your head, just get over it and all will be fine.

    But that is not enough. And like you say in the article, you cannot see who is really depressed and who isn’t.

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