Could My Dad’s Suicide Have Been Prevented?

A father and his young daughter play her favorite game in their front yard. Dad holds the girl’s hands and spins, her feet flying in the air as they go round and round. The world became a blur.

Mitch Mayborn, my Dad

The game never ended for the dad, my dad, as his life continued to spin and spiral out of control until it ended in the early morning hours of January 17, 1991 with a self-inflicted gunshot. Had he spiraled so far down that he had no other choice? No other solution to his pain? Could this horrible event have been prevented?

Intervention, prevention and the belief that suicide is preventable rules the day now. If one can learn and notice the warning signs, and be willing to get involved, a tragedy might be prevented, a life might be saved. Not always, but trying is better than not trying.

This sentiment can be hard to swallow if you tried to intervene and still a suicide happens. A survivor of suicide loss already feels so much guilt, are we piling on more, implying that they should have/could have done more? A survivor does feel an inordinate amount of guilt, and it is possible this will make things worse for them. For me, after therapy, support groups and the passage of time, I have been able to resolve my feelings of guilt.

When the spinning game stops, the child flops  on the ground laughing, feeling the dizziness subside as the minutes pass.

My dad’s dizziness never subsided. Posthumously diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it is suspected that he suffered most of his adult life.

If I could find a time machine to go back to the 1970s, I think my father would have been a good candidate for intervention. It would have involved staring down the shame and stigma of mental illness and alcoholism by not just my dad, but by my entire family. Skeletons loosed from their cozy closets and into the world.

Sure there was talking, or rather yelling, shaming, blaming, accusing and rejection. We had a lack of understanding. We made his problems about us. If he would/could only notice our pain he would stop his destructive behavior. But real intervention? No. Dad fought his demons alone and the best he knew how, but they only got bigger and louder until they drowned out all reason, taking over the mind of a man who seemed to have all the answers when I was growing up.

The idea of and methods for suicide intervention and prevention came around too late for my dad. The stigma of mental illness and suicide is not gone, but it is fading away. Surging forward is the thought that it is part of the human condition and should be treated as such. There is far more understanding and openness surrounding mental illness, but there is still work to be done.

If you know someone who is struggling, I hope that you have the courage, compassion and caring to speak directly to them, ask if they need help, listen and help them get help if they need it.

If you are struggling, I hope that somewhere in your darkness you can find a sliver of light and reach out for help from someone you know, a crisis line in your area, or the National Suicide Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).

24 thoughts on “Could My Dad’s Suicide Have Been Prevented?

  1. Suicide is still such a taboo topic even though we are creating more awareness. The problem I see these days is while the awareness-raising is there, there’s just not enough support available for mental health problems. I’m so sorry your dad’s life spun so badly out of control. You’ve written this piece beautifully and my thoughts are with you. xx


    1. Thank you. You are absolutely right about the lack of support and resources for mental health problems. Raising awareness for suicide and other mental health issues gives us the ability and responsibility to also raise awareness of this lack of support.


  2. Have you ever written for “The Mighty?” If not, I think this piece would find a nice home there. Well done. Well articulated. It’s nice to read someone who is clearly on the other side of what has to be one of the hardest things a human can go through.


  3. I think there still is a stigma with suicide, and I think you’ve been very brave discussing your own loss in such an emotional and factual way. I have felt that guilt. That notion that I could have done more, and it is a lot to put on a person to ask them what they are already screaming on their own mind. Wonderfully written piece, Ellen.


  4. Thank you for sharing. I do think intervention is possible. It’s a long, repetitive road that never ends. And even then, said person might still take their life. The threat itself is so hard to live with, for everyone involved (Both the afflicted person and the people around them.) I can’t help but hope for all of us who struggle with this disease, because someone needs to hope, believe and intervene when the afflicted person cannot. I’m sorry that you have been burdened with guilt. It’s so unfair. I hope you have found ways to manage it.


    1. Thank you, Amy. You are always so open about your own struggles. As for my own guilt, I have completely reconciled that, but I think it is perhaps the #1 thing survivors of suicide struggle with. That and the “why”.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. My deepest condolences for your loss and the pain you must endure. I watched my husband deal with the loss of his best friend in the same way, and it is no easy thing. Your writing brings a lot of great ideas to light and fortunately for those who suffer the world has come a long way to better be able to assist.
    A man who once seemed to have all the answer is a haunting image and I hope you find peace.


    1. Thank you. I may need to write a follow up or a note. I really have found acceptance and peace, and that’s allowed me to write articles like this. It did take me a really long time, and while the sadness will never go away, it changes over time. And I am so sorry for your husband’s loss. I hope that he will be able to come to terms with his grief.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. Talking and writing about suicide in general and my own experiences in particular are getting easier and easier as time goes on, but if I hadn’t done some serious grief healing work, I would never have been able to do it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. As a survivor of bipolar disorder and depression, this piece moved me. I wish he had had the intervention that could have helped him overcome that. Big hugs and sorry for your loss. So very sorry.


  7. Thank you for sharing this. It’s not easy but with this piece you are also helping someone out there who needs help. Stigma around mental illness still very much exists. It’s easy to talk of support but most people are willing to wash hands and stand aside to move on.

    Pains to know that maybe help could have come at the right time. Sorry for your loss. Hugs and love!


  8. This is a really powerful piece. As someone who has struggled like that for a very long time I feel this piece is a beautiful and accurate tribute. Suicide really is the most difficult thing to deal with but it needs to be noticed and talked about. Really well done!


  9. In recent years I see awareness and action for suicide slowly improving, whether it be thousands of people doing push-ups on Facebook posts for the troops lost to suicide, or thoughtful writing like this. Hopefully these efforts save lives… thanks for posting 🙂


  10. Thank you for this wonderful piece. Suicide is something that has touched my family three times. And my husband is Bipolar with OCD and severely depressed. A therapist once told me that Mental Illness is a disease like any other and sometimes it is fatal. I believe she meant to take the blame from the survivors. But I feel very much that speaking up and not hiding the problems are key. You are awesome, really nice article. I am so sorry for the loss to your family.


    1. Thank you. I am so sorry for all your losses. I agree with the therapist, that mental illness is sometimes fatal, but it does not have to be a death sentence. Survivors do feel a lot of blame that’s hard to overcome and they need kindness and support, too.
      I hope that your husband is doing ok, and that you each have your own support besides each other. Thanks for sharing.


  11. You do a great service in your willingness to “speak up” or “speak out” on this difficult subject. No matter if your words are spoken or printed on a screen it is so meaningful for someone like you to contribute to awareness and dialog. I know last week was international suicide prevention awareness day and I thought of you that day and the courage youdemonstrate when you share and what it can mean to others.


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