Saturday, August 27, 2011

Mike Flanagan's Suicide: a Significant Asterisk to an Otherwise Fine Man's Life

--Richard E. Vatz

Please do not read this article if you are searching for undiluted praise of Mike Flanagan, the great former Baltimore Orioles pitcher who committed suicide. This short essay will avoid cuteness and rhetorical flourishes and make but one clear argument:

A healthy, relatively young person who kills himself or herself has committed an unethical act, truly unforgivable.

This writer has experienced a suicide in his extended family perpetrated by a bright young person. His parents, brother and other loved ones never stopped blaming themselves and never stopped suffering from the act. From that moment on, that was their definition: the family whose child killed himself.

Everyone wants to honor Mr. Flanagan, whose greatness as a ballplayer and whose personality brought great joy and warmth to everyone near him as well as to those who knew him only as a great celebrity. This writer himself gained much through those identifications and memories.

No more.

Life is extremely difficult for just about everyone and particularly at times when things seem to all go negative. Those days and even years are also terribly tough for those who care about us.

To end that life ends the problems for one who commits suicide but exacerbates them substantially for those who survive the decedent. This horror for the survivors is not significantly mitigated by an explanation left for the world to read or hear, but in this case even that gesture was apparently rejected.

Mike Flanagan: incredible competitor who pitched through pain and won 141 games and was a Cy Young Award winner.

Mike Flanagan: not much of a competitor when dealing with humbling problems that he could make worse for the people who loved him.

Suicide is all about human agency -- the conscious choice to end one's life.

The real victims of suicide are the families, loved ones and friends of the one who takes his or her own life. With public figures, the victimage numbers increase exponentially.

Prof. Vatz teaches at Towson University and is author of the just released The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt, 2012)


flashtrum said...

Mr. Vatz -

Please explain your qualifications in declaring Mr. Flanagan a healthy individual. Can you prove he wasn't depressed or otherwise mentally ill, yet somehow was able to dupe enough people so he could continue to work and lead some sort of life?
For the record, I had a close relative take their life as well. My family all went through periods of anger and guilt. However, we did come to the conclusion that our grandfather was seriously depressed and under the influence when he made his decision. Was this a conscious, clear choice made by an individual with the mental capacity to understand the ramifications of his actions?
Depression is not something you simply "snap out of". It is a serious disease. To suggest that Mr. Flanagan and others like him take the easy way out have never experienced the depths of internal pain and anguish that depression brings. You say he made a conscious choice. I say in his condition his judgement was clouded at best.

JohnB said...

I have had friends who have committed suicide and have to agree with Mr.Vatz. I have always felt that they committed a trully selfish act with no regard to the ones they left behind. I never attended their funerals nor have I ever visited their graves. They took the easy way out and for that I will never forgive them.

Paula said...

Professor Vatz,
Depression, ineffective coping skills, lack of or intense other-oriented awareness--these three factors generally serve to explain why an individual would take one's own life. Depression can distort one's thinking process. How? A depressed person oftentimes fails to see the healthy options that are available to help themselves, or they are so anxiety-ridden that they just cannot make the choices that would help them, leaving them feeling trapped--with that feeling of no-way-out of the depression. So oftentimes, depressed people lack effective coping skills or are immobilized by anxiety to act when life gets "rough and tough". They are like a mechanically broken auto that just cannot move.
Additionally, oftentimes when one is in a state of deep depression, a person generally is not other-oriented; they are so burdened with coping on a daily basis to get through their life; it becomes fulltime work for them, and it's painfully difficult and energy draining; whereby, their fulltime, daily, personal coping leaves little room for conscious consideration and empathy for others.
And yet, some depressed people do see the painful effects that their presence/existence has on their family, and that fact can be even more debilitating to them. So such a deeply depressed person will weigh that point in terms of a question: How would my family fair if I wasn't here, compared to being here in their life in such a depressed and burdensome state? Perhaps Mr. Flanagan had struggled with that Q and decided that his family would be better off without his presence, thinking that they would get over the tragedy with time. Perhaps it was not a decision that he made for himself, but rather a decision he made for his family. P. Tilley