June 18, 2019

Springtime Sadness

“It’s a popular and perhaps dangerous belief, reinforced by that inescapable Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” that winter is the peak season for suicide. Yet experts have known since the late 1800s that it’s not true: More people take their own lives in the spring months than in other times of the year. No definitive explanations have emerged for why this is so.

I can offer an unscientific one from my own experience. For those who are trapped in despair, spring can feel like an affront, the gulf between outer and inner worlds too wide to cross. The poet Edna St. Vincent Millay hinted as much in her poem “Spring,” which asks, “To what purpose, April, do you return again?” Rejecting the season’s bright optimism, the poem concludes: “It is not enough that yearly, down this hill, / April / Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.” What has happened to people for whom the beauty of spring, and the coming pleasures of summer, offer no consolation?

More than 30 years ago, I tried to end my life at this time of year. The previous December my first child, a girl named Anna, died two days after she was born. Her fatal heart defect came as a terrible shock. Haunted by a line from Samuel Beckett — “They give birth astride of a grave” — I entered a state of deepening depression that went unrecognized because it looked so much like the grief that would be normal under the circumstances. I was grieving, of course, but as the weeks passed I realized that I had also completely lost the knack for staying alive.”

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