When You Have Kids, You Give Up the Right to Kill Yourself

If you have kids, you forfeit the right to kill yourself.

If you think I’m being too harsh – well that’s the point. And believe me, I can hear your criticisms flying in before you’ve even smashed them angrily into your keyboards.

“But Jamie, you don’t understand. Depression is a disease. You haven’t had to deal with this type of mental illness, or drug addition, or financial instability, or anxiety…”

You’re right, I haven’t. And I have deep empathy for those battling with inner demons. But that’s the deal with problems – no two people ever have the exact same experience. Other people might be going through similar issues but your specific set is yours and yours alone. Writ large in the dark of the night when you lie alone in bed trying desperately to fall asleep.

I get it. And if you think anyone is going through this journey problem-free, then “naïveté” should be on your own problem list.

But here’s the thing about this recent rash of celebrity suicides – in each case, there are children involved. And while I know I can’t comprehend the depths of someone else’s depression, I also know there’s a documented phenomena that I believe we’re collectively experiencing called suicide contagion.

Suicide Contagion

This is where someone who is at risk feels empowered or even encouraged by others (especially celebrities), to follow their lead. Sometimes it’s easier to just follow the lemming in front of you off the cliff, then it is to stop, question what’s going on, and get the help you need to change your mind.

Why? Sometimes it’s shame, sometimes guilt – you never know who is struggling with dark thoughts they’re afraid to utter aloud for fear that the rest of society will see their “mask of sanity starting to slip.”

I have felt it myself. But, and this is where I might sound too harsh again, this is also when it’s more important than ever to stop thinking of yourself and focus on your kids.

More than any generation that has come before, we are surrounded by inventions, gadgets, and tools that are supposed to make life easier. Sometimes I feel like we’re all sitting in first class and complaining like we’re back in coach.

I’m not taking away from the seriousness of mental health issues but I also want to tell every parent I know the same thing: it’s time to get your shit together. 

Once you have kids, your life is theirs. That’s it. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but that’s what you sign up for. Your children are your job 24/7. You don’t get to clock out ahead of time.

“Make it work!”

Like Anthony Bourdain, I became a dad at 50. Maybe not the smartest choice, or maybe it’s pure genius, the jury is still out.

But I can tell you this, far from wanting to check out early, I’m trying my damnedest to live forever. And trust me, I have PLENTY of demons. My close friends will tell you that. I’ve talked about them on stage before, and the fact that I’m a comic should tell you up front that something is askew in my make up.

When I was younger, I was a lunatic. I was the guy who would get drunk in college and hang out the fifth story window by one arm AS A JOKE. Not quite so funny looking back. Maybe it’s why I’m so tolerant these days, because to be honest, I’ve done pretty much everything that can kill you.

The day I had kids, that all changed forever.

Now, I do a joke where I ask: how long do I have to live to not screw up my kids? It’s an honest question. I’m 50 years older than my youngest. And I obviously can’t promise I’ll be around to see her become an adult, but I would never do anything to hasten my demise.

In fact, right after her birth, I went to the premiere of “The Interview” – that movie with James Franco where they try to assassinate Kim Jong Un.

I was sitting in the theatre when my friend started telling me the North Koreans had made a terrorist threat against the movie. He assured me it would never happen, but that there had been talk of a bombing.

My response was immediate: “We’ve got to get our of here!”

He assured me it was a vacant threat. One in a million.

“I don’t care if it’s one in a jillion, I’ve got to get out of this theatre, NOW. I have a new baby and I can’t have that kid go to high school one day and have to tell other kids that her Dad blew up at a Seth Rogen film!”

Was that paranoid? Maybe. But I helped bring them into this world. Sure, my wife did almost all of the work. But I chipped in. And now, they are my responsibility. And to fully accept my responsibility, I NEED TO BE HERE.

Which brings me to my biggest point…

Stop judging your existence by others.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, everyone else is full of shit. If everyone’s life was exactly like their social media accounts, we’d all be superstars. We’re not. Want to know which one of your friends is getting divorced next? It’s the ones who say they don’t fight. Raising kids is really hard. No one knows what they’re doing. We’re all hanging on by a thread. But as long as you get up everyday, and do the best you can, then you’re being a good parent. And the most important part of that is BEING THERE.

So, whatever you need to do to get your shit together, DO IT! There’s no shame in asking for help (in fact, it’s brave) – and help is out there. Rub some dirt on it. Walk it off. Get back on the horse. Take a trip to a children’s hospital. Stop by a homeless shelter. Google “Medal of Honor” Recipients. Do whatever you need to pull your head out of your ass because you’re a parent and your life is not yours anymore. It belongs to your kids and they need you.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Jamie Kaler

Jamie Kaler

An accomplished actor, comic, host, voice-over artist, and radio personality, Jamie Kaler is best known for his starring role as “Mike” on the hit TBS show, My Boys. His prolific acting career includes appearances on Friends, Will and Grace, How I Met Your Mother, Parenthood, and King of Queens, as well as numerous films and over 150 commercials. He is currently the host of America: Facts vs. Fiction on the American Heroes Channel, which is entering it’s third season, and has his own radio show on SiriusXM named Kaler. As a voice-over artist he is the voice of the "Bloopers Host” on the cult classic Robot Chicken and has been the national spokesperson for Carnival Cruise Lines.

Originally from New Hampshire, Jamie graduated from Boston University on an NROTC scholarship and served as an officer in the U.S. Navy before beginning his career as a performer. As a comedian he was one of the new faces at the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal and has appeared on Chelsea Lately, The Late Late Show, Live at Gotham, Mock-pocalypse, and World’s Dumbest.

When not working, he is obeying every command of his wife, Kate, and two daughters, Hannah and Claire.

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  • Jamie, I think you’re comments are well intentioned, but they demonstrate a lack of understanding when it comes to major depression and suicide. You are right when you say “I know I can’t comprehend the depths of someone else’s depression”. Then understand that saying “it’s time to get your shit together.”, might not be that helpful. It may be harmful. It sounds like something an angry parent would say to their disobedient teenager. I have a loving family, supportive friends, doctors and therapists who try to help, yet I continue to have urgent suicidal ideation. It’s debilitating. I didn’t always, but life events have broken me. The profound sadness is indescribable. 24/7 of torture. Thanks for trying. It’s important.

    For anyone triggered by my comments, please know, I understand where you are coming from. Please reach out for help.

    For you Jamie, I would encourage you to try and help others who are suffering, as we can use all the help we can get. Anything other than what’s on the Internet today could be life saving. I’m so tired of reading about: contracts for life, or going for a walk, or taking up a hobby, or that I’m here for a reason, etc, etc…. something new, something hopeful, is the challenge I put forward to you.

  • Yes we forfeit that right and I hate it so much I sometimes wish they were never born even though I love them so much.

  • You just saved my life. I had already written my suicide note for the first time in many years. I was raped as a child for many years. I can’t say I inherited mental illness although my grandfather killed himself and so did my uncle through my dad’s side and my mother’s side suffered with mental issues but i guess it was inevitable. I googled suicide and how it affects your kids. I’ve always thought of the impact this will have on my children but I’m done fighting. Yet I stumbled upon your info. I’ve always been invincible but for once I felt like I wasn’t alone. Thank you for writing this. I was ready to drive to the Delaware bridge until I read this article. Thank you for being real and this is not a cliche. You just saved my life.

  • I know this exactly the response you are expecting from your “harsh” home truths.

    “I’m not taking away from the seriousness of mental health issues” (yes you are!) but I also want to tell every parent I know the same thing: it’s time to get your shit together. (if it was that simple we’d all have our shit together).

    Don’t get me wrong – I whole-heartedly agree with you. I can because I am currently thinking rationally. There are photos of my amazing children on my desk as I type this. How could anyone ever think of leaving their children in such a horrific and traumatic way!?

    When I’m in the grip of deep, dark, depression I am not thinking rationally. I can’t get my shit together. Photos of my children look like strangers to me. My family and friends, my home, my work, my world seem unreal to me. At those times I am not my whole self, just a wounded, twisted aspect of myself and it’s almost impossible to pass through those times.

    So while I agree with your general point of view, telling people with mental illness of any kind to get there shit together is at best unhelpful and at worst dangerous and dismissive. Stop having cancer. Stop losing your legs in a car accident etc etc…

  • Thank you Jamie and the other dads that posted. I am a 52 year old dad of three pre-teen children. Although I have been receiving mental health care for major depression, due to my profession and the public stigma surrounding this topic, I have been fighting the suicide demons (alone) for a couple years now. I am on my way to Jamie’s FB page. Again, thank you all.

    • Great to hear. I took a lot of heat for this post. It was very polarizing, but I left it up because it’s how I truly felt and I did have people reach out with how it helped them. It’s a crazy world these days, and I do think the responsibility of children can sometimes take us out of our own problems and help us focus on someone else. Keep up the fight and come over to the Facebook Dadlands group. It’s a bunch of guys helping each other through the tough times.

      • Thanks Jamie for the effort. I am no judge but I’m sure some people were forced to have second thoughts after reading your article. The message that you shared that I would like to highlight is that one has to get help. If the first person you meet does not do a good job in your case, you need to seek out someone else. Psychiatry and Psychology are not very straightforward fields.

        Keep tryimg different psychiatrists and psychologists (they sometimes work as a team) and you may find some combination that can help you eventually.

        I am on that path and not having access to my children is extremely difficult for me. Each person has a unique situation to deal with. There is a limit to sharing your problems with friends. Sympathy, empathy and their solutions may only worsen things. Get professional help. There also, of you feel that it isn’t helping, get another doctor, but don’t give up.

  • Thank YOU!!! I’m up right NOW!!! You’re the man keep being blunt and honest you just helped me TREMENDOUSLY!

    • Thanks for the comment. I’m glad to hear the piece helped. Be sure to come over the Dadlands group of Facebook. It’ a huge support group of guys. No wives allowed. And the more we all chat, the more we realize we’re all going through the same difficulties. It’s tough times raising kids these days. Stay the course!

  • You’re right about a lot of what you’ve said, but on the other hand, half of what you said makes it obvious that you can’t relate which instantly turns half of the people who come to this page right back away from it before they read anything significant. Which is doing the opposite of helping for a lot of people. In a ridiculously high number of cases, it doesn’t matter what you “signed up for” , or who you’ll leave behind, or how young they are, or if they did understand, or even if you live them more that anyone has ever loved anyone throughout the existence of human beings. The truth is , being legitimately suicidal doesn’t mean you don’t care or that you’re selfish or inconsiderate, or that you won’t accept the responsibility and role of a parent or anything along those lines. Being legitimately suicidal means that you have times when you can control your thoughts, feelings, and actions, and you have times when you can’t. When things are good and you can maintain control you never think for a second about leaving your babies, your wife, family, the world and your dreams. That would be completely ridiculous and unacceptable to you let alone an option, that is, when things are good. When things are bad though, there is no changing your mind about doing it, it’s just a matter when, where, and how. When things are bad none of the reasons you have to live and none of what you love exists anymore, and if it does it’s impossible to see it as anything other than just another thing that exists in a world that is nowhere you can handle being. Sometimes it even gets to the point that your only option for stopping yourself is digging so deep into the “when where and how” that you don’t actually do it because you think about it so much that you don’t get a chance to act upon the urge, until some rare magical occurrence is able to redirect your single tracked train of thought back into an optimistic direction, which can last for months or longer. So it’s not about “getting your shit together” or ” you gave up the right to do it”, it’s about doing everything you possibly can to reap the joy of your best moments hoping it’s enough to alter your level of spiritual damage enough to keep those moments for greater amounts of time. I mean to be honest it seems like you just think people actually want to be suicidal as if it’s some selfish means to a relief of an end. The reality of it is that contrary to what anybody wants to believe about suicidal people, it’s not human nature to want to die, and they don’t want to. What they want is for great numbers of the people around them to be intelligent enough to express true mutual understanding so they have an environment in which they can find more easily those positive moments they love, like time with their kids for instance. They want to find more effective, less exhausting ways to get rid of the burden of suicidal thought and feeling.
    Suicidal Father of 3 kids whom I wish to never leave.

    • Thanks for taking the time to respond. I’m so sorry you’re dealing with that. That post was quite a while ago and to be honest, I’ve learned so much from posting it. I can tell you that I wrote it in a very frustrated place where Chris Cornell and then Chester Bennington killed themselves. I was so upset and frustrated. I saw these children who had to live with this grief and I spoke from my heart. Obviously, I know it’s deeper than a simple, “Don’t do that”, but I can tell you, that like all of my posts, it came from a place of love. A hope that we could stop this terrible occurrence. A place of trying to help. As a veteran, and a comic, I’ve had numerous people in my circles commit suicide. I’ve donated my time and performed for numerous different charities to help people who are stricken with depression. It was the cluster effect that I was most upset about. But my reasoning is neither here nor there. My words speak for themselves. I heard from so many different people and when the post was first put up, I was torn apart by some people on line. To give people a chance to respond, I posted each and every response, no matter how seething it was towards me. I thought it was a worthwhile conversation to have. I will approve your post and hopefully it will help others who read this as well. If you want to write something up to speak to others who may be dealing with a similar situation from a point of experience, I would be glad to post and share with others on all my different pages. I’m a big fan of talking about things in public. I’m from an Irish Catholic family that never shared it’s problems out loud. And that doesn’t help anybody. While my post may seem flippant and non-caring, that’s only in the weakness of my writing. It comes from a place of sincerely trying to help. If you have the time, please put together a blog that would explain your situation and what you’re doing to overcome it. It really could be helpful to so many others. Again, thanks for taking the time to share your experience with me. And seriously, please don’t leave those kids. They need you. – Jamie Kaler

    • Totally agree, personally think you are lacking the true experience of what it means to be suicidal untill you understand I think this post is just a load of rubbish, yes it’s your opinion but as I read it all it did was make me angry because you honestly just have no clue, personally find the post embarrassing of the lack of knowledge..

    • I loved this reply… I am a mom of 3 and looking online for something to help me… I over the moon happy yesterday … But today I was in bed all day barley made it out to make lunch and dinner for my family… Now I sit here while everyone is sleeping, secretly crying my eyes out for God only know the reason… I want to get my shit together… I really do!! Most of the time I do… I get my kids off to school go to my full time job come home spend some time with the family and boom it’s bedtime and my head goes wild… Overthinking, I am not good enough , not beautiful enough, they deserve better then me..they all deserve a happy wife/mom …. If only I was not here they would be better off… Hell I would be better off.. Better then living the same day to day crap… I hate it… I hate this feeling…because damn it they deserve me a better me… but I can’t sometimes ya know … I tell my self…. Getvthe fuck over it!! You are being selfish.. get up and raise your damn kids!!! I get the courage and get up and do it all over again… weeks may go by and I’m cool but then days like tonight come by and they are hard to get over…

      • I wasn’t convinced this guy was a real accomplished comedian until I saw the picture of him with a funny hat! Now that is comedy! On a serious note, this post taught me that depression is for losers and I should just “git r done” like one of my other favorite comics “Larry the cable man” says! Now whenever I feel a deep longing to die I think in “git r done” and think of this man’s great funny hat!

  • awesome post. While I don’t know what it’s truly like to have deep seeded depression i get sad and I get fuzzy on where I am going…. but as a dad, I cannot imagine not being there. I’m all for free will, but there is just something about having that responsibility to your child(ren). However, the scary part about depression is it hijacks your brain into thinking death is a solution. And being on medication doesn’t make you feel like you are living life… i’m torn.

    • Thanks for chiming in. and yes, I agree. Since this post, I had a lot of people reach out for support and for some anger. It turned into a really positive discussion. Such a complicated topic but I learned a ton. Some of the better responses, I posted on my face book page. Come join in. Thanks for taking the time to post.

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