I had one of those defining-and-not-in-a-good-way life events occur a couple of months ago. I have an American friend who I used to work with over here. A really good guy from Illinois. He has a wry sense of humour and an easy manner, loves the outdoors, and was popular with the ladies in Japan.
He left here for another place about fourteen years ago I guess, but we got in touch again through a well-known social media network about eight years ago. He was now married, with two kids, and was teaching at a school in Mexico.
In a different era he'd be the kind of person you'd send a Christmas card once a year, with an open invitation to come and stay if he and/or his family were ever coming over your way.
Not deeply connected buddies, but friends, and a guy you could pick up with where you left off, and that you'd trust.
In the new dispensation though you send a message or two when you reconnect, and from then on interact by 'liking' a photo or post now and then, maybe dropping a comment sometimes, and he does the same to you.
I saw some time ago that there was an abrupt shift in images. Gone were the family photos. Instead, there were shots of him in the outdoors, him with his kids, him having coffee with a woman. Wow, I thought, he might've taken up with someone else. I didn't want to pry, so said nothing, but privately I was assuming he must've done a dirty on his wife.
Not long after that I posted on this particular social network a link to an article I'd read on abusive partners, and how abuse is not the simple thing those of us who are lucky enough to have good relationships might think it is. I was surprised to see that he'd liked the article. Not many others did. I sort of wondered what his story was. Again though, I didn't want to pry, so said nothing.
Anyway, a couple of months ago he posted on this social media network that it should be harder to get a gun in America. I saw the post in real time, thought, 'oh, crap. Must be another nut gone and killed a bunch of people' and told myself I should check the news.
I couldn't find anything about a mass shooting in the online papers, but a day or two later it became apparent that there had been a shooting that day: he had gone and shot himself.
It was pretty nasty.
I'm sure we would all have a pretty similar reaction to that.
The thing that got me though was that in this day and age, with this interconnectedness, with social media, with this life in real time online, that a guy could feel so alone that he could go buy a gun, post cryptically about killing himself, have no one pick up on it, have no one go and see if he was OK, perhaps have no one even message him to see if he's OK, and then go and pull the trigger, was an awful indictment of where we as societies are at.
I wondered what kind of useful function this social media serves if it can figure out things you might like to buy but blinds you to the things that matter. That it could obscure the fact that a friend is hurting, leaving him only feeling able to communicate that hurt by arcane signs, such as a change of profile images, or a pregnant 'like,' until the final decision is made, and when it is made, and in this case posted, perhaps in the hope that someone would understand and reach out, it was seen as a political statement, not for what it really was.
Anyway, it's something I'm still struggling to come to terms with. The result so far is that I've become hyper-sensitive to anything negative that a person might post, just in case it is indicative of a deeper malaise. It has become quite stressful.
I don't know what the solution to the suicide epidemic in Western countries is (the statistics for New Zealand are particularly horrific), but I've decided that you have to make as much of an effort as you can to help people.
And you know, I think I can see how wargaming could be a positive thing in this regard. A chance to get people together, a chance to introduce friends or acquaintances to something new, a chance to learn new skills, and have something you can enjoy in your own company. You have the opportunity to make mistakes, get better, put problem-solving into practice, achieve little milestones, be satisfied with your own handiwork, feel that you are making progress - but not be there quite yet, and yet that is fine - and be able to reward yourself for progress in small but satisfying ways.
It's no cure-all of course, but it could be a little part of the puzzle, and may help people in need in ways we wouldn't necessarily quite understand ourselves.