Please note that I did not know Jeret Peterson personally or have any insider information about him. I am simply using what I have found about him online in order to explain how life experiences can impact a person’s life and mental health.
Olympian Jeret “Speedy” Peterson committed suicide last week. To outsiders, this final act to end one’s life seems quite mysterious since it appears as though he had it all. Peterson won the silver medal for freestyle skiing in the 2010 Olympic Games and stated “I know that a lot of people go through a lot of things in their life, and I just want them to realize they can overcome anything. There’s light at the end of the tunnel and mine was silver, and I love it.” The silver light was not enough to make a lasting change in the internal demons he continued to face since childhood, however.
As a child, Peterson was sexually abused and also dealt with the loss of his sister in a car accident. Both of these experiences can be very difficult for anyone, especially children to go through. Although children are highly resilient, they still need help to work through these experiences. I am going to assume that Peterson did not receive this help as he has carried the negative effects from the experiences throughout his life. It has been reported that he has had problems with alcohol and depression, both of which are consistent with his experiences. Depression does seem to have a genetic link, but not everyone that is predisposed actually ends up with major depressive disorder. It is believed that some experiences can activate the gene of depression, which was likely the case with Peterson. In addition, alcohol is a depressant and can exacerbate the symptoms of depression.
Peterson also experienced other risk factors related to suicide. Months before the Turin Olympic games, a friend shot himself in front of Peterson. Not only another traumatic event for Peterson, but having friends or family members that commit or attempt suicide increases an individuals risks as well. Other reports state that he was “born with the heart of a gambler” as he won $550,000 in one night playing black jack. I have not read anything indicating that he was addicted to gambling as well but it would not be surprising as it sounds as though he had an addictive personality as he was addicted to alcohol and adrenaline (the body’s natural high).
But how did he manage to stay so driven after these experiences and struggling with depression and alcohol abuse? When people have had such traumatic experiences as Peterson did, there seems to be two options until they receive the help needed and work through them. You can either wallow in their experiences and depression, turning inside, or you can go forward full speed ahead. It sounds as though Peterson chose to go full speed ahead to try to outrun his depression as it has been reported that he only had two speeds, stop and go. No matter how fast he moved, how high he flew, or how much adrenaline coursed through his body, he could never escape his experiences, thoughts, and feelings, however. Although it may have appeared that this man was on top of the world and was outgoing and happy, these do not protect anyone from suicide. In fact, it is important to note that it is sometimes hard to figure out who is hurting the most emotionally as they find different ways of hiding it, whether it be by using substances, denial, putting all efforts somewhere else, or just plain acting.
So what is the take home lesson here? Even if your loved one is successful and happy, it doesn’t mean that they are immune to tragedy and suicide. Pay attention closely to their behavior, especially if you know they have experienced traumatic events or mental health issues in the past. If you know of someone that has been depressed and all of a sudden is happy, this may just be a sign that they have decided on a plan to end their life.