This post is the first in a three part series on the topic of suicide. Click for the second and third parts.
This is a tough one. Early this week I learned that someone I knew died over the weekend. A few days later I found out that it was a suicide. That one word instantly changed my feelings on the death, which has given me cause to pause and examine my thoughts on this very taboo subject.
This posting is the first in a series of three on this subject, because my feelings are very strong from a couple of viewpoints. I feel the need to make clear that I am in no way, shape or form an expert on this subject. I am not a mental health professional. I have never had to cope firsthand with a person having committed suicide. This is merely my thoughts and opinions, coupled with conversations with a few people who know a lot more than me. This certainly comes off as a disclaimer—and it is in a sense. I do not want anyone to be under the impression that I believe myself to know more than I do. I would like to emphasize that mental illness, depression and suicide are all very complex issues, and this is the commentary of a layperson.
Disclaimer aside, the first part of my thought process, that I will address today, is what leads someone to take “a permanent solution to a temporary problem”? It is a question that I don’t really have an answer to. If I did, I’d be a genius and there would be no more suicides.
In some cultures suicide was considered honorable in certain circumstances. The Japanese practice of seppuku was used by samurai for centuries, but was also used as a form of capital punishment. Then there were the famed Kamikaze suicide attacks by aviators. Today we often hear of suicide bombers in Middle Eastern countries who perform their attacks for religious honor.
Here in America, we don’t as a whole have a great grasp of suicide for honor. It is the final answer when nothing else will work. But what is it actually answering? It’s permanent. There is no saying “Whoops” and taking it back. The repercussions are non-existent for the person who is now gone. But for those they have left behind? They never truly end.
Statistic time. In 2007 there were 34,598 known suicides in the U.S. That’s roughly 1 every 15 minutes. It is the eleventh leading cause of death. Men complete suicide about 3.6 times that of women, but women attempt it three times more often then men. Elderly have rates almost 50% greater than the young, but our youth (15 – 24) have suicide as the third highest cause of death behind accidents and homicides.
So why? What brings people to this point? The easy answer is mental illness. But that is not the complete or entirely accurate answer. It is definitely one answer. There are those who are genuinely sick who may not fully grasp the concept of the action they take. I’ve been delving through whitepapers (and there are thousands of them out there) and have found a consensus that about 60% of suicides are depressed, but that feelings of hopelessness are a better indicator of potential to commit suicide than actual diagnosis. Additionally, there is long-term clinical depression, then there is depression and hopelessness in the moment. A feeling of depression that is a normal reaction to a significant loss or trauma, which could lead some to take the ultimate next step, even though they are not actually clinically depressed or mentally ill.
Taking the clinical diagnosis out of the equation, I think suicides come down to two main causes. The first is a cry for help that accidentally was successful. There are those who are in desperate need of assistance in their lives and just don’t know how to get help or even that it is available. But they know that self-harm WILL draw attention, and on some level help. Unfortunately, what they fail to realize is that the attempt could actually work. The second, which I am just now able to put into words thanks to a great psychologist I know, are those who are in so much pain—deep, emotionally driven, but real none the less—pain that they believe death will be better than continuing to live with it. They believe suicide is the only option left to them to end the pain. (NOTE: There is actually a third category in my mind, and that is suicide of terminally ill people. I am choosing consciously not to delve into that here, because I believe that is a completely different subject matter and doesn’t fit into where my head is at the moment.)
Can anything be done to completely prevent either of these kinds of suicides? The tragic answer really is no. It’s like a hacker friend told me—if someone wants to hack your system, they will. You can just slow them down. Similarly if someone really wants to kill themselves, they will find a way. All we can do is make sure those around us know that if they are ever in trouble, ever in pain, we are here to help them. That no matter how bad their lives seem, there is SOMEONE who cares about them and is willing to be their support, and hope they don’t get to the point of feeling there is no other way out. There are two things to remember, told to me by another amazing lady, Alicia:
We always have choices, even if we don’t like them.
People make the best decision for themselves in the moment—even if “we” (the rest of the world) cannot understand or rationalize them.
The key for us is to help our loved ones understand there is always a way out if they call on us, no matter how bad the situation is. For those of us who are fortunate enough to have never been touched by suicide, I think it is our responsibility to be educated about the serious nature of depression, mental illness and just what drives people to this action. Only through education and caring can we help others.
That actually leads to the second part of my thought process, which I will post tomorrow. The Stigma of Suicide.
If you or someone you care about is suffering from depression, speaks of suicide, or have had suicidal inclinations, help IS available. Even if you feel there is nowhere to turn, there are people who want nothing more than to be there for you. Just reach out. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free, 24-hour hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. They are available at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)