A jetliner crashes, killing all 200 people on board. Two days later it happens again. Then another two days pass – same problem, continuing every other day for a full year. Would this make the news? Suicide takes that many people annually, yet we are quiet about it.*
Children. The elderly. Young parents. Middle-aged parents. Nephews. Nieces. Sons. Daughters. Suicide touches all ages, races, sexes, personalities, socio-economic groups, religions, and ideologies. When I speak to audiences about depression and suicide, people tell me their survivor stories (“Survivor” in this context is a person left behind following another person’s suicide). Research on suicide brings my attention to dozens more. Of the family members, ministers, friends and friends of friends, and community members whom I’ve met and who have suffered a suicide loss, no one has deviated from the one question without an answer –
Suicide does not have a single definable cause. Considering “90% of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death,” and over half of those struggle with major depression,** we can quickly see how, for the vulnerable, stressors may pile up into unmanageable emotional mountains. In general, life overwhelming one’s ability to cope is the chief reason for death by suicide.
This is as true for teens as for adults. Sadly, we cannot fully understand the motives behind each suicide. However, there are strong research studies that suggest commonalities, “causes” if you will, between completed suicides. These commonalities are listed here in no particular order.
(1) I was somewhat surprised to learn of a correlation between non-fatal repeat self-harm practices, with or without suicidal intentions, and completed suicide. An estimated 1 in every 25 patients who have exercised non-fatal repeat self-harm (such as cutting, burning, not allowing wounds to heal…) die of suicide within ten years of first reporting this behavior.***
(2) Severe depression leaves the brain irrational, truly unable to see clearly. Most people who die by suicide are not in their right minds. Beliefs such as the ones I experienced when suicidal, are products of this brain dysfunction. I believed I was supposed to die, that it was my time.
(3) Hearing voices that command one’s suicide can be part of schizophrenia. Psychosis is treatable.
(4) Some people impulsively end their own lives while intoxicated or high. They may feel depressed and a substance limits their inhibitions. Why a person abuses a substance is a concern.
(5) A psychologist once said in a group I was attending, that the epitome of ignorance in his opinion are the unsympathetic, almost accusatory comments that a suicide attempt survivor was “just crying out for help” or “just seeking attention.” Suicidal behavior is not a normal reaction to stress. Some people have no other idea how to get their needs met. I’ve met people with histories of repeated suicide attempts. Some do not want to die, all suffer agonizing pain.
(6) Taking control of an imminent and painful death causes some to end their lives. Terminal illness, not mental illness, motivates their decision to take matters into their own hands. ****
(7) We are all most likely aware that emotional pain, wish to end the pain, an altered view of relationships, and a loss of hope for change are key motives for suicide. By comparing suicide notes of both those who attempted and those who died, researchers discovered the sense of being a burden is more detailed and prominent in the notes of those who completed suicide. “In general, people do not commit suicide because they are in pain, they commit suicide because they don’t believe there is a reason to live and the world will be better off without them.” *****
While the answer to “why” is not forthcoming, we can see here it is important to reach out to people who meet the above descriptions. Suicide is preventable because depression is treatable as are other issues.
If you want to know for yourself how much suicide affects those left behind, check out the Survivors of Suicide Loss Memorial Wall at https://www.soslsd.org/get-involved/memorial-quilt/memorial-wall. You may cry as I did when you read these messages to loved ones who are beyond the writers’ reach.
In the next part of this series, we will look at how a person considering suicide may speak.
Comments are always welcome (see tab below). NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.
If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.
*Hackert, Janet. MissouriFamilies.org, Suicide is the most preventable cause of death. Quote by Gary Hillebrand. Retrieved from: http://missourifamilies.org/features/healtharticles/health123.htm
***Carroll, Robert; Metcalfe, Chris; Gunnell, David. Hospital Presenting Self-Harm and Risk of Fatal and Non-Fatal Repetition: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. February 28, 2014. Retrieved from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0089944
****(numbers 1-6 listed in post above) Alex Lickerman M.D. The Six Reasons People Attempt Suicide. Apr 29, 2010. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/happiness-in-world/201004/the-six-reasons-people-attempt-suicide
*****Todd B. Kashdan Ph.D. Why Do People Kill Themselves? New Warning Signs latest research to predict who is going to commit suicide May 15, 2014 Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/curious/201405/why-do-people-kill-themselves-new-warning-signs