Loss to Suicide, a Guest Post by Nancy Marshall
Like so many issues in health, prevention is the name of the game. This article does not mean to imply we can prevent every death. People have many facets and can surprise us. However, if one life can be saved we must do what we can at all times. There are links between depression and suicide and between substance abuse and suicide. In suicide, people are seeking a physical solution to a mental pain. People will commit suicide looking for a new power, a “trapdoor” to a better life. It is called the permanent solution to a temporary problem.
It’s often said that people who talk about suicide are “attention seeking.” Yes, they are, but they also often complete the act. Frequently there are a number of suicide attempts before one is completed. It is far preferable to be “wrong” and a little embarrassed for approaching someone to help than to actually lose him.
Suicide is NOT Romantic
We need to challenge some of the romantic images of suicide as a brave, romantic act. Such deaths are horrible to behold, and leave a lifetime stain of pain for anyone who cared for the lost person. Survivors (those left behind in a lost person’s social circle) talk about their lives as changed forever. There’s the person as he was before the loss, and the person after the loss: a firm demarcation, forever transformed.
Please do not be afraid to talk to someone about the possibility of suicide. You are not giving him ideas; the ideas are already there. People often verbally signal that they are getting into a bad emotional place. You may hear dangerous talk: “They just threw me away like garbage.” “I don’t count for anything.” “The dead are the lucky ones.”
Depression is Treatable
Depression is a treatable disease. In talking with a depressed person it is helpful if you know people who overcame depression. A very depressed person is convinced nothing will help (but of course has not tried enough different things to help himself.) Never criticize the sad person, but help him see the depressed self is not the total of who he is. In treatment I will sometimes make people a paper “pie chart” showing the many roles they play in their lives. We may be doing poorly in one role, and well in another.
Loss is the largest risk factor in the decision to suicide. The person has been unable to tolerate a recent loss. Loss of status is the social circle is loss; we see the terrible effects of bullying and mean exposures of the person on the internet. A romantic break-up can be very significant. The loss of our formerly good health or our good job can be an issue; we feel diminished, “cheated” out of what was ours.
The Myth of Male Invincibility
Our culture is promoting many false values. One of the most destructive is the idea that all males are invincible. They can be hurt, but they make good and sure they come back and take revenge. Hollywood movies with revenge themes abound.
First of all, a “real male” doesn’t feel hurt. Second, if he does feel hurt, he doesn’t ever let it show. And lastly, he comes back, stronger than ever to “even the score.” As our men try to emulate this inhuman model and feel that they fall short, they experience a sense of failure and shame. Shame actually corrodes the part of us that can help us heal and correct past mistakes. Shame “douses” the hopeful part of our natures. When ashamed, we feel profoundly activated neurologically (the threat of public embarrassment), and, at the same time, for protection, crash into constriction.
The Role of Shame
We will not hold any feelings that are too painful and seek instant relief. These are very old survival skills, both normal and, at times, needed. When we feel shame there is an immediate constriction; we physically and mentally shrink away from others. A person in this constricted state will feel to us, and is talked about, as “shut-down.” The energy of the person slows. Shame causes us to give up. We feel angry at ourselves. The shame is profoundly isolating as it refuses to allow us to reach out for help from anyone, further adding to the pain. (In terms of treatment, the question becomes: how long can this person stay constricted and when will he be willing to reconnect? In what ways can we help him feel more comfortable to reconnect and will he accept comfort if he does?)
We can demand a more realistic picture of life for our men and women and can learn to laugh at the “invincible” movies. We can remind each other that what really happens in life is that “you win some and you lose some.” It doesn’t matter who you are. Let’s listen to each other a little more closely and offer help bravely.