Here are some of the things I’ve learned from those who are suicidal and their families.
It is thought that every 16 minutes, someone dies from suicide. Every 17 minutes, those close to them are left to manage the loss. Suicide is surrounded by myths, myths that all too often impact how we cope with the suicide of someone close. In my years of working with suicidal clients and families who are left to grieve the loss, several truths have come to view. Here are four myths and what I think are the truths.
- 1. Suicide is a selfish act.
- This is so far from the truth but it is often labeled that way. Suicide is a misjudgment. Let me explain. Sometimes the pain of what we go through seems so incredibly terrible and overwhelming it takes on “weight and mass” — so much weight and mass that we convince ourselves there is no end. Having worked with suicidal individuals, I hear them say the weight and mass of their problems are greater than the impact they believe it will have on family and friends if they suicide. They are able to convince themselves that others would be better off without them and their weight and mass, that others will go on to be OK eventually. This is a dangerous misjudgment. Having worked with family and friends of survivors of suicide, I know this is not true. It is just a misjudgment. Families and friends are often left reeling and struggling to find understanding and meaning behind the suicide. That struggle often can last a lifetime.
- 2. I could have done something to stop this from happening.
- NO. You couldn’t. No you’re not to blame. Thinking you could have done this or done that or even that it would have changed things dramatically enough for the person that they would have not killed themselves is just magical thinking. If there is intent to kill oneself, the sad truth is we cannot stop someone from doing so. We can hospitalize, medicate, put them in therapy, watch over them 24/7, but if they are intent on doing so it’s rare we can do much more. It is a delusion of control. Even those with support, love, medication, and therapy still choose to kill themselves sometimes.
- 3. Suicide is a sign of weakness or craziness.
- Our personal struggles are sometimes overwhelming. We are not built to handle everything in life on our own. Unfortunately, those who are depressed and suicide are often distant from what they need most in those moments — others. One of the most natural things we do when depressed is isolate. It’s that urge when we feel bad to want to just crawl into a hole away from everything else in our life. This never helps for long but it’s what our natural inclination is. The individuals I work with are strong. To face their depression and suicide potential head on and not run or ignore is nothing but admirable. I admire them. I strive to be like them.
- 4. Suicide is an escape.
- Most of my suicidal patients want something very reasonable: freedom. They want freedom from their pain or an escape from the way they feel. This is very different than wanting an end to your life. I often ask my suicidal clients if they want an end to their life or freedom from the way they feel. I often follow that question up with asking that if they could have freedom from their pain, would they still want an end to their life. However, when they are depressed, it’s difficult to see the difference between wanting an end to one’s life and freedom from pain. The two are often smashed together. We convince ourselves that ending our life is the only way to escape. By seeing suicide as an escape, in a strange way it is a means to cope with what they feel. When combined with suicidal behavior, it’s dangerous. For those trying to cope, to feel differently, and to escape, it is important to understand that you can have change in your life without your life ending. You will not drink, smoke, or ignore your pain away. You’ll have to go through it. If you choose to do just that, you can make a difference enough. Ask for help, though — it’s a bit easier that way.
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