Understanding Suicide

Troy Todd, Ph.D., BCN

It is confusing and distressing when someone around us becomes suicidal. There are many resources that outline good “do’s” and “don’t’s” when managing suicidal behavior which should be used when dealing with these situations. This article is designed to help improve your understanding of suicidality from the perspective of both the person experiencing it and those around them.

Suicidality is difficult to comprehend. Someone who comes to see suicide as a viable option feels very hopeless, usually for a long period of time, and usually in many areas of their life. If you have witnessed a suicidal person, you may notice they become suicidal after a stressful event such as the loss of a relationship or financial crisis. However, if you look deeper in their life, you will see that there were many chronic stressors that they were not able to resolve. The persistence and depth of the hopeless feeling compels them to think intently on eliminating this feeling. Because they have attempted to resolve the chronic negative situations in their life and have failed, they tend to think that the only way to end the pain is to end their life.

Suicidal thinking is not logical. For this reason, trying to counter suicidality with logic will not work. The person is in a very powerful “feedback loop” of trying to eliminate very negative feelings using inadequate resources. The only way out of this feedback loop is to make the negative feelings end, and that might lead the person to conclude suicide is the only answer. The problem the person faces is not using their logic or will to “snap out” of this way of thinking, but rather to use different ways of thinking and new resources to find legitimate hope in a better overall feeling in their life. If the person is not prone to suicidal or depressive thoughts, they are very well aware that suicidal thinking is illogical. They are still trapped in the feedback loop, which makes them more hopeless (since they have likely had success improving other situations with logic, reason, and other problem solving strategies). For those that are prone to suicide, they have the momentum of their past experiences and evidence that the cycles will continue which drives them to a desperate solution.

The best way to overcome suicidal thinking is to work with a competent professional. They will guide you to find areas of hope you have not considered, and gain new skills to make these work for you. This may be a long process, especially if you do not have many ways to take control of and improve your life. This is why getting professional help even when having fleeting suicidal thoughts is important. If you are trying to help yourself out, you can catalogue all the positive, hopeful, future-focused things you have in your life (even if they are very small), try to increase any and all of these things through engaging in actions, thoughts, conversations, and places that keep your mind focused on a hope that you will be happy in life. You will also have to learn new skills to get yourself and keep yourself positive. Analyze the ways you think, act, how you spend your time, and who you associate with. Replace any negative conditions with the most positive you have access to. Ultimately, you will become hopeful more quickly and with less distress if you enlist the help of a competent professional.

When someone does attempt or complete suicide, it is very confusing to those that know them. If you find yourself coming to the conclusion, “there was something I could have done to prevent it,” understand that likely nothing you could have done or said would have stopped them. The only functional way to make sense of suicide is to understand the person got into a very confusing, depressing place in their life, they felt ashamed of this condition, so worked very hard to keep the knowledge of their state from those around them, and ultimately felt cornered in choosing the only choice they could see.