It may only be my perception, but it seems that there is an increasing number of suicides in our society, particularly in high school and college students and individuals in the military. Despite the fact that suicide is one of the most devastating occurrences that can take place in the emotional lives of a family, more individuals are choosing this alternative. Yet, too little attention is directed toward this issue. Therefore, it seemed important to addressed the problem.
First, all suicides are not the same. There are those that, at least for me, make sense. They take place among individuals with chronic illnesses, who have suffered for a long period of time and have decided that their quality of life has so deteriorated that the future holds nothing more for them but increased pain and depression. Therefore, living life is no longer an option for them. I’m not, in any way condoning it, or suggesting it as an alternative. But I can empathize with it.
There are suicides that occur in economic times, such as we are now experiencing in this country. It contributes to individuals feeling a failure, seeing themselves as inadequate and holding no hope for the future. Because of that, living no longer includes any sense of joy or hope. Consequently, these individuals consciously choose to avoid a life they anticipate will be financially and emotionally empty. I understand their view and sympathize with their hurts. Yet, I wish there was a way they could see that, more times than not, there is a light at what may seem to be a very long, dark tunnel.
But there are a myriad of suicides that I view as different from the two I’ve described. We’ve seen it in the armed services, where there are more individuals taking their lives than ever before in the history of our military. There is no doubt that their situation, the constant stress they face, the hardships they endure and the daily threat of dying is so anxiety-producing that they decide to control their own destiny by ending their lives prematurely. Their feelings and fears are easily understood, but you still have to view their behavior as a form of escape or avoidance.
There are also numerous individuals who, when rejected by a romantic partner, divorced by a spouse, or alienated from family or friends, feel so totally alone and worthless that death seems their only alternative. Generally, their behavior stems from either of two motives. 1) Hostility. It says, “See what you caused. You are to blame for my death.” 2) Long term fears of insufficiency and abandonment causing them to feel, “I can’t accept or face how worthless I feel without you.”
I should add that, in all these cases, drugs and alcohol often serve as a catalytic agent to provide the “courage” or resolve to act on a desire to end their pain by ending their lives. However, long before the suicidal act, these individuals undoubtedly experienced sufficient emotional hurt to give them cause to decide to permanently end their discomfort. The thought of suicide, in itself, isn’t unusual or atypical. I have seen countless patients who, when faced with overwhelming fears, stress-provoking situations, or insights they perceive too hurtful to face, feel forced to escape, or to create a smokescreen to avoid the pain of coming in touch with their emotions. In fact, many of you probably do the same. For example, if you drink enough, you don’t have to worry about what’s really bothering you, you’re anesthetized. Drugs are another method. If you swallow enough, you don’t have to face you. Similarly, if you’re sufficiently depressed, preoccupied with your physical health, or experience problems with your parents, spouse, children or co-workers, you don’t have to look at you. For others, an eating disorder can serve as an effective way to avoid reality, i.e., if you’re anorexic or obese, your problem isn’t you. The problem is your weight. In either case, you can’t afford to gain or lose it, because you need it to avoid you. But, without a doubt, the supreme act of avoidance is suicide.
*Note* I am not saying that every angry, depressed, hypochondriacal, overweight, addicted or hostile individual is suicidal. However, I am saying that a multitude of people use these behavioral problems as a defense for avoiding having to come to grips with themselves. Those who attempt suicide never realize that suicide is a permanent solution to what is usually a temporary problem. Instead, they often feel : 1) That what they’re doing is a far better thing than they had ever done before. Thus, they view their suicide as a courageous act. 2) It eliminates the pain they perceive to be insurmountable. 3) It ends any hurt they think they are causing their family and friends. 4) It also serves as an attempt to gain attention, to be noticed and 5) To have other individuals realize that they had something to say that wasn’t listened to. In these cases, it becomes a very hostile act.
But, for me, something seems radically different in most suicides today from those in the past. For example, the pain individuals experience today isn’t different from the pain that individuals faced in other wars. What could be worse than life in the concentration camps during WWII, where every day was filled with the fear it would be your last, or that the next 24 hours would include cruelty and heinous punishment that you would have to endure? Lovers have, for centuries, as exemplified by Romeo and Juliet, considered or chosen to end their lives if they could not be together. It was, however, the exception, rather than the rule. Certainly, the present economic times are extremely difficult, but they haven’t reached the lows they did during the great depression, when a bevy of individuals chose to jump from skyscraper windows. Still, you need to ask why an increasing number of young people are choosing suicide as a solution to their problems. It seems even more strange that this would take place in an age when people have supposedly become more aware of the value of communicating, being close and sharing emotions with others. You would think that these factors alone would cause more people to reach out when they experience overwhelming stress, anxiety or depression. The hope being to hear someone say, very clearly, ‘You’re not alone. There are many people whose hands are outstretched to try to provide support and to aid you to discover that you’re worth loving. But, sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case. People say the right words but, when others are really in need of support, or where suicidal behavior is a possibility, they are often blind to it. On the one hand, many of you don’t want to get too close to problems you, yourself, are trying to avoid. On the other hand, you don’t want to believe the possibility of suicide exists because, 1) It creates guilt and suggests you failed as a parent, spouse, sibling or friend; 2) you may cling to the erroneous belief that, if someone talks about suicide they won’t do it; or, 3) you may feel helpless to prevent it. But it’s not something you should turn your back on. You need to face it because an alarmingly increasing number of people are doing it.