I was speaking to a hospital colleague the other day. He told me that over the last few days two patients were admitted to his service following suicide attempts. Despite some similarities between them the two patients did not know one another at all. They were from different neighborhoods, somewhat different religious backgrounds, and different social classes. What they had in common was that they were both younger than 18 years old, one was 17 the other 14, and both had been sexually abused. Neither one of them was successful in their suicide attempts and hopefully both will work at their therapy and get better soon.
This is the pattern of most suicide attempters – most of the attempts are not successful. This is the reason why many believe that a suicide attempt is always a cry for help. The belief is that there is a commitment on the part of the person wracked with a sense of hopelessness that they get to the point of trying to kill themselves but deep inside they also maintain some underlying hope that someone will find them in time and help them overcome the pain and help them get better. These two young hospital admissions are hurting because they were abused and they, like so many people who were abused, will find that the road to recovery is complex and painful. It is however a road that is navigable. When their hurt is validated and they are given tools to heal, the odds are good, they can get better.
There are other reasons why people attempt suicide and some are unfortunately, ultimately successful at it. In severe cases of depression, or a mental disturbance sometimes referred to as psychotic depression the person is so hopeless and so unnerved that they may actually believe that a voice is telling them to commit suicide. Sometimes they hide their depression and loss of touch with reality so well that no one knows the kind of pain and depersonalization they feel. There are occasional signs that signal their pain like loss of appetite or lethargy or even a sudden unexplained sense of calm but it is hard to help someone who hides his or her feelings.
There are, of course, some individuals suffering from a grave terminal illness so severe that they have made a decision that, for them, living is no longer an option. This is both a philosophical and religious decision that gives the suffering persona sense of control and destiny. For these people dying is a means to ending their own suffering and the pain their illness causes their loved ones.
Then there are those who commit suicide by accident without knowing that whatever impulsive game they are playing may cause their death. They are reckless, imprudent and lack awareness and most times too quick to take a dare.
In almost all situations, suicide is always a tragic, unnecessary outcome that could have been dealt with had the person been monitored and educated properly.
In fact, suicide is always senseless. It is most often a cruel attempt to overcome pain and the false sense of powerlessness to fix one’s life and create a new path for oneself. But, a suicide creates deeper problems for survivors. The loss is deeply felt by family and friends. Those who knew the suicide often blame themselves for not intervening. Guilt can impact the family and other survivors for a lifetime.
There is one additional reason that some people commit suicide – they believe that they have done something so sinful, so shameful, and immoral that they have become their own judge and jury and play the role of god in deciding their fate. Criminals or those about to be prosecuted fall into this category. Their suicide is not a cry for help but an attempt to avoid embarrassment.
All suicide attempts and success seem senseless to those who survive. Even in the case of an individual about to be put on trial there is a sense of emptiness that the suicide leaves for the family as well as the victims. The victims wish is for their day in court, for punishment to be meted out.
Any loss of life is painful. An unexpected loss is all the more painful.
I was informed that a 24 year old man from Chicago living in Los Angeles committed suicide the other day. He was arrested on several charges including attempted sex with a minor and gun possession. He pleaded no contest to the charges and a few days later took his own life. I feel sorry for him, his family and those who knew him. I feel especially sorry for anyone he may have abused. I feel sorry for society too.
Selfishly and from a researchers’ perspective, there is much we can learn from people who make criminal mistakes and are suffering. We do not yet know enough about those who abuse. We can study their personality, what motivates them and the differences if any of their brain structures. When they are gone, they have cut off any way that they may have been able to aid society.
We commiserate with victims as well as a suicides family and pray that with time life will become easier and meaningful.