The Seduction of Suicide
It's National Suicide Prevention Month. Here are some facts to know.
Posted Sep 11, 2019
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and for many people, the mere mention of the word suicide elicits a vast array of emotions. There’s almost a sense of intrigue or voyeurism surrounding the act, perhaps even a certain mystique. Regardless, it’s important to note the prevalence of suicide in society today, and to learn all we can.
Suicide is a major public health problem and one of the leading causes of death in the Western world. According to the World Health Organization, in 2020, approximately 1.53 million people will die as a result of suicide, and 10 to 20 times more will attempt to take their own lives. Sadly, this represents a death by suicide every 20 seconds. These numbers are hair-raising, and in elevating consciousness about suicide worldwide, we must do all we can to understand why this irreversible act is so widespread.
In spite of the curiosity involved in wondering why someone might choose to take his or her own life, those who have contemplated or attempted suicide often remain under the radar, and suffer a sort of “silent despair.”
In her classic book Night Falls Fast, Kay Redfield Jamison, who is herself a clinician, researcher, and suicide survivor, writes, “No one close to me had any real idea of the psychological company I am keeping. The gap between private experience and its public expression was absolute; my persuasiveness to others was unimaginably frightening."
For those who have had unsuccessful suicide attempts, returning to their previous lives might prove to be challenging. Chances are, they’ll go back to the same mental health challenges and stressful life situations. As such, it’s important for them to find professional help that can guide them on their new paths.
Explanations for why they attempted suicide may emerge eventually; however, healing can start immediately. Many begin to see their lives in a new light and realize that they have more of a support system than they thought. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), here are some ways to support your recovery (or that of a loved one):
- Be kind to yourself.
- Take care of yourself.
- Take care of your mental health.
- Seek out group therapy or a support group.
- Talk to those you trust.
For those who are left behind by friends or loved ones who’ve committed suicide, there are usually two overarching questions: “Why?” and “What could I have done to prevent it?” While these are reasonable things to ask, it’s often difficult to determine why someone chooses to take his or her own life. For centuries researchers have been trying to explain the unexplainable. But one thing we know for sure, according to Jamison, is:
"Suicide is a particularly awful way to die: the mental suffering leading up to it is usually prolonged, intense, and unpalliated. There is no morphine equivalent to ease the acute pain… the suffering of the suicidal is private and inexpressible, leaving family members, friends, and colleagues to deal with an almost unfathomable kind of loss, as well as guilt" (p. 24).
Those of us left behind often feel a huge amount of confusion and grief and almost always have unanswered questions.
However, researchers have come to a few generalizations about the common precursors to suicide. Typically, suicidal individuals had been depressed, had issues with relationships, encountered communication issues, were experiencing mental or physical pain, or had lost what psychologist Viktor Frankl coined the “search for meaning.” Whether they experienced some or all of these issues, most of them had feelings of helplessness.
A Holocaust survivor, Frankl learned that although in certain circumstances we cannot always control what happens to us, we can, through acceptance and the search for meaning, cultivate a positive attitude that will help us navigate challenging times. In other words, finding meaning in our lives can be the ticket to survival . . . and also offer hope.
Whether you’ve tried taking your life, threatened to take your life, or have lost someone to suicide, it’s important that we as a society come together to prevent and minimize this worldwide epidemic.
As we do more research and put a magnifying glass on this topic, we will hopefully become more illuminated. In addition, we need to be more mindful and compassionate with our loved ones and inspire them to find continual meaning and purpose in their lives. We need to remember that suicide is an irreversible act—a permanent reaction to what might be a temporary problem.
If you or someone you know is in crisis or in need of immediate help, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
This is a free hotline available 24 hours a day to anyone in emotional distress or in a suicidal crisis.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “After a Suicide Attempt.” AFSP.org.
Frankl, V. E. (2006). Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston: Beacon Press.
Gvion, Y. and A. Apter (2012). “Suicide and suicidal behavior.” Public Health Reviews. Vol. 34 (2). pp. 1–20.
Jamison, K. R. (1999). Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide. New York: Random House.