When someone takes their own life, the questions they leave behind are usually the same. Why did they do it? What were they thinking? Could I have stopped them?
Perhaps, you know the answers to these questions: Have sat inside your vehicle on a quiet night and thought the world will be better off without you in it. Maybe the thought of waking up to one more day of your private hell felt like too much.
Today, we’re going to explore why someone wants to take their life. We’ll talk about the three levels of suicidal ideation, and offer a place to go if you, or someone you love, is suicidal.
There are a few things to think about when it comes to suicide:
1. It’s permanent
People end their lives for one simple reason. They lose sight of the fact that a feeling is temporary. If I asked you, “Do all things change?” you would likely answer yes, because upon examination, we all know this to be true. Yet, in the moment of suicide, the person believes that their depression, hopelessness, despair, or frustration will never go away. They believe that there is no end to the hardship, that nothing will get better, ever. Completely overwhelmed by what they feel, by the unending nature of it, it makes sense to end their life.
All things change. In buddhism, the term impermanence is used to describe the changing nature of all phenomena. It is a law: nothing is permanent. The downside of this law is that joy, love, sunshine and pleasure will inevitably pass. But it’s opposite, the flip side of the coin, is that sorrow, hate, darkness and pain will also pass. When looked at this way, we can see that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
2. Expectation isn’t reality
Have you heard the saying: happiness = reality – expectations. If you haven’t, read it again and let it sink in. We all have so many ideas of perfection ingrained in us from relentless propaganda. Television shows, commercials and magazines painting pictures of the perfect family. They paint easily resolved disagreements and vomit inducing happy endings. It’s all supposed to be so perfect isn’t it? And now we have social media, where most people chose to share only the joys, but never the sorrow.
The result is a cumulative expectation around how life, and the state of your mental health should be. You feel isolated and alone in your misery. But should doesn’t matter, what matter’s is what IS. As a therapist, let me tell you: most people aren’t always happy. Far more likely is that each of us have complex relationships, ongoing financial trouble, work challenges, and disappointing personal characteristics. Most of us wish we were somehow better. Most of us feel just as sad as we do joyful. And, because we share a common illusion that we’re always supposed to be happy, we become isolated and depressed.
It’s not an accident that we’re talking about suicide right now in the lead up to Christmas. There’s no greater time where our expectations are sky rocketing past reality. We’re hoping for postcard interactions with our families, but in reality the people we say we love disappoint us, hurt us, or trigger our wounded inner child. We hurt them, or fall into patterns of people pleasing or walking on eggshells. We overspend, causing insane stress all in the name of meeting the societal expectation for presents. We also tend to evaluate our life more, comparing who we are to who we thought we would be.
We have to be ok with what is. Every morning, my house is so disheveled, it looks like it’s been burgled. Sure, I’d love to have a perfect house. But I don’t. Instead, I have a good family. After I’ve worked all day on maintaining healthy relationships, I don’t have the time to work on the house. In accepting what is, instead of wishing it were different, I can be at peace.
3. Pride equals hell on earth
Many who plan to take their lives exist in a private hell, where they believe that no one can truly understands what they are going through. Yet, for most men who report being suicidal, their last option is to break down and tell their loved one’s what is happening for them. When asked why, most would tell you, “Pride”. To show emotion, to break down, is to do the worst thing of all: to be weak. Male suicide rates in Australia are staggering, and suicide is the leading cause of death for people between 15 and 45, with three times as many men than women taking their lives. (source: lifeline)
Unwilling to reach out to those around them, the person may feel like no one cares whether they live or die. They may become spiteful, angry, and convince themselves that the world is better off without them in it. If you find yourself thinking these kinds of things: they’re the biggest delusion of all. The world does want you in it: and your loved ones want nothing more than to help you.
The three levels
If you suspect someone is suicidal. Ask. If you can, find out where they are:
1. They are having fleeting thoughts about it. This is actually more normal than most people think: this is when someone is driving along and a semi trailer comes by and they think something like: I could swerve right out in front of it. Often, these thoughts are impulsive, and impulsive thoughts are driven by alcohol, substances, or extreme emotion.
2. The thoughts are beginning to take root. This is more likely to happen when you’re sober, yet the thoughts are becoming stable. It’s more than just at the height of emotion or when intoxicated. They’re beginning to think about it as a real possibility.
3. They have a plan. A plan is when they’ve put a strategy into place for how they intend to follow through. This stage requires immediate intervention.What do you do?
This Christmas, be on the lookout for anyone who appears to be managing a low mood. The extra financial pressure, unrealistic expectations, childhood triggers, and excess alcohol consumption can cause the kind of impulsivity that leads to spontaneous suicide. Don’t assume any one leaving an argument will be fine.
Tell your loved one’s how valuable they are the you, especially if you suspect they are down. A person who has a plan may do anything to cover it up, and may not tell you: but small powerful words of love and acceptance can unknowingly change a persons mind.
If you think someone is in trouble, seek assistance through a helpline, your local hospital or trusted therapist. If things seem like they’re escalating, don’t be afraid to call 000. Ambulance and police are experienced in handling such matters. If you are managing your own low mood, or find yourself having thoughts that take root, reach out to a professional.
Above all else, take good-will into your holiday season. You never know when your kindness could save a life.
The Suicide Callback Service 1300 659 467
The suicide call back service is an incredible way to get assistance. If you call their toll free number, they will ring you back, for 5 sessions free of charge, anytime of day or night.