Every time I hear that a person I know has committed suicide, I find myself scratching my head looking for answers I’ll never get. Three years ago, I lost a family member to it, and it left us with intense feelings of sadness, guilt, and anger. On the exterior, he was a loving father and talented guitarist, but underneath the surface he battled for years with his demons. As many of you know, my husband Mark is a dual board certified Adult and Child & Adolescent psychiatrist. I asked him for some insight on how somebody could come to the decisions to end her/his life…. His response surprised me.
“While there are many books that talk about the topic (my personal favorite is Oshea’s Practical Art of Suicide Assessment)… my greatest education came through sitting countless hours bedside in the ICU or on inpatient psychiatric units hearing accounts of unsuccessful suicides. Time after time, I heard the same conclusion: ‘Suicide seemed to be the only option to me at the time.’
These individuals shared a profound hopelessness that was malignant – and like a cancer, self-doubt was reinforced by subsequent failures. Moreover, they often felt like a burden to those around them. The pivotal turning point was when they concluded that loved ones would be better off without them.
The methods and the length of contemplation varied. For some, it was the product of slowly developing severe depression that led them to make a plan in advance, including several trips to buy supplies and choosing a time when a loved one was out of town (or often arranging a time in which somebody would be able to come to rescue a pet). For others, suicide was never a consideration until the pain of an acute stressor was too much to bear, ie an acute breakup, marital conflict, or death of loved one.
I often heard the need for substance use to provide ‘courage’ to follow through with it. Yet, after the fact, survivors were able to rethink the term courage – and more accurately acknowledge that the substance use was a maladaptive way of escaping pain and the subsequent disinhibited mind was able to silence the internal argument that there were other options than suicide.
After adequate treatment interventions, all Survivors
ultimately came to one common conclusion: ‘Suicide was not the answer’. Those who had the courage to allow loved ones to support them, open up in individual therapy sessions, and follow medication management recommendations from a physician (when indicated), were able to see their world through a new set of eyes – a second chance at life.
If you or a family member/friend is struggling with depression, significant life stress, or substance abuse issues – please know that HELP IS OUT THERE!
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
DIAL: 1-800-273-8255 Yes, Logic fans, this is the actual number
“13 Reasons Why… and Why Not” by Bruce Alan Kehr, M.D.: https://drbrucekehr.com/thirteen-reasons-why-not/
NIH/NIMH Depression Information: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/index.shtml
NIH/NIMH Anxiety Information: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml
If you have been in treatment and are interested in a second opinion or are considering genetic testing to help cater your medication regimen to your unique DNA profile, consider Potomac Psychiatry