Body Aware Grieving host Margo Rose has lost two people she cares about to suicide. This podcast shares ways we can help people who are recovering from a loss, facing their own depression or trying to protect a person they are concerned about.
This video from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention highlights statistics about veterans and the risks they can face for depression and suicide. Let’s learn more how we can help these brave men and women who work to keep us safe, healthier when they return to civilian life.
In a recent Body Aware Grieving article called: Suicide Reduction or Suicide Prevention? I wrote about the possible benefits of differentiating between various forms of what we refer to as “suicide”. Our hope is that if we can define more accurately the various reasons why people take their own lives, we will become skillful in reducing the number of times we find these deaths to be “tragic”.
Here are a few examples of different circumstances that could potentially lead a person to take their own life. Can you help think of other categories I have left out?
**Situational despondency and depression: For some of us, going through tough situations like losing a loved one, financial problems or heart break can challenge our “will-to-live”. Depending on our personal constitution, the level of support we have, and how long or complicated our life stress has become, we may turn to thoughts of suicide unless we get the care we need.
**End-of-life choice due to medical diagnosis or critical injury: When faced with a debilitating injury, illness deemed ‘terminal’ or incapacitation due to advanced old age questions arise about which types of treatments should be used to extend life. If the quality of daily living involves a level of pain or suffering that an individual no longer wants to tolerate, many legal and moral questions arise. A very complicated topic common in medical and palliative care communities.
**Passive Suicide: In these circumstances a person may not directly kill themselves, but pursue life-threatening situations in other ways. This could include: extreme health abuses in drinking, food, drugs, ignoring known allergens or high sugar levels if one is diabetic. Overtly reckless choices (sharing needles, dangerous driving especially while drunk or high), adventure sports (skydiving, surfing during storm conditions, drag racing etc.) could be in this category depending on why they are chosen and how they are accomplished. As the dangerous Hurricane Irene approached recently I was following Tweets and one young man sadly wrote, “I hope the hurricane comes and kills me.”
**Martyrdom: The most famous of these actions is suicide bombings and terrorist attacks where the assailant knows they are supposed to die for the mission to be ‘successfully’ completed. Other examples would be a captured soldier who finds a way to kill him or her self to avoid sharing sensitive information upon interrogation and feel they are better serving their troops in that manner. There are cases where civilians have found it more ‘honorable’ to die at their own hands instead of waiting to be taken over during times of war.
**Forced Suicide: Historically certain cultures have pressured their military or business leaders to take their own lives after damaging failures. Torture and blackmail can involve making threats that can be avoided upon willfully taking ones own life. In many parts of the world, women are shamed or directly told to kill themselves if they were perceived to have committed sexual “misconduct”.
**Mental illness and chemical imbalances: Many people are at higher risk of causing harm to themselves or others due to psychological conditions. Others are more vulnerable after being exposed to trauma or violence as a result of crime, war or physical/sexual abuse. Even situations considered temporary like: post-partum depression, low blood sugar, or premenstrual tension can make it harder to remain emotionally stable and optimistic about life.
Each of these reasons a person may consider taking their own life, would be best addressed by very different courses of action. If we can determine why we are at risk, we can get to better solutions more easily. Do you agree?
Thanks for being willing to discuss the challenging topic of suicide.
Here at Body Aware Grieving, we support and encourage all the hardworking organizations that help people whose lives are touched by various forms of suicide. If you have lost someone you love, or are directly concerned by thoughts of harming yourself, here are links to a few excellent organizations:
International Association for Suicide Prevention
Suicide Prevention Lifeline
To Write Love On Her Arms
When discussing the very sensitive and complex topic of suicide though, I prefer to use the word “reduction” instead of “prevention”. Specifically I think it is important to differentiate between a person who takes their own life because they are in despair over a disappointment like losing their job or a painful romantic break-up and someone who is making a conscious choice about the quality of life they are willing to tolerate during a terminal illness. Should the exact same word, “suicide”, be used to describe both situations?
Here is another example where I believe a single word has become too general. I am a fitness trainer and people often ask me if “yoga” is a good exercise choice for them. I mention that it is important to know more about their goals and injury level. There are many differing styles of “yoga”, some very vigorous and physically demanding while others much gentler or perhaps spiritually oriented. Two people could both claim that they either love or hate “yoga” and hardly be referring to the same activity.
Most people would agree that it is important to help people who are threatening their own lives due to temporary life problems get the support they need to make it through a tough time. It can be especially heartbreaking when a teen or young adult chooses to take their own life. When we refer to “suicide prevention” I believe that we are most commonly referring to those due to depression and despondency.
On the other hand, there are people within the medical, palliative and hospice care communities who believe there are times when patients who are suffering from painful terminal illnesses should be allowed to decide when and how they prefer to pass away.
In these circumstances it can be emotionally and legally more complicated to refer to the choice to die, or refuse life-extending treatments, as “suicide” or “assisted suicide”.
Organizations that discuss end-of-life topics include:
Death With Dignity National Center
Baby Boomer’s Guide
Dying Matters Coalition/The National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC)
My point in writing this article is to suggest that we may be better served by expanding our vocabulary when discussing how and why someone may be considering taking their own life. From there we can decide whether it is appropriate to attempt to ‘prevent’ or ‘reduce’ deaths that have been willful.
Can any of you offer your opinions? Any suggested new vocabulary that could improve these discussions? I especially invite participants from organizations like those described above to tell us how we, the public, can better help them meet their goals.
Best wishes to us all,
What is it like to live with a history of depression and attempted suicide? How can we know when one is “healed”?
This touching article by Amy Kiel (HP Blog) explores the ups and downs of fighting against depression.