Welcome to this month’s Blog-Spot where specialist bereavement counsellor Debbie Holder discusses the complexity of death-by-suicide from the perspective of both those who choose to take their own lives and those they leave behind.
“Hope is a necessity for normal life and the major weapon against the suicidal impulse”.
– Karl A. Menninger
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that each year approximately one million people die from suicide, which represents a global mortality rate of 16 people per 100,000, or one death every forty seconds. In the last 45 years’ suicide rates have increased by 60% worldwide. It is predicted that by 2020 the rate of death will increase to one every 20 seconds (WHO) (1).
To truly understand the reason why a person would contemplate committing suicide, first we must open our minds to what we naturally try to shield ourselves from, and try to understand psychological pain that goes beyond what we perceive to be ‘normal’ human experience. On an empathic level, try to imagine emotional turmoil so severe that a person finds themselves in a place of darkness; “sucked into a vacuum”, no longer able to connect to an outer world; seeing no other option but to “snub out” life, in an attempt to escape the pain and torment, of what has become to them, all consuming, and unbearable.
As human beings we all have an array of psychological needs and expectations that we strive to meet and move towards, giving us a sense of achievement in our lives. When a person chooses to commit suicide often this will rest largely on these needs as not having been met on some level, resulting in psychological frustration.
In my experience of working with vulnerable people, a common thread seems to come through; in suicidal people there appears to be an inability to connect emotional experiences with thought, “shutting down” the range of options that we naturally see. When we are balanced and in “normal mood”, we experience thoughts and feelings together as one, for the suicidal person however, the ideation of death is potentially dangerous, because they lack the element of positive emotion that we need as a balance for our well-being.
Suicidal ideation (suicidal thoughts) can be active or passive, active is when a person has a wish to die and has a plan to carry out that wish, passive is when a person has a longing to die but has no solid plan to carry it out. Most suicidal people do not wish to die, but have a need to “block out”, and end the inner turmoil that they cannot control.
The suicidal state of mind is called “cognitive constriction”, and refers to the intense narrowing of the focus of attention; a little bit like “tunnel vision”. To expand on constriction, if you can imagine yourself in a tunnel, with the darkness closing in all around you, you are unable to see anything, only a light somewhere in the distance. When a person becomes suicidal, the light in the darkness becomes the single view, the escape, a release of intense emotional pain; the goal in that moment is simply to find peace. Loved ones left behind are not forgotten but just do not come within the dramatically narrowed focus of the suicidal mind.
People naturally “leak” information when they communicate with each other, of how they feel psychologically, suicidal people often give out clues of their deadly intention, which may be verbal or behavioural, direct or indirect; survivors of suicide, ( those left behind ) often look back and “sieve through” every moment, trying to find those clues and may recall a remark, or out of character behaviour, that may have been easily overlooked at the time but, in hindsight, was significant and connected in some way to the final outcome; death.
The statistics given by the World Health Organisation are only the tip of the iceberg and we know that many suicidal deaths are left unrecorded, such as road traffic accidents, overdoses and poisonings, where it is unclear as to whether it was intentional or a tragic accident, unless that person left unmistakable proof of their wish and plan to die, the verdict of suicide cannot be reached, therefore blurring the true number of people who have taken their own lives. Coronas can record an open or narrative verdict at an inquest where the intent of the deceased person could not be clearly defined.
Suicide has become an epidemic of the 21st century. As individuals, and as a society, we need at this point in time, to take responsibility, to reach out beyond our own needs and to try to be more caring towards each other.
As human beings, we are all connected on the “tree of life”, therefore, if we can open our awareness, enabling us to naturally extend to each other, we can collectively make a difference to the dramatically rising statistics. Just one act of kindness towards another person may prevent the “tipping of the scales”, resulting in yet another untimely death.
Hopefully in the future, we can change, bringing about a “shift” of positive energy in a world that has sadly become self-absorbed, sporting a “survival of the fittest” attitude and approach, to others, which leaves vulnerable people at a high risk of giving up on life and “slipping through the suicidal net”.
In memory of all the people who are no longer with us and for the suicide survivors that are left to cope with a life where the landscape has changed forever.
As a health professional and bereavement specialist Debbie has a special interest in working with clients who have been bereaved by suicide. Over the years she has gained valuable experience working in the field of bereavement and loss and has received a 10 year long service certificate in her work for Cruse Bereavement Care. If you have been affected by the aftermath of a suicidal death and would like to book an appointment to talk to Debbie please contact our Leicester Counselling Practice and we will be happy to arrange an appointment for you.
(1) WHO cited in Befrienders Worldwide. 2015. Suicide Statistics. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.befrienders.org/suicide-statistics. [Accessed 20 February 2017].