Understanding Suicide

  • The Suicidal brain 

The suicidal person is in survival mode, this means that when someone is feeling suicidal they are desperately trying to survive the excruciating pain leading to the fight mode, this increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is regulated by a part of the neuroendocrine system called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. 

The aim for the sufferer of mental anguish is to fight against the pain in the only way they know how, to end the pain. The fight response is an automatic physiological reaction to an event that is perceived as stressful or frightening. The individual isn’t giving up, they are fighting to win in their battle to end pain in the only way the know how. When we are in survival mode, overwhelmed by stress and intense emotions that feel impossible to regulate, it activates the sympathetic nervous system where the amygdala which is the size of a walnut and acts like an alarm to detect danger, fear and threat is activated, just like a fire alarm would go off.

Our back brain is now activated and fully online, whilst the the front part of our brain called the pre-cortex; the region whose job it is to think logically, think clearly, make decisions goes offline, impairing this ability. Impulse control is also deactivated, meaning that one is more likely to act out of impulsive.

Like firefighters, the brains ultimate aim is to then put the fire out no matter what it takes, even if this as to be death itself. The aim is to kill the pain not oneself, but one feels no other way around this mental torture than to kill off the body; the source that feels, holds and experiences the never-ending excruciating pain. Just like when we would suffer from intense toothache and had no access to a dentist or medications would not work, we would seek to remove the source of the pain.

During suicidal mode, the front right brain that deals with emotions also affect empathy meaning that the sufferer cannot find empathy for self or not in a position to think how loved ones may be affected.
This all means that brain activity in people that are suicidal or having suicidal ideation may be different, logically contributing to a different state of mind than when one is regulated and in their window of tolerance (state of calmness and peace, experiencing no mental pain).

When the fear of living in this mental torture becomes greater than any fear one may have of death then mental anguish will be the one that kills the individual. People do not kill themselves, pain does. 

  • Is mental illness the cause of suicide? 

Dr. Mark Gouldston, a psychiatrist who has also worked with Dr. Edwin Shneidman, mentions in his article: Why people kill themselves – Part 2 – it’s not Depression, concludes what I have echoed, myself and that is, that whilst mental illnesses can contribute to a loss of life, it is des-pair and not despair that is at the core of things.

He states: Des-pair is feeling unpaired with the reasons to live, these reasons are the following:

1. Hopeless — This arises when one loses all hope of a future that is worth living and when resources are not to be found, scarce or haven’t worked, along with things such as medication and therapy.
2. Helpless — This is when one feels unable to bring themselves out of the darkness that engulfs them.
3. Powerless — This goes alongside the feeling of helplessness, feeling like one as no power over their suffering.
4. Useless — this is when one may come to believe that they are a burden to self and others (even if others don’t see them as a burden and make this clear)
5. Worthless — Feeling like they don’t have an existence or seeing no purpose or worth in their existence
6. Purposeless — This is when the individual fails to feel and see a purpose in life, one becomes alienated from self and feel aimless and ashamed believing that their life has no purpose.
7. Meaningless — This is similar to purposeless and goes alongside it, in the same way helpless and powerless do. Meaningless is when all meaning to life and to live feels futile, one cannot find meaning in living because life just means pain, and excruciating none relenting pain at that.
8. Pointless — Unable to find a reason to not end their pain, they feel this is literally the only way it can be achieved.

We live in a traumatised world, as Dr. Gabor Mate says, where our human needs are not met and where we are expected to suppress them, in fact depression comes from the word, depress which means to push down. The world teaches us that it cannot handle our pain, that it is uncomfortable with strong emotions and even the erroneous belief that some emotions are negative. We live in an oppressive world, that causes injuries and trauma to the psyche, suicide is the result of the human condition, just like many mental illnesses are trauma responses.

We need to stop attributing suicide to just mental illness as if this is the course primary or only course, dismissing all other factors and the toxic environment that we live in that shames us and disconnects us from our authentic selves, that oppresses us, that places detrimental conditions of worth on us, racism, colonialism, detrimental gender stereotypes, that alienates certain types of people and groups, that sees so many charities trying to help others because our government is rooted in damaging beliefs such as patriarchy, capitalism and so much more contributes to a world where suffering is only going to get worse and naturally cause such injuries. We have poverty as a crisis, global warming, great violence to black people and ethnic minorities with the deadly virus of racism, a pandemic of violence towards women, a world that doesn’t do enough to include those that are not able bodied, that shames any disability that is invisible, the list is endless and so is it any wonder that so many find themselves not wanting to live life if this is the life they are subjected too? If life means having to spend eternity in excruciating pain?

Don’t shame suicidal people, it is not about you, it is about them. They are not intending to hurt you or anyone. They are not cowards, selfish, weak…whatever cruel, misguided judgement is made on them, they are suffering and if you have empathy, you will realise that nobody wants that kind of pain.

To those of you that have been suicidal, had suicidal thoughts, tried to end their pain, I’m glad you are here and hope that things will get better or have for you. If you have lost a loved one, my heart goes out to you. You are not alone and I hope that this has helped to explain things, end the stigma and get the conversation started/going.

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