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Why would someone end their life by suicide?

Death by suicide is a growing concern. When someone dies by suicide, it leaves us wondering why? How could this happen? We feel helpless because it doesn't make sense.

But if we look deeper, we may begin to understand what they were feeling and why they felt this was their only choice.

The key to preventing suicide starts with increasing our awareness and talking about it.

Firstly, when someone dies by suicide, it does NOT mean they are selfish. Selfish means being concerned mainly with one's own personal profit or pleasure and lacking consideration for others. If at first glance it appears they lack consideration for others, that's because their thinking is locked into a kind of tunnel vision. They don't see another way out. They are merely seeking a solution to their problem. The problem is unbearable pain that they can no longer tolerate.

The intolerable pain can be caused by many things - and usually it is a combination of more than one factor - depression, mental illness, substance abuse, end of a relationship, chronic pain, physical disability, financial crisis, unemployment. For example, not everyone who struggles with depression will end their life. But if someone with depression faces the end of a relationship, this can increase the risk of suicide.

Another common myth is that they are "weak." They are not weak, they are human beings like you and me and they are suffering and in need.

It is difficult to know when someone will take their life - even for professionals. The reasons are varied and complicated. Edwin Shneidman describes some of the common characteristics of suicide:

  • Suicide is viewed as a way out of a problem, dilemma, or crisis that seems inescapable, intolerable or never-ending. It seems preferable to the emotional distress or unbearable situation. In this state of mind, thinking can become clouded and lead to feeling that death is the only option. They are trying to escape from intolerable pain.

  • They feel blocked in meeting their psychological needs. The need for financial security, connecting in relationships, a sense of belonging, feeling competent in some area, etc. When someone feels they are unable to meet a desired need, they may feel like a failure or view themselves as worthless, incompetent or unlovable. They may become vulnerable to ideas of suicide especially if they have very high expectations for themselves.

  • The common emotion in suicide is hopelessness and helplessness. The future looks bleak and nothing can be done about it. No one else can help. I don't want to be a burden to others. These are common thoughts that arise when someone is severely depressed. This rigid thinking pattern and all-or-nothing thinking is what leads to tunnel vision and only being able to see one way out.

  • People typically use the same coping patterns they've used in the past. If someone usually refuses to seek help or isolates or withdraws, they are likely to fall into the same pattern again. This increases their isolation.

So how can you help?

You can learn the warning signs of suicide.

You can actively listen if someone is in distress or really down. You can ask what's troubling them. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Talking about thoughts of suicide is a relief for that person. They feel less isolated. Listening is the first step towards prevention.

Stay with them and connect them to resources. Someone in distress may not feel they can reach out on their own. If you are worried they will harm themselves, you can call a trusted family member, take them to the emergency room, help them connect to the Distress Line or Suicide Helpline (call, text, or chat). You can stay with them until you believe they are no longer in distress.

With this new awareness, we can acknowledge that thoughts of suicide are a desire to solve a problem.

"We try to find out what they are trying to achieve with this choice and then show them another way to get there."

- Eric Beeson

For more information on suicide prevention, go to my blog: We need to talk about suicide prevention


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Beth Matthews is a Registered Psychologist who is driven to help people feel better about themselves. She can help you if you are struggling in your life. You can learn easy-to-use strategies to help you cope with anything that comes your way.


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