This article contains detailed information and accounts of suicidal ideation & behavior. If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, get help now.
To continue to discuss the very different types of experience people have with depression, this is one that most people don’t experience, but is important to address, since some do. Suicide is not in this case a tool to get people to do or feel what the suicidal person wants; it’s simply the ultimate way to make unrelenting emotional pain stop.
I believe people’s experience of the emotional pain of life varies tremendously. Some of this is due to genetically influenced brain chemistry and resilience, but much of it is due to how much trauma and emotional hurt, loss, injustice, abuse, and other painful experiences people have experienced. We have beta endorphins in our brains to numb pain and create euphoria, so we can handle both physical and emotional pain. But people are born with varying amounts and life events can influence our supply as well. For people with very little of this chemical, life is much more painful.
When people are in intense unrelenting physical or emotional pain, they can want to die to end the pain. For most people, unbearable pain is temporary and thoughts of suicide due to pain never get a chance to settle in and become truly serious. Similarly, most people who seriously consider suicide, or even attempt it eventually find themselves glad they continued to live. This is why professionals do everything possible to prevent people from trying to kill themselves.
In fact very few people are depressed or in other emotional or physical pain for years and years despite all treatment available. Most depression either passes with time, or is treatable in psychotherapy and sometimes medication. But occasionally people go decades in unrelenting emotional pain despite every possible type of intervention. I knew of a woman who had this experience and eventually decided she had had enough. She wrote to or talked to all her loved ones and planned everything very carefully, with plenty of time to say goodbye—as she might have done, knowing she had a terminal illness. In fact she did have a terminal illness, because occasionally depression can be that devastating. Everyone in her life had watched her struggle for many, many years, and understood her need to end the pain. She did it as responsibly as she could, and I don’t think it’s fair for anyone to judge people like this woman, based on their own experience of pain, because hers was clearly way beyond what most of us ever experience.
Again, this is very rare, and most people have other options, hope, and an underlying strong will to live. For most people, that will to live may waver temporarily and is usually replaced by a fear of either dying, killing themselves, or being dead, or by guilt about leaving behind people who love them and/or depend on them, and eventually the will to live comes back. If you have children, please know that children never recover from their parents’ suicide and are at great risk for suicide and depression themselves. If you think everyone would be better off without you, know that most suicidal people believe this, and it is a distortion. If you wonder, ask the adults around you if it’s true that they would be better off if you killed yourself.
© Copyright 2011 by Cynthia W. Lubow, MS, MFT, therapist in El Cerrito, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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