Suicide is terrible. Not least for those who take their own lives but for the friends and family involved who can be left with unbearable feelings of guilt, ‘whys’ and ‘what ifs’ that are almost impossible to reconcile. Suicide is not a proportional response to anything. It is a desperate act to escape pain that is seemingly unbearable and unmanageable.
We need to talk about suicide because the figures are appalling. In 2015 1,732 people died of road traffic accidents yet in the same year 6,188 people died by suicide in the UK. On the face of it, men are more at risk, but if you include the number of attempted suicides, or para suicides, it seems that both sexes are equally at risk – and across all adult age groups. This year the number of children and teenagers who are taking their own lives has hit its highest rate in 14 years.
But mostly we need to be brave enough to talk about suicide for the sake of those at risk. Contrary to opinion, people don’t have to have a mental illness to be at risk of taking their own lives. Yes those with depression, personality disorders or self-harming tendencies are more at risk. But many who have suicidal ideation, battle with it for many years and have no such presenting factors.
The one common factor with those at risk is that their feelings are unbearable and their motivations unconscious. These feelings often include a sense that they are a burden and the world will be a better place without them, and that their problems are somehow bigger and more overpowering than anyone else’s – a displaced sense of being special but in a terribly negative way.
Motivations for suicide are mostly outside of conscious awareness. It is obviously an act of killing and destruction however the less obvious intention is that it is an act to both destroy the self and also to save part of the self that can benefit from the act. One such motivation is a longing for peace; that the person has experienced an inner life that has no sense of peace whatsoever and that killing them self will bring peace.
Another motivation can be revenge, sense of settling long-held (real or imagined) grievances against others who didn’t care enough or from a sense of being thwarted. All of these things are buried deep in the unconscious, but behind the suicide action is a fantasy that some part of the self will survive in order to gain satisfaction from the act. This is the tragedy that makes suicide so heart breaking.
And this is why we, as family, friends, therapists, need to be incredibly brave to have careful and appropriate conversations with people at risk of suicide so that they can feel someone can bear the unbearable with them and begin to help them explore the unconscious nature of the act.
(Please note: anyone at risk of suicide needs specialist professional help and support from a registered mental health professional)
This article was first published in the Staffordshire Newsletter.