suicide + mental illness | for teen readers
"Living When a Young Friend Commits Suicide - Or Even Starts Talking About It"
by Earl A. Grollman and Max Malikow
Pages 21-23. Reprinted by permission of Beacon Press, Boston. Copyright 1999.
4 minute read
The Need to Know Why
You are a suicide survivor. A suicide survivor is anyone who has lost a relative or close friend to suicide. If you are like most suicide survivors, you want to know why your friend killed himself. Since we do not know your friend and cannot talk to you about him, we are going to share with you reasons why people may commit suicide. As you read, keep in mind that your friend might have killed himself not for one single reason, but for a combination of reasons.
Why Do People Commit Suicide?
There are many reasons why people kill themselves. It is not enough to say that people kill themselves because they are sad. Certainly, all people who commit suicide are sad. But not all people who are sad commit suicide. What makes the difference? Here are some differences:
Some people believe there’s nothing they can do to make their lives better.
Some people believe things about themselves that are not true.
Some people are unable to stop their anger from developing into rage.
Some people conclude that they are alone in the world.
Let’s consider each of these differences. First, some people believe that there’s nothing they can do to make their lives better. This kind of thinking is called learned helplessness. It’s the result of years of a person trying and failing to solve certain problems to improve her life. Eventually she concludes, “It doesn’t matter what I do, I can’t get rid of this problem and I can’t live with it. The only thing for me to do is get rid of myself.”
Second, some people believe things about themselves that are not true. Some people think about themselves in ways that do not square with the facts. Often, such people overreact to situations and make statements that are not logical. For example, after failing an English test you might hear someone say, “I can’t do anything right. I’m a total loser.” Probably he’s disregarding all past success and the things he does well. Nevertheless, this is what he believes about himself.
Third, some people are unable to stop their anger from developing into rage. Rage is anger that is out of control. For reasons that can be very complicated some people get too angry. When rage is directed outward, the person who is raging might harm or even kill someone. When rage is directed inward, toward the self, the person might do harm to himself or even commit suicide.
Fourth, some people conclude that they are alone in the world. While all of us experience loneliness, few of us draw the conclusion that we have been abandoned. There is a saying, “Perception is reality.” This does not mean that anything a person believes to be true is, in fact, a reality. It means that anything a person believes to be true should be taken seriously because it influences her feeling and behavior. Some people commit suicide because it is their perception that they are alone.
Was your friend crazy?
Although “crazy” is a word frequently used to describe an unusual person or behavior, it is not a word used by psychologists. If crazy means being completely out of touch with reality, then most people who commit suicide are not crazy. In fact, being in touch with reality often results in deep sadness. Famous people like the writer Ernest Hemingway, the painter Vincent van Gogh and the poet Anne Sexton all committed suicide but were not crazy. They were people of great passion who were in touch with reality. It is not true that people who commit suicide are crazy. It is closer to the truth to state that people who commit suicide are not able to cope with their sadness.
“Bad thinking” is thinking that is negative, self-destructive, illogical, and inconsistent with reality. Bad thinking contributes to most suicides. Often, when a person is engaged in bad thinking he cannot correct himself. Since a suicidal person cannot recognize his bad thinking and distortions of reality, he needs to talk to someone. One writer has said, “Your head’s a bad neighborhood: don’t go there alone.” A suicidal person often cuts himself off from human contact and talks only to himself. In isolation, talking only to himself, he convinces himself that he is alone, unworthy to live, and burdened with problems he cannot solve.