By Dr. Nancy Stockton
It’s World Suicide Prevention Day which gives us a chance to talk about a topic that most of us may not spend much time contemplating. There are reasons for this.
Suicide can be such a difficult subject to think about or grasp, when most of us, most of the time are in full throes of various life forces. We have much that we are excited about, much that we are living for – be it a special life event such as an anniversary, a wedding or birthday celebration or more simple things such as a concert or special dinner that we take pleasure in anticipating. We eat lots of kale, exercise, meditate in order to try to prolong our lives and experience a variety of pleasurable activities. Our psychological strength is continuously reinforced enabling us to cope with the many vicissitudes of life.
What are some of the hard to understand things that frustrate and countermand this powerful life force, that lead people to lose it, block it, fail to experience it? There are many, and we are slowly learning more about them. They include chronic physical illness, depression, being forced into positions of psychological helplessness, feeling hopeless. People who have not been allowed to develop a sense of resilience, who have always been told and shown what they can’t do, who have been told consistently that they are failures have a harder time developing the ability to bounce back from serious disappointments. If people feel so bad that they are isolating themselves, this can make their situation worse, and keep them from support and hearing corrective feedback from others. Loneliness is not a cause but can be an enabler of other forces leading to suicide.
All of these factors can lead people to experience periods of despair, hopeless and perceiving no way out of their misery. If such moments are complicated by drug and or alcohol use people’s judgment can be further impaired. If means of death, such as firearms or pills are available the risks are higher.
There are some elements unique to young people that make them more vulnerable to suicide risk. First, we are learning that the human brain is not fully developed until the mid-twenties, causing many young adults to have poorer judgment and be more impulsive. They have had less time to develop resilience and protective factors. Some have a much harder time recovering from a relationship breakup, cruel treatment by another, an academic or job performance disappointment. Some have not had enough experience with failure to know how to cope with it. They may be more vulnerable to unthinking abuse of a substance. So again, if a profound disappointment is combined with poor resilience, available substances to abuse, and means of death this can tragically make a few more vulnerable to impulsive suicide. Further, a few may be more likely to emulate a high status peer or celebrity. Suicide ‘contagion’ can occur.
What can we as a caring society do about this? While there are no facile answers, we can learn to look out for each other, to listen carefully to each other, to not be afraid to ask if friends or family members are feeling so bad that they are contemplating suicide. We can talk with them, refer them to professionals (like us!), try to remove the easy means of death, if appropriate, and ultimately call for emergency assistance if that is indicated.
IU Health Center is one of the sponsors of this year’s Bloomington Out of Darkness Suicide Walk for Prevention which will take place at Memorial Stadium at 2:00 p.m. on October 2. Consider joining in to learn more.