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Understanding Suicide

By Dr. Brad Schwall, Executive Director

So much can be said and needs to be said about suicide. The thinking points below offer a brief outline of information that can start conversations.

About Suicide

Suicide happens as the result of mental  illness or mental health related issues. Instead of saying someone “committed suicide” or “took his or her life,” we need to understand and communicate  that he or she “died from mental illness or a mental health issue.” Just as someone dies from cancer or heart disease, people can die from depression or addiction. The action of suicide is the result of illness. 

  • Suicide is about wanting to end pain or a problem, not about wanting to die
  • At the moment of suicide, perception is muddled, thinking is not clear, impulse takes over, and the individual isn’t able to see other options for handling the pain or problem
  • It is hard to understand, and the goal isn't to understand, but to remember the person and what he or she meant to us and to provide care for the family 

Risk Factors for Suicide

  • Depression, mood disorders, and other forms of mental illness: depression leads to a sense of helplessness and hopelessness and to thoughts of suicide. When someone experiences a decrease in interest in activities usually enjoyed, changes in sleep and appetite, a depressed or irritable mood for an extended amount of time at a level that impacts daily functioning, it is important to seek support.
  • Substance abuse and dependence: substance dependence is a progressive illness and abuse of alcohol and other substances impacts the functioning of the brain limiting coping and problem-solving skills. Substance abuse often co-occurs with other mental illnesses. Impulse control is impaired when under the influence of alcohol and other drugs. Those facing addictions may see suicide as the only way out of addiction.
  • Easy access to lethal methods
  • Previous attempts and family history of suicide or mental health issues
  • Unwillingness to seek help either from denial or stigma about substance abuse or mental illness 

Protective Factors

  • Know that mental health issues are health issues, not deficiencies in strength or faith
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about mental health and suicide – discussing suicide does not give someone the idea, it can lead to a step that can prevent it
  • If you're concerned about the well-being of a friend or family member, tell others
  • Understand that it's often very difficult to help someone struggling with mental illness or substance dependence see there’s a problem so seek help for yourself
  • Ask survivors what they need or want, mention the name of the lost loved one, be there for them for months and years to come to provide support and friendship
  • Rely on community, healthy habits, problem-solving, faith, and professional support when helpful to maintain relational and emotional well-being