As you are reading this, four young people in Ireland are contemplating taking their own lives.
By this time next week, two will have done so. Now, take a while to think about that.
When I’m asked to see someone who has survived an attempt to take their own life, I always start by asking them to consider one question.
“Was the aim of taking your own life to actually kill yourself or was it that you just wanted the pain to go away?”
Taking their life was the only way they knew of achieving this
In every case, the answer is always the same, they just wanted the pain to go away. Taking their life was the only way they knew of achieving this.
So, what is this pain that they are describing, why does it happen and why couldn’t they reach out for help?
Considering that the majority of suicides occur in young males, what can parents, teachers and communities do to help?
What causes us to feel that what we do is not determined by what happens to us, but by what we say to ourselves about what has happened.
When we are in a good space, our emotional and logical brains can balance each other out.
Ego anxiety is an anxiety caused by how we rate ourselves as people
Unfortunately, when we are in a bad space, our emotional mind takes over to the extent that our logical mind cannot counterbalance it.
Ego anxiety is an anxiety caused by how we rate ourselves as people. All of us experience it from time to time.
If you go into a social environment where you don’t know anybody, that bit of nervous tension that you will feel is your ego anxiety.
If, however, as we grow through childhood and adolescence, we are bullied, feel excluded or use drugs and alcohol frequently, our emotional skin either doesn’t grow or remains very thin. We are powerless to stop little things hurting us a lot. As a result, we are powerless to stop the negative voice in our head becoming what we call the “pathological critic”.
This constant criticism is the internal voice that occurs in the head of everybody who gets depressed or ego anxious.
No matter how strong we are, we gradually lose our ability to discount what the bully in our head is saying to us
By accepting blindly what this critic says to us, without knowing how to challenge it, we mix it with what all our other critics have said to us over the years.
Taking these ingredients, we make a “cake” of vague self-criticism where everything is mixed up into one big jumble. No matter how strong we are, we gradually lose our ability to discount what the bully in our head is saying to us. We start to believe that this evaluation of ourselves is what everybody else is thinking about us.
Eventually, our pathological critic dictates every view we have about ourselves, people, and the way we view the world in general. We are powerless to switch it off without help.
Looking in through an imaginary barrier at the world around us, we arrive at a point of “terminal uniqueness”.
It’s hard enough when we can’t live with other people. It’s infinitely worse when we can’t live with ourselves.
The pain, as we see it, will soon be over
Eventually, we arrive at a point where the only option we can see is to end it all. The decision we make to do it relieves a lot of the tension we feel. We have entered the “suicide cocoon”. The pressure is off. It’s comfortable in here. The pain, as we see it, will soon be over.
This is why many people who have lost someone to suicide say that in the days/weeks before they did it, that they appeared to feel a lot better.
So why can’t we reach out?
If you had a broken leg, you would have no problem going to hospital. We view it as normal because most of us will break a bone or two as we go through life. We normalise the experience as being part and parcel of life and don’t think twice about looking for help.
We think we are abnormal for feeling the way we do because we don’t see others broadcasting that they get depressed
However, this is sadly not the case with things like depression. By its very nature, the thinking dynamic in depression is, “I am a failure”.
We try to hide it because we believe that everyone will view us the way we view ourselves for feeling this way.
We think we are abnormal for feeling the way we do because we don’t see others broadcasting that they get depressed.
If, as a society, we insinuate that by being depressed you are somewhere that we are not, then we will reinforce your feeling of failure and cause you to withdraw from us even further.
What can communities do?
We must start by being careful that how we react doesn’t make the problem worse. Our language must never use “you” or “them”, only “we” and “us”. There is no such thing as an abnormal emotion.
Identify with the parts of their story that you can recognise. Times when you felt lost and didn’t know what to do. Don’t try to dismiss their thinking by arguing the opposite. You will only isolate the person further.
They are trying to understand their world. We need to be able to understand them and we can only do this by tuning into “their” perspective instead of expecting them to tune into ours (which they can’t).
We learn by watching and identifying with others
Remember, life, learning and growing is a journey, not a destination. We learn by watching and identifying with others. Identification gives a sense of universality, which demonstrates normality.
All change is painful and presents us with a dilemma (where both options will present a problem for us).
Let them talk. Above all, do not challenge. The goal is to understand the dilemma that they are in even though it may be hard to hear. When we feel listened to, we feel understood and we therefore learn to understand ourselves – we open up, feel accepted, empowered and, above all, hopeful.
If you are thinking of taking your own life
Please try to understand that it’s your thinking that’s wrong, not you. You think that by taking your own life you are taking away all the pain.
You are not, you are leaving it all, multiplied by 100, to those who will be affected by your suicide. And they never recover.
For your parents, you will be the first thought in their head as they wake up every morning and the last thought every night until they die.
Suicide destroys families and those you love. So, if you can’t bring yourself to stop for yourself, stop for them in the short term.
Life is there to be enjoyed, not endured
Try to believe that there is a solution. It is not your fault for feeling the way you do. It’s because you haven’t been able to recognise or find a solution.
The great news is that we can learn how to change the way we feel and how to cope with life.
Life is there to be enjoyed, not endured. Please reach out to someone and start the journey to living a happy and fulfilling life. You can learn how to do this. There’s loads of help out there.