I Am Thinking About Suicide

By Harry Hoover, You, Improved

I am thinking about suicide — figuratively not literally.

Several of my friends and family members have taken gun in hand to end their lives. One just this week.

Funny thing is that the last time I saw or spoke to each one of them, they seemed to be happy. I didn’t see the pain behind the facade. Their demeanor made me buy the lie.

Why didn’t I see it? Was I too busy to recognize the signs? Was there something more I could have done? I don’t have an answer for any of those questions.

Did you know that suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the US, with more than one million people making suicide attempts each year? Those are just the ones where it is apparent that they were trying to kill themselves.

Then there are the SBPOs, as we called them when I was a police reporter. That stands for suicide by police officer. Someone who can’t make himself — and it is usually a him by a 3-to-1 margin — pull the trigger sets up a confrontation with a police officer who is forced to make the call. Others may purposefully wreck their cars as a way to end the pain. And then there are the ones who put the bottle to their heads and pull the trigger, taking the long, slow drug or alcohol train to death.

I have never harbored suicidal thoughts and don’t believe I ever could contemplate it much less go through with it. But I don’t know that for sure.

I’ve read about suicide and have tried to get a better feel for why someone would make that fateful decision. Science provides some solace for the ones left behind. A Harvard University researcher says they have been studying suicide for years and probably don’t have a better handle on it than we laymen.

“We’re really lacking in our ability to accurately predict suicidal behavior and to prevent it,” says psychology professor Matt Nock, who runs the so-called Nock Lab, which is focused entirely on suicide and self-harm. “We are really struggling with identifying which people who think about suicide go on to act on their suicidal thoughts and which ones don’t.”

Scientists are beginning to make some headway on understanding the brains of those who commit suicide. Humans, it seems, are just walking chemistry experiments. We’re all about serotonin and dopamine. In the case of those who attempt suicide, they have less serotonin going to a part of the brain that is involved with decision making or with controlling impulsivity. Impulsive suicides often are the ones where we don’t see any warning. Unfortunately, it will be years before this research can be effectively put into practice to help prevent future suicides.

According to Dr. Michael Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School,

“Many people never let on what they are feeling or planning. The paradox is that the people who are most intent on committing suicide know that they have to keep their plans to themselves if they are to carry out the act,” says Dr. Miller. “Thus, the people most in need of help may be the toughest to save.”

Many people who are considering it, do exhibit signs. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a list of warning signs, which include:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves.
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online or buying a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.

We each are responsible for our own actions, I believe, but I don’t think that absolves us of our responsibilities to others. I plan to try to keep an eye out for these warning signs. I hope you will, too.

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