"In 2001, firearms were used in 54% of youth suicides." – National Center for Injury Prevention and Control
A “situational crisis” may lead a person to have “intense psychological pain.” As a result of this psychological pain, a person can begin to experience “distorted thinking” and/or may “abuse medication.”
1. Situational crises
These include financial problems, illness, bereavement, relational conflict, or public humiliation. Black notes that situational crises tend to act as a “catalyst to suicide,” driving the person to believe he or she has no other solutions to solve his or her problem(s).
2. Severe psychological pain
Black gets to the heart of suicide attempts:
“The goal of suicide is often simply to end that pain: ‘I just want the pain to go away.’ … ‘I just want to die’ most often means, ‘I want to stop feeling bad.’”
This, above all things, is the biggest reason behind a suicide attempt. If people felt like they had other options to their problems apart from suicide, most would take the alternate routes. In a suicidal moment – whether planned or not – the suicidal person is thinking about ending the “pain.” Death itself is not the goal; it’s an end to emotional pain. Death seems to serve as a means to that end.
3. Distorted Thoughts
Distorted thinking is a characteristic of suicides. Black writes:
“Problems may seems catastrophic when they are not. Predictions about the future can become arbitrary and unrealistic.”
While problems get unbearable and circumstances may seems bleak, instead of looking for assistance, those who are suicidal convince themselves that only death or loss of consciousness can release them from emotional pain.
4. Abuse of medication
A person who attempts to overdose on medication seeks one of two things: death or loss of consciousness. Abuse of medication that requires hospitalization provides a legitimate reason to “escape” the problems of life. Abusing medication is a person’s way of saying that he needs, as Black puts it, “an emotional vacation.” The person feels overwhelmed by the stressors of life and temporarily need to block out all distractions. At this point, it is safe to say a person is mentally ill. The need for escape from problems is the mind’s way of saying that it needs time to recover and become mentally healthy again. Abusing medication is the desperate way of doing this.
In 10 years of struggling with suicidal thoughts, I’m practically a “suicidal” expert. (I said "practically," not actually.) I know quite a bit about suicidal ideations and many of the thought processes behind them. Jeffrey Black lists more common features in suicidal thinking:
- Extreme psychological pain related to unmet psychological needs.
- A view of self that says she cannot tolerate such intense pain.
- An overwhelming feeling of hopelessness, and the belief that she is helpless to solve problems.
- A sense of isolation or desertion accompanied by the belief that others cannot, should not, or do not want to offer support, nurture, or care.
Not all suicides are planned. I, for one, can attest to the fact that they can be impulsive. The combination of elements that Black identifies can seem to lead someone to a suicide attempt. Black’s pattern of identifying someone who possibly could have suicidal tendencies is as follows:
- Sense of hopelessness
- Pattern of poor coping skills
- Limited tolerance for pain
- Need to flee from help
All four are likely to be present to classify someone as suicidal. Two out of four does not a suicidal person make. Desperate, yes, but not undeniably suicidal.
“Hopelessness can be both a source of psychological pain and a result. A person’s belief in her inability to change things is probably bound up with her experience that the pain is intolerable.”
Here’s the equation for a suicidal mind, here is the equation:
If the equation becomes problem + inability to change problems + intolerable pain, then the only solution – as perceived – is suicide. Black breaks down the facets of suicide:
- The result of a continuous transaction between a person’s heart
- The symptoms of depression
- The kinds of stressors in the person’s environment
- The strategies a person uses to cope with depression and other life events
A person turns to suicide if he is suffering from severe depression; has poor coping strategies; feels that his stressors are too much to handle; and in his heart, has decided that as a result of these circumstances and feelings, he must end his life.
Black’s Common Features of Suicidal Thinking
- An unwillingness to forgive
- The “last word” in argument
- A way to punish someone
“Romans 1 suggests that a person – believer or unbeliever – who contemplates suicide must actively suppress the Spirit’s testimony that he is a creature made in the image of God, living in dependence on him.”
“Actively suppress” is a strong statement. If it means a person is aware of this suppression, then I’d disagree. Some people may be aware of this but that isn’t always the case. Black emphasizes suicidal believers are made in the image of God and insinuates that suicidal attempts are willful acts of disobedience:
“We want to demolish the idea that someone who takes his life is a sad, wounded, and weakened victim, and that suicide is a noble expression of his fragility and God’s failure to rescue him.”
While suicide is not a noble expression of fragility, suicide shows a suicidal person and those around him how weak he is. This is not “weak” that describes someone with a character flaw; those referred to as weak are those who need emotional help. Those who are emotionally stronger are able to encourage someone who is emotionally weak. A man who takes his life may have been sad, may have been wounded, and may have been weak – but God’s grace was not beyond him and what is perceived as God’s “failure” to rescue him was still within God’s control. (I won’t get into the fine details of why He allows some people to live and some to die in this post.)
While the book had me put off, I did glean a couple of things from it, mainly things that pertain to Christians who struggle with suicidal ideation.
“The paradox is brought into full focus when a suicidal Christian wants to know if she will lose her salvation if she kills herself. The contradiction in her thinking – that the same God who has the power to condemn her eternally doesn’t have the power to help her now – seems lost on her.”
The key here for Christians is to focus on “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” This is especially difficult to do when a person doesn’t know the next path to take, what to believe, or desperately wants die. The Biblical view of Christianity holds that a person who has trusted in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and commits suicide is not condemned to hell. However, the booklet deals with issues leading up to this point and does not focus on suicide per se.
While suicide is viewed as a psychological act born out of a depressive state, the author correctly states it is “the act of a sinful heart.” All Christians must come to terms that many mental illnesses are a result of a sinful, fallen condition. Christianity rejects the teaching that “all people are inherently good.” From a Biblical standpoint, that’s a fallacy. Psalm 53:3 reminds readers, “There is none who does good, not even one.” Those who believe in God must accept that they are fallen, sinful creatures incapable of consistently doing good in and of themselves. Depressive and suicidal tendencies stem from this sinful nature.
Black quotes G.C. Berkouwer:
“One cannot find sense in the senseless and meaning in the meaningless.”
Life as a non-Christian can be senseless and meaningless because there seems to be nothing to live for other than the self. A belief in Jesus Christ as Savior gives life a brand new sense of meaning. But even a Christian can lose track of that. Again, the inability to remain focused on God stems from a sin nature.
Black uses the apostle Paul as an example of someone who overcame trials, hardships, and suffering. In II Corinthians 4:17, Paul refers to his suffering as a “light affliction, which is but for a moment.” Black outlines how Paul is able to regard trials as light, momentary afflictions:
- Paul lives his entire life with purpose. He endures the suffering because of the good he knows will come out of it.
- His life is lived for the future, for a “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (II Cor. 4:17)
- Paul is “strengthened” to face the challenges that God has given him through the Holy Spirit.
While Black explains how Paul overcame his difficult trials with courageous faith, his application flies over the head of any depressed believer. The above may be encouraging to a believer who is disappointed by trials, but it is an application out of the grasp of someone who is suicidal. A more appropriate application would be King David in the Psalms, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 43:5) or rather Elijah, who after a great spiritual victory, prays to God, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.” (I Kings 19:4) Perhaps even a suicidal person can relate to Job, “"Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not.” (Job 3:20-21) Black overlooks believers with applicable moments of despair and opts to use the apostle Paul as example for hope. Here, the cliché is applicable: a person must go through the darkest part of the tunnel before he can see the light.
Not only did I feel as though Black throw Paul’s example in for a “See? This is how a true believer should act,” he immediately delves into how “suicide is a sinful act.” Pitting depressed people against a great apostle like Paul is just an awful reminder that they just don't “stack” up. Contrasting a suicidal person with a spiritual giant is yet another reminder as to why he needs to die, not to live. As I mentioned before, using Elijah, David, or Job would have been a more empathetic approach.
An underlying base of suicide is selfishness. Black capitalizes on this thought:
“My goal is not simply to get the person to repent over a specific act of lawbreaking (suicide), but to undermine his pattern of sinfully self-centered rationalization.”
He adds that suicide is an “expression of self-centeredness contrary to our position as creatures responsible to a Creator.” Suicidal thoughts remove God from being the primary focus of life and make people gods in their lives. Suicide seems like a noble way of dying (a form of narcissism) while it is essentially a slap in the face to God. Suicide says to God, “I don’t trust that you can help me through life so I’m taking matters into my own hands,” whether the individual is aware of God or not.
Silver Neurotic at The Post-College Years has awarded the “Thinking Blogger Award” to me. I’m not a fan of memes anymore (e.g., I posted this and the five specified people should post it too), but I thought it’d be a good way to recognize other blogs that I try to read (when I can these days). I inevitably will leave off tons of others that I read just as often so please don’t be offended!
1. Furious Seasons – Mental health journalism at its best. ‘Nuff said.
2. Clinical Psychology & Psychiatry: A Closer Look – Detailed analysis of drugs and drug company news. Between CLPsych and Furious Seasons, I’ve got my daily dose of psych drugs covered.
3. Bipolar Blast – Gianna views mental illness and treatment with a new (and fresh) perspective. Her detailed and thorough analyses leave readers with new information and many answers.
4. soulful sepulcher – Stephany chronicles her journey of mental illness while also taking care of her daughter who has been put through the mental hospital wringer. Many of her stories are shocking and saddening, but she also provides glimpses of hope and joy. soulful sepulchre also doesn’t fail to keep up on pharma tricks and trends.
5. Honey’s Journey – “Honey’s” mom chronicles her daughter’s journey of recovery after taking Zoloft. This is a great blog to read if you want to learn more about the withdrawal effects of antidepressants. (I’d also recommend Graham’s Blog for the same reason too.)
Oops, I threw in a sixth. Oh well. See below.
The participation rules are simple:
1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.
3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote.
You can let the blogs above know about this post, I need to get to bed, like, 2 hours ago. I only did this because it didn’t require much brain power. (I’m all thought-out from my long work days!) I’ll be taking a break from pharma posts for a bit until my job’s busy season is over. (Can’t wait for May…) Delayed response to e-mails for the same reason… 😦
Also, I’m working on another series about codependency (aka “people-pleasing”) and how it contributes to depression for many people. (This is what I do with my free time during my train commutes.) Stay tuned…
I receive weekly counseling at CCEF (Christian Counseling and Education Foundation) in Glenside, Pennsylvania, The foundation has an outreach program called Resources for Changing Lives that publishes educational material on different topics. One of the small booklets I purchased was “Suicide: Understanding and Intervening (SUI)” by Jeffrey S. Black. The booklet is a tad bigger than a 3 x 5 index card and consists of 31 pages. Of all the things I read in the book, the last paragraph stood out in my mind:
“In the years I have been involved in biblical counseling, I have not completely fathomed the hopelessness and despair in a believer that makes death more attractive than life. I pray that my inability is not merely a lack of empathy for someone who struggles. I hope that it is a vision for Christ and his kingdom that keeps the true ‘meaning’ of suicide out of my reach.”
While I understand Mr. Black has years of counseling those who struggle with suicidal ideations, I can’t help but wonder: What made him qualified to write this book?
In reading SUI, I felt as though the author took an objective stance in writing this. It came across as matter-of-factual rather than empathetic or sympathetic. I read the book – in all honesty – looking for answers and some kind of sympathy. I only received a slew of answers. The book should aptly be renamed “Suicide: A Factual Guide to Intervention.” No understanding required.
The book wasn’t bad; it just felt like the author wanted to keep his distance. “Don’t get too close to the reader lest you understand what a suicidal person is experiencing!” But the lack of emotion to relate to the reader detracted from many of the positive aspects of the book.
Out of five stars, I give the book three stars. Despite the absence of emotion, the book gives great bits of information I hope to share. As a person who struggles with suicidal thoughts on a recurring basis, the book was a bit of a disappointment. I know of other counselors at the foundation who could have written a more sympathetic book than Mr. Black. But he wrote it, so it’s time to delve into it.
"Everything is always okay in the end. If it’s not okay, then it’s not the end." — Unknown
"Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death for all U.S. men." – National Center for Injury Prevention and Control