What Were They Thinking?

Facts About Suicide and Grief

It is very difficult for most of us to imagine the pain of a suicidal person. When one is poised on the brink of suicide, there is a strong sense of ambivalence. Often times, it isn't really that they want to die, rather life's problems have stacked up so high that they just don't see any other way out.

At this point, tunnel-vision can set in and even though there are other ways out and many people who would gladly offer help, the suicidal individual can't see beyond his or her own pain. This tunnel-vision may also prevent the person from understanding the impact their death will have on family and friends.

In 2003, statistics show there were 458 suicides in Alberta. For every suicide, it is estimated that there are between one and 100 attempts. And for every successful or attempted suicide, one to five people are significantly affected.

One very common reaction to suicide is a sense of guilt felt by those left behind to grieve. Suicide is a very private, individual act and the motives for suicide are extremely complex. Seldom is one event significant enough to bring on suicidal feelings. Usually, there is a long history of problems, where a person sees his or her own life going steadily downhill. Friends and family may think the person "has it all," but the suicidal person doesn't see it that way and can't live up to those expectations.

William Srycon, in Darkness Visible: Memoirs of Madness, describes the resulting feelings of hopelessness for the future and helplessness to effect any change:

What I had begun to discover is that, mysteriously and in ways that are totally remote from normal experience, the grey drizzle of horror induced by depression takes on the quality of physical pain. But it is not an immediately identifiable pain, like that of a broken limb.

It may be more accurate to say that despair, owing to some evil trick played upon the sick brain by the inhabiting psyche, comes to resemble the diabolical discomfort of being imprisoned in a fiercely overheated room.

And because no breeze stirs this cauldron, because there is no escape from the smothering confinement, it is entirely natural that the victim begins to think ceaselessly of oblivion.

Generally speaking, suicidal individuals are suffering from intense emotional and psychological pain. Their self-esteem is very low and there is a marked sense of sadness. Being suicidal is itself not a mental illness and it is not genetically inherited. It is a devastating symptom of many complex problems and it can happen to anybody, anywhere, at anytime.

It is not uncommon for surviving friends and family to be left feeling suicidal themselves. Watch for marked changes in the personality, eating habits, sleeping patterns, appearance or sociability of those left grieving after a suicide. Signs of suicidal feelings are present in 80% of suicides.

If you are concerned, ask the person directly, "Has it ever been so bad that you have thought of killing yourself?" Listen non-judgmentally and direct the person to counselling or other resources, such as the Mental Health Crisis Line (1-888-255-3353) or the SOS Crisis Line (780-743-4357).

The bottom line in preventing suicide, as well as dealing with the grief after a suicide has occurred, is that talking about it really does help.

Statistics from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner