There are few experiences more devastating than the suicide of a loved one. Statistics inform us that completed suicide is more common in men than in women, whereas for attempted suicide the relation is reversed. Important risk factors in suicide include social isolation, the loss of family bonds and other supporting structures such as employment and marriage that give meaning and security to life. Yet, we wonder why certain people can survive severe heartache while others commit suicide. We now get closer to the individual and his/her psychological functioning.
The following motivational forces are common among patients who attempt to commit suicide:
- Those motivated by a longing to punish and force affection. These people hope that “ you will regret hurting/rejecting/abandoning me and you will realize that you do love me”. This motivation is typical in cases of lovers’ quarrels or children who desire to punish their parents . A suicide attempt can be a desperate attempt to force the other to love you, to give attention and to be available.
- Those who suffer loss of a loved person. Such a loss can leave a person with an unbearable feeling of emptiness, hopelessness and pain. This is exacerbated by an inability to express aggression, which is often (after the loss of the loved person) turned against the self causing feelings of worthlessness and badness. Loss experienced during childhood increases the risk of experiencing adult losses as unbearable.
- Extreme guilt can give rise to suicidal behaviour and a need to be punished for badness. This guilt can be about perverse sexual behaviour or longings, overt hostility or other behaviour or emotions that feel totally unacceptable and bad.
- Certain people have profound intolerance of frustration. When their needs or desires are not satisfied this can cause them serious mental pain. Such people struggle with reality and the frustration inherent to reality (our needs and longings are not always perfectly met).
- Deep hate for another person can be turned against the self (often unconsciously). Meaning that the self is hurt/killed in stead of the hated person.
- Some people are internally persecuted by a part of themselves that is very critical and punishing.
- In certain cases the suicidal person knows that the people who is left behind will feel painful emotions that can include guilt, badness and abandonment. In this way the person who commits suicide imagine freeing the self of these emotions and leaving others behind to feel them.
- Sadly some people who commit suicide have an irrational belief that they are indestructible and do not really believe that they will die. If they survive suicide attempts it can strengthen this belief.
- Severe depression increases the risk of suicide. The symptoms of a clinical depression are well known and include severe sadness, lack of energy, lack of enjoyment and problems with appetite and sleeping. An important factor in depressive tendencies is the experience of premature loss. Depressive individuals are understood to have suffered some early frustration or loss that was experienced as too overwhelming. These individuals experienced early and sometimes repeated losses ranging from being weaned too early and being expected to function too independently too early; divorce; rejection; abandonment; death of a parent; various forms of separation from primary caregivers etc. Early loss is not always concrete (as with death of a loved one) it can be more emotional and internal (as with parents who pressure children to give up dependent longings and behaviour before the child is ready for this). Young children do not have the mental abilities to process loss and therefore losses at a young age almost always cause some depressive dynamics. In depression all our previous losses are activated, the deepest loss would be that of a primary caregiver (ordinarily the mother). If we had a secure, good mothering experience it gives internal support and resilience.
Remember that the reasons stated for suicide attempts are mostly not the true reason. At most, the cause given is the trigger and often only a superficial explanation. If, for example, a student take an overdose after failing an exam the question would be why failing an exam resulted in a wish to destroy the self.
Parents might ask for advice to protect their children from the risk of suicide. It is important to know that when childhood needs for love, security, stability and availability of parents’ time and attention are well met it will protect children against future mental illness, depression and the risk of suicide. If damage has been done it is important to access your relationship with your child and make changes where needed and to seek professional help.