Moving to any effective understanding of suicide, personally speaking, is challenging at best. On one level, I share the common inability to comprehend any motive for such an action; self-preservation is the strongest instinct we have, and an actual ambition to end life is then virtually impossible to understand. On another level, however, suicide is a reality and there are elements of it that can be known, and this seems to be a responsibility shared as common as well. In plain terms, those who attempt suicide are known to us. They are human, they are not a different “species,” and the extremity of the motive goes to a human obligation to fully consider how and why it is created.
Generally speaking, it is possible to trace common causes for suicide. Genetic vulnerabilities, the individual’s temperament, acute psychological stress, and psychiatric illnesses are the basic triggers for the acts or attempts (Jamison 236). No matter the actual cause or causes, however, it is as psychologically unhealthy a desire as may be conceived, and I believe this goes to the stigma always associated with it. More exactly, as we know that only the most severe states of psychological distress motivate suicide, we become fearful because nothing is beyond the potentials of someone who would attempt the act. We also seek to identify if only those who are seriously ill are potential suicides, and it disturbs us to find that this is not always the cause. Those suffering from schizophrenia are certainly at high risk, but degrees of anxiety disorders may generate equal risk levels (Jamison 120). Mood disorder, for example, may fluctuate in such a way that, at its worst, suicide is contemplated when the individual would otherwise never consider it.
Assessing risk levels is also challenging because a person may very quickly become high-risk after years of being relatively removed from the potential to end their life (Joiner 24). When all of this is considered, then, we see that causes vary, and this translates to the reality that someone not necessarily greatly ill will attempt suicide. For example, a person may be genetically predisposed to manic depression but not be suicidal until their turning to substance abuse because of the depression creates the far greater risk (Jamison 200). Stigma is enhanced then because we must accept that this potential is in all of us, if stresses and circumstances become severe.
This connects to an idea greatly disturbing in its implications; namely, that suicide is not an act of weakness, but rather an expression of a specific and powerful courage or determination (Joiner 9). If we all deeply feel that life is sacred and must be maintained, then the individual who chooses to end their own is expressing a kind of recklessness that is equally frightening to us. Suicide, in plain terms, is the greatest expression of “defiance” that may be imagined. Consequently, and illnesses as motivating it notwithstanding, stigma is attached because we cannot allow ourselves to accept this recklessness. I believe this is in place even as we admire to an extent this most extreme defiance.
Ultimately, however, the core reality remains that any ambition to commit suicide goes to tragic sadness or disconnection, and no admiration for the “courage” may be allowed to outweigh the human responsibility to intervene. I do not refer here to euthanasia, which is very different and far more comprehensible, but to the non-terminal individual’s being in such a state of utter despair. Interestingly, and when we make any effort, we can in fact understand why such ambitions develop in those not clinically and severely mentally ill. We all need to belong, or feel we belong, and the absence of this feeling has inestimable effects on how we perceive the value of life itself (Joiner 118).
Consequently, suicide is then for most of us completely alien and understandable, provided we accept that extremes of feeling, which are possible for all of us, create the risk factors. If it is human nature, in general terms, to seek to live under any circumstances, it is also human nature that our own mentalities, emotions, and psychological states may deteriorate in ways bringing us to consider suicide. It is an act usually caused by extremes of illness or depression and, as we are all subject to such extremes, we are all obligated to view those who are suicidal as not essentially different from ourselves.
- Jamison, Kay R. Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide. New York, NY: Knopf Doubleday, 2012. Print.
- Joiner, Thomas. Why People Die by Suicide. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009. Print.