On Understanding and Preventing Suicide

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

It is 4:02 a.m. You are lingering in bed unable to sleep; the room is dark and serene. You are thinking. Overthinking, maybe. ‘Why haven’t I made acquaintance with any feeling of comfort and happiness for months,’ you bitterly request an answer from yourself. Unable to find answers, you reach a hopeless conclusion: ‘maybe I am destined to feel empty and melancholic for the rest of my miserable life.’

You wake up, and after a brief moment of relief, an army of relentless thoughts hijack your consciousness, again. You tried medication, therapy, and mindfulness, but nothing seemed to abate the anguish and emptiness. Now, it all feels like a maze of inescapable torture, one in which you were stuck perpetually. Whilst stuck in this maze, you have been assiduously looking for an exit, a way out from this torment. And when you deem all the options exhausted, you think about the worst possible human tragedy: suicide.

On the face of it, suicide seems to belong to self-centered and the callous; it exemplifies selfishness and pure narcissism. The suicidal, people presume, are only and keenly interested in themselves and their pain; and had they deliberated and considered their loved ones’ grief, they would have brushed off their suicidal ideations momentarily.

But that is too sweeping. Those who deem suicide as suitable salvation, did so after painstakingly agonizing over the pain they will cause to their loved ones, but mostly, according to the suicidal’s deliberation, the pain they will cause will nevertheless be meager compared to the one they have and will everlastingly endure.

The bleakness of the present and the awfulness of the past are no doubt sufficient reasons for the miserableness of one’s life. But a more potent, and often ignored, dimension is the futuristic one: where one views the future with total inauspiciousness and excessive pessimism and grave despondency. The suicidal wakes up every day, marked with wounds and crippling dread to fight a brutal battle: with getting out of bed, with finishing the school assignment, with drawing a fake smile to look more or less normal.

And after years and months of unbelievably painful mental ordeals, the suicidal naturally looks for a way out-- not ruminating about the past, and indeed not pondering the awful present, but the way out always lies in the future, a future where things are a little bit more peaceful and hopeful. Nevertheless, for the suicidal, the future is almost certainly a mere representation of the past, a past that consisted of pure hopelessness and searing helplessness.

When the suicidal exclaims ‘ things will never get better,’ not only we become--rightly so--alarmed and concerned, but we unhesitatingly, and almost rashly, utter the words, ‘of course they will, everything will be better off!’ But that’s deceiving, for things might not only never get better, but they might even get worse. The chronic mental or physical illness will most likely not disappear; the broken, long-term relationship might not only not get fixed, but it could be further diminished; the financial loss that rendered us almost homeless could get even deeper than we expected. In short, the future, with all its possibilities, is confusingly and harshly unpredictable; therefore, we should never promise that things will get better, which will result in nothing but a disastrous defeat of the suicidal’s expectations--because things might really not get any better.

Our inability to promise that things will be better, however, should not render us useless, for that we can guarantee that THEY can be well despite their situation being the same or worse. According to the Adaptation-Level Phenomenon, people tend to rapidly adapt to a new situation, until that situation becomes the norm. Thus, our attempt to assuage the suicidal’s suffering ought to revolve around augmenting their sense of belief in their formidable ability to adapt and robustly challenge any possible human misery (illness, divorce, financial loss,etc.).

Therefore, the future, notwithstanding all its capriciousness, can still stand powerless against us and our will, our unyielding will to find meaning not in spite of our suffering but because of it. So, next time, when a delicately debilitated suicidal approaches us with their colossal failure to handle life, we should not throw the superfluous words of encouragement ‘everything will get better.’ But rather, we should, with a confident spirit and a categorical determination calm their storms by saying, “Yes, things might not get better, what you fear happening could very well happen, but I am in a paramount obligation to let you know that you as a human being have the formidable and fearless capability to adapt to the worst imaginable human catastrophes, that what you dread or suffer from now, could be the joke of tomorrow. You should know, my friend, that meaning is not a possession of happiness and jubilancy, but the essence of finding meaning can also deeply lie in suffering and tragedy. And your ability to eventually find meaning in the inhumane suffering you are currently enduring is unmatchable. The cessation of your suffering can commence in your realization of its meaning. When Nietzsche observed ‘he who has a why to live for can bear almost any how,’ he was onto something. I urge you to not give up and keep fighting this fight, for it might one day not only extinguish but make you blossom as a human being.”

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