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Typical social (community and
personal) problems addressed by TIA:
violence, drug abuse, alcoholism, other addictions,
road rage, office rage, bullying, homelessness,
teenage rebellion, thrill-seeking and depression,
major crime, even illiteracy, high divorce rates and
personal problems that lead to neuroses, bankruptcy or
Copyright 2003-2012 BillAllin.com,
Makes People Want to End Their Own Life
so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who
tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of
‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that
life’s assets and debits do not square. And
surely not because death seems suddenly
appealing. The person in whom its invisible
agony reaches a certain unendurable level will
kill herself the same way a trapped person will
eventually jump from the window of a burning
high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap
from burning windows, their terror of falling
from a great height is still just as great as it
would be for you or me standing speculatively at
the same window just checking out the view; i.e.
the fear of falling remains a constant. The
variable here is the other terror, the fire’s
flames: when the flames get close enough,
falling to death becomes the slightly less
terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the
fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody
down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling
‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the
jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally
been trapped and felt flames to really
understand a terror way beyond falling.”
- David Foster Wallace, American writer and
[Wallace hanged himself, at home, alone, on
September 12, 2008]
This is easily the most difficult article I have
ever written. It has taken me months to commit it
to written text. It takes me somewhere I never
wanted to visit again.
I hope to take you today somewhere you have never
been. To have a shallow experience of something
tragically deep so that you can better understand
why suicide has been a taboo subject for so long.
Then leave quickly, never to return.
Most of what you have likely read about suicide is
wrong. The reason, simply, is that most writers
about suicide consider that because anyone can
kill themselves, anyone can write about it with
authority. The reasoning is similar to that used
by people who write about heaven. If you haven't
been there, you just don't know.
The topic of suicide can be separated roughly into
three categories. One is the kind where the victim
is distraught, has great difficulty finding a
secure place in life, makes what he or she knows
is generally accepted as a means of killing
yourself, but never intends to die. Such attempts
usually attract the attention, or some attention,
the person desperately needs but can't get
otherwise and rarely end in death.
This category is the one most people think of when
they claim that depression is the mental illness
that drove someone to end their life. This is the
one where people say "Depression will end" and
"Life will get better" and "Find someone who can
help." It's a call for help that often goes
unanswered once the emergency of the moment has
This category is the one most people think causes
people to end their lives, when what these people
want most is to find someone who will help them to
build a life. It is, in its simplest terms, a cry
for help. A desperate cry.
These people can be talked out of their suicide
attempt. They are most persuaded by the help line
"Somebody does care about you, somebody does love
you, somebody will miss you terribly if you die."
Later, when they recover and the attention has
passed, they find that no one did care that much.
So they make another attempt. Sometimes several
attempts over a period of years. They seldom
succeed because that is not their objective.
They lack the social and emotional/psychological
skills that should be taught in schools, but
aren't. Even under care they are more likely to be
given drugs than the skills they need to survive
and build new lives.
A second category might be called failed attempts
at coming close to death without actually dying.
In a sense, thrill seeking. People indulging in
this may overdose on drugs, even engage in a game
where they intentionally asphyxiate themselves.
They hope to "see the light" without having to
walk into it, to experience coming dangerously
close to death without having the inconvenience of
dying. Inconvenience for others, of course, if
they die, not for themeslves.
People who engage in this also lack social and/or
emotional coping skills. Again, despite how basic
these developmental streams are to life (the other
two being physical and intellectual development),
they are not taught in schools. Most parents know
very little about these developmental streams, so
can't teach their own children.
Social and emotional skills are surprisingly easy
to teach if a teacher knows what to teach and has
permission to teach them. If you remember a couple
of important life lessons you learned from someone
as a kid and remember how easy they were to learn
and how simple they were to convey by someone who
knew, you understand how easy and devastatingly
cheap these would be to add to a school
For some reason that is hard to rationalize, some
parents object to teachers teaching these skills,
claiming that it should be the responsibility of
the parents. It is, of course, but so few parents
know what to teach, and when. So most parents miss
the lessons entirely.
The third category of suicide is the one that has
impacted so many of us recently with the death of
Robin Williams. Robin intended to die that day.
For him, life was over. He tried to slit his
wrists, failed, likely because he realized how
messy it would be for someone who would find him,
then chose to hang himself with his belt. He did
not intend to fail.
Though many people in this third category who end
their lives leave notes of apology, explanation or
(rarely) of accusation, Robin did not. Leaving a
note is common, but nowhere near universal for
Why did he do it? we ask ourselves and anyone else
who will listen. Was it depression, as many claim,
something he was known to suffer from? Was it
severe financial difficulty or fear of bankruptcy
and the shame of failure society visits on those
who fail, as he was known to be obsessed with this
struggle? Or the future struggles with Parkinson's
Disease with which he had been diagnosed?
Was it his continuing struggle with substance
abuse? Not long before he died he had checked
himself voluntarily into the rehab facility he has
used previously. Were the mind altering substance
the cause or effect of depression? No one can be
Individually, these are each reasons or problems
which can be solved, that may be overcome.
Collectively? No one can be certain.
There is still another cause for depression,
suicide, mental illness, even murder and other
forms of criminal activity. Continual and
unrelenting stress. The push to succeed, to get
even better, to make even more money, to be even
more successful. That stress, the driving force of
capitalism, never ends.
Is there a pinnacle, a platform at the top for
those who have reached the ultimate success, a
place to rest when you have finally made it? No.
The drive to improve never stops. Most people
adjust their lives, recognizing that they have had
enough, that it is time to ease back before they
crack. Given the shocking number of suicides in
the entertainment industry and among other leaders
of industries, it's obvious that too many do not
make that adjustment.
We read about the suicides among leaders. Rarely
do we read about suicides in the military, among
teenagers, among the poor, in aboriginal
communities. Suicide rates in these groups are
nothing short of shocking. Many times the national
average in every case.
Robin Williams was not drugged, drunk or likely
depressed enough to want enough to die that he
would be willing to resort to suicide. So, why?
Suicide is not an act of selfishness. It's not a
matter of thinking only of themselves, nor an act
of cowardice or an easy way out of problems,
excuses those who know little attribute as causes.
The kind of suicide where the person fully intends
to die is completely different, something beyond
human life experience.
Have you ever been so wrapped up in music you are
enjoying that there is no other world around you
but you and that music? If you write or think
deeply, the rest of the world disappears, there is
nothing around you but your thought. You may
attach yourself to a character in a movie so much
that you live the role in the movie right along
with the character. An actor or performer may be
so into a performance that there is nothing else
to life but that moment, at that moment. You are
no longer an observer, but now an integral part of
When a prey animal, or human, knows it is about to
die--when the brain is convinced of the
inevitability of death--the brain shuts down. The
moment of transition from life to afterlife is
actually painless. That's why when you see a mouse
dangling from the beak of an owl in flight or a
squirrel hanging from the beak or talons of an
eagle, they are not wriggling trying to escape as
you might expect.
The brain has a mechanism whereby it refuses to
accept pain messages, refuses to suffer at that
final stage. A person about to die of hypothermia
(freezing) is not cold or even afraid as death
approaches. Scientific studies have shown that
this is when people who have been that close, then
came back to tell about it, find themselves
"walking toward the light." Science is so far
uncertain of the actual mechanism for this, but
lack of blood flow to the brain is the explanation
with the most support.
Would science call that state of not being "of
this world" depression, as it does the cause for
suicide? Science either totally denies the
existence or has trouble diagnosing or explaining
anything that isn't broad enough to shoot a gun at
from a short distance. I would call it the human
spirit separated from the confines of the
corporeal body. With suicide--real suicide--the
spirit seeks to make that separation permanent.
Whether that may be considered a mental illness or
something different may depend on whether or not
you have had such an experience.
For a person about to end his life (males end
their lives much more often than females--there's
an important lesson there), there is no one else
in the world. No family, no friends, no
neighbours. No one exists but them and "now" at
that time. There is no world other than the room
the person is in. Most suicides happen indoors,
usually at night, in a closed room, where it is
quiet, when they are alone. Their whole world is
inside their body.
Isn't that strange? Yes, may it always seem
strange to you.
What could you do to prevent a person in this
third category from ending their life? That's a
burning question. Intervention is possible with
the first two categories as has been demonstrated
many times. But the third?
My theory is that a person in the third category
can be forced to postpone suicide, but not to
avoid it completely. At least not easily. Anyone
who can be talked out of it would be in the first
category. Short term intervention for someone
committed to killing himself will not work. It
will only delay the event.
Consider this: if you are in a position to think
about ending your life, or even to consider the
pain you will suffer in doing so or the mess and
distress you will leave for others if you die, you
are not a candidate for category three. You may be
depressed or you may be normal as almost everyone
thinks about ending their life at some point. They
don't do it for a reason. Category three people
don't consider reasons or consequences. They are
alone in their world. There is no "other," "else,"
"later" or "future."
Isn't it cruel to end an article on such a
depressing note (pun unintended)? Let me throw you
a rope of hope. Successful suicides in the third
category almost always have the person being
alone. Never leave a person who may be at risk
alone in a room. Never without another person who
is awake and paying attention. All the time, 24/7.
A person who is at risk of suicide in this third
category will tell you of his intentions, if
asked. Most category threes have hinted or told
others outright of their intent to end their life.
What if he says no, he does not intend to kill
himself? No one says you have to believe him. It
may seem surprising, but few category threes will
lie about their intent.
If you get the person out of his normal
environment, away from the usual stresses of his
life, for long enough (it may take at least a
year), you may be able to cause something in his
brain to change enough to alter his life course.
The other alternative would be akin to
brainwashing. This would have to be done by a
professional, over several successive long days of
intensive therapy, non-stop over those days. A
regular psychologist or psychiatrist would not
know what to do or how to do it. Drugs would not
be used because they would prevent voluntary
changes within the brain. Finding a person who
could do that would be harder than finding a
needle in a haystack. But they exist.
I wish I had positive or encouraging suggestions
for you if you know or learn of someone in
category three. Let me make it even more
If a person wants to end his life because he can't
get whatever he needs, may not even know what he
needs, what are the ethical questions surrounding
denying him that right? A person who is "saved"
from suicide by persuasion may not get the help
and personal care he needs later. Is that ethical?
What is society's obligation, if any, to someone
who wants to end his life? What would your own
obligation be? What is right? Each of us must make
that decision, if the time comes, and live with
the consequences of that choice.
Bill Allin is the author of Turning
It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic
Social Problems, a book of easily
implemented and relatively cheap solutions to
problems that plague every community. Suicide is a
social problem, likely more of a problem than you
are aware of in your own home area.
Learn more at http://billallin.com
The following web site gives tips for parents
needing to watch their teenage kids:
It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's
Epidemic Social Problems