Thinking about suicide

Thoughts about suicide can reflect the intense pain and sense of desperation that depression can bring. Most of these thoughts are brought about by depression itself, and it’s important to understand that they only occur when your judgement is clouded. Having these thoughts doesn’t mean you should act on them! Below you can read about the factors behind the thoughts you’re having. All of these thoughts can be challenged, so if you’re not getting help already, we encourage you to seek it once you’ve read this page.
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A sign of pain

It is important to be aware that thoughts about suicide can be quite common – one way in which the mind tests out feelings. Having suicidal thoughts does not mean you are doomed to act on them! Many people deeply regret an attempted suicide once they have moved on from depression.

Bottom of the depression habit spiral

A series of many little things can contribute to a depression habit spiral which leads downward to suicidal thinking.

Depressed thinking habits bring about a narrowed perspective which significantly clouds one’s judgment. This tunnel vision reduces the ability to find complex, rather than all-or-nothing, solutions to problems. Suicide has been spoken of as ‘a permanent solution to a temporary problem’. When people look back on periods of suicidal thinking they recognise the options and perspectives that they just couldn’t see at the time.

Ultimate form of depressed thinking

The issue of suicide can be hotly debated. Some argue that suicide is a result of depression and should always be treated; others argue that the freedom to choose is everyone’s right, but…

Someone affected by depression is usually not in a position to make a free and unbiased decision about suicide. Thinking about suicide is the ultimate all-or-nothing thinking habit – the idea that only total relief will provide any relief from the painful despair depression brings…

A habit needing challenging

You can learn how to ride out your suicidal thoughts, reduce their frequency and eventually stop them bothering you. Surviving suicidal thoughts means challenging and resisting them, just like other habits of depressed thinking. Sometimes, making sense of suicide also requires a critical evaluation of some of the social and cultural influences on our thinking. See the ‘Debating depression’ section for more on this.

Deadly tunnel vision

Isolation and painful despair in conjunction with depressed thinking habits make for a very risky combination. Suicidal thinking often arises out of hopelessness about being able to overcome difficult life problems. When someone is desperate for relief from suffering, yet stuck in tunnel vision at the bottom of the depression habit spiral, they are less able to apply problem-solving skills and are vulnerable to the deadly over-simplification of suicidal thinking. The taboo over discussing suicide also means that thinking about suicide can leave someone feeling very isolated and alone.

So how do we make sense of suicide?

Several different paths of thought can lead in the direction of suicide. All are distorted by the narrowed perspective of depressed thinking habits:

“How bad am I feeling?”

People often first think about suicide not so much as an immediate option, but more as a kind of ‘barometer’ to measure how bad they’re feeling. When you are feeling very low, it can seem comforting to recognise that you do not feel quite low enough to commit suicide. This is a very risky habit, because repetition of the thought brings a seemingly comforting familiarity and dulls the initial instinctive recoil from danger.

“Am I a coward or a hero?”

Debate over whether suicide is heroic or cowardly is another irrelevant over-simplification. This kind of all-or-nothing thinking diverts attention from more complex solutions to the problems which have lead to the suicidal thinking in the first place.

“I’ve got to sort it out on my own”

An over-emphasis on individualism, common in western cultures, creates barriers to help-seeking. Over-valuing ‘independence’ means that when someone can’t find their own solution to their problems suicide becomes the only ‘answer’. Yet many people can be, and have been, helped to survive suicidal thinking and overcome depression.

“Won’t they be better off without me?”

One angle on suicide focuses on its self-sacrificial aspect, not wanting to be a burden. Yet the distorted perspective of believing that ‘they’ll be better off without me’ tends to be greeted with stunned bewilderment and terrible pain by those who will supposedly be ‘better off’. The anguish of a parent who has lost a child to suicide is almost indescribable.

“I’ll show them!”

For some, the desire to cause this pain and bewilderment, or at least to have people take them seriously, is a strong motivation. This is the ultimate in cutting off your nose to spite your face – again an over-simplified solution to the complex problem of engaging in meaningful relationships.

Copycat suicide

It is an unfortunate phenomenon that one suicide can sometimes seem to create a kind of domino effect, sparking off a series of suicides in the affected community. More commonly, a suicide in the community is shocking enough to jolt support networks into action for others.

“What’s the point to life anyway?”

Pervading cynicism in modern societies creates a strongly depression-inducing cultural context. Cynicism denigrates all that is constructive and hopeful and drains away the meaning from life. Depression and suicidal thinking thrive in the vacuum left when people stop investing hope in their lives.

To be or not to be?

The famous “To be or not to be..?” speech in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet reminds us of another aspect to thinking about suicide. It reflects the strong tradition in many cultures of contemplating death as a way of bringing into focus the value of life.

Depression and the meaning of life

Pain, suffering and the inevitability of death are profoundly difficult issues not just for individuals but for all of humanity. See the page on ‘Depression and the meaning of life’ for more discussion of how depression and suicidal thinking might be the starting point on a path of addressing the ‘big questions’ in your life in a more meaningful way.