On average, every 2 weeks, someone jumps from San Fransisco’s 4, 200 foot long Golden Gate Bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge is considered to be the “prime location” for carrying out a suicide. Why? Because the bridge not only sits high up above the waters and is 4, 200 feet long, but is also known to have “assisted” in the suicide of at least 3,000 or more people, according to research. This is a terrifying reality.
One of the reasons for why this is terrifying is because 3,000 people wanted to die. What about their lives was so hard that they couldn’t stand living? This high number staggers me each time I look at it.
This article will discuss 17 things I have learned about suicide along the way as a psychotherapist. I will also add some details from research on suicide.
Suicide is never easy to accept. It is never easy to study as a psychotherapist. And it is certainly never easy for friends and families to comprehend. Suicide is complex and it’s about time we all recognize this very real fact.
I’ve learned, over the course of my career the importance of understanding and nurturing those who struggle with suicidal thoughts. We have to be sure not to shut them down, minimize their thoughts, and make them feel “abnormal” for having suicidal thoughts. That has been the response to those with suicidal thoughts for centuries. In fact, some research has suggested that a lack of support and access to a means to take one’s life are risk factors. Risk factors are things in a person’s life that make us more vulnerable or susceptible to poor outcomes in our lives.
As a result, I have listed some of the things I learned, over the years, about individuals who think about, consider, and attempt suicide:
- Most people want to talk about it: When seeing clients for the first time, I often ask (as part of my intake) if they have ever thought of suicide or attempted suicide. I ask the question very nonchalantly in order to dispel myths, reduce defensiveness, and model openness about the topic. If a client tells me that they have considered suicide, I ask if they have shared their thoughts with others. Many of my clients tell me that they have kept their thoughts of suicide secret because they feared backlash, judgment, or minimization of their feelings. I have learned over time that many of my adolescent clients, and some of the adults I see, want to talk about suicide but fear others will see them as “depressing” or “pessimistic.”
- Just because you think of suicide doesn’t mean you want to die: For individuals who have thoughts of suicide for long periods of time and who may have attempted to take their own lives, may be conflicted about the entire thing. Suicide is often something that is considered after years of suffering, after multiple attempts to pursue therapy and heal, and after multiple traumatic or emotionally upsetting events. Suicide is like a “band-aid” for some people. Sadly, these people fail to realize that this “band-aid” is not going to solve anything. It will hurt more than expected. A temporary band-aid is not going to fix it. I truly believe individuals who struggle with suicidal thoughts know this deep down inside but are searching for something that will end the pain.
- Self-injurious behaviors do not always mean a person wants to die: When I worked in a hospital seeing fire-setters and teens who had severe self-injurious marks all over the body, I realized that many of these kids did not necessarily want to die. They wanted to “stop” the pain and the only way they knew how was to create situations in their lives that would inflict some kind of pain on themselves. I had a 10 year old fire-setter who could not be left alone with his grandmother because he would run off and find something in the house to catch on fire. He ended up burning down the family home. He then began to cut and burn himself. I later found out, after 90 days of working with him, that he did not want to die but rather stop the rumination that he had suffered from for years following a sexual assault.
- If a person has 1 or more attempts in their past, they are likely to try it again: Research suggests that when someone has attempted suicide, even 1 attempt, that future attempts are more likely to occur. It’s as if the 1st suicide attempt makes the individual less afraid of committing the next. My experience has been that a 1st suicide attempt may be like a “test round” to see what would happen. Teens typically take this approach. Another view of this is that individuals who attempt suicide may be more aggressive in the future with their attempt now that they understand how the process goes.
- Having suicidal thoughts do not automatically mean the person needs help: Society believes that if an individual is having thoughts of or questions about suicide that they must need psychiatric treatment. I want to dispel this myth today. Suicide is as much of a part of life as other human challenges and humans will have questions about it. Questions, curiosity, or interest should not be taboo. Acting on suicidal thoughts or researching the topic in order to eventually kill oneself is the real problem. If someone mentions it, questions it, or seems to be exploring it, it is okay to ask them why but we shouldn’t make others feel bad or guilty about acknowledging it.
- Suicide should not be a taboo topic in today’s world: Teens are beginning to embrace the topic of suicide more than adults in today’s world. While parents and other adults are trying to figure out how to introduce the topic to children and teens, they have already researched it and understood it. Shows like 13 Reasons Why (from Netflix) provide a realistic view of the topic of suicide. Sadly, parents are not taking this platform for teens to discuss the topic further. One reason is because adults struggle with the topic of suicide themselves and would rather not broach the topic until it becomes an issue within their family. But I think parents should take the opportunity to broach the topic when necessary. We must also keep in mind that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 12 and 24. If this is the case, suicide is more of an epidemic than we realize, especially among our youths.
- Most people considering suicide want to live but don’t know how: I truly appreciate and adore the beauty of life when it reveals how beautiful it can be. Nature and animals are beautiful, the land is mysteriously beautiful, relationships can be beautiful, freedom and education are fulfilling, etc. But when my lens changes from positive to negative due to the challenges of life, none of this matters at the time. People who are struggling with suicidal thoughts have this dilemma. On one side of the coin they want to live to experience the beauty of life, but on the other hand they feel their freedom is just around the corner with one simple suicidal action. This roller coaster keeps them confused. Experiencing more good days than bad days also keeps them in a state of limbo. This state of limbo causes them to want to live life at some times, while not wanting to live life at other times.
- Some people who think of suicide have no idea how to carry it out: I previously had many clients who would report thoughts of suicide (i.e., suicidal ideation) and intense feelings but had absolutely no plan. A plan would be the vehicle by which the suicide would be carried out (i.e., overdose, gun, knife, suicide by cop, etc). Some people are more afraid of suicide than homicide and may attempt to die by causing someone else to harm them. There are times I will inform parents that if there is no plan, that is a sign the child or teen has not completely thought out the suicide or is too afraid to act. This eliminates the one component that makes suicidal thoughts lethal.
- When a person has suicidal thoughts, intent, and a plan we must carefully approach the issue: Even if the individual has the thought, high intent, and a plan we must know how to handle the person in order to help them see the value of not acting. For example, when I meet with teens who are suicidal, have a high level of intent to complete the act, and has access to guns, pills, or weapons, I must take every opportunity I have to make our initial encounter positive, listen to the client, and help them see that there is still hope for a better outcome. When someone is in this stage, it is important to handle them carefully.
- Of the 26 individual who jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge report regretting it: Reports from www.newyorker.com state that of the 26 people who attempted to kill themselves on one of the most dangerous bridges in the nation, the ones who survived reported regretting that they jumped. One individual reported that the jump felt like eternity on the way down. He reported wanting to change his decision the second his feet left the bridge. As I stated above, some individuals are conflicted about suicide and do not always want to die, even if they have the thought(s) to.
- Every 2 weeks, someone jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco: Can you believe that someone is thinking of suicide while the rest of us are preoccupied by our own lives? Can you believe that every second of the day someone, in the world, is considering suicide? When you put this fact into words and really start to explore how much of a problem suicide is, it’s frightening. When we’re happy or content, someone in this world is unhappy and considering suicide. While we are distracted by our own lives, someone in the world is considering suicide. There isn’t 1 second of the day where suicide is not thought of. Someone, somewhere is thinking about it. In fact, 4 out of 5 teens have given clear warning signs that they were considering suicide. No one saw it until it was too late.
- More than 3,000 people have jumped to their death from the Golden Gate Bridge: The $35 million dollar signature landmark bridge for San Francisco has assisted about 3,000 people in completing a suicide. It is designed by very strong wire and took multiple construction workers to build it. In fact, a plan was devised for the construction workers to have a “safety net” because in the construction of the dangerous bridge, about 11 construction workers died. Today, the community of San Francisco has also suggested a “suicide net” to help prevent the high number of suicides the state has. As you can see, the bridge is quite dangerous and has been called the infamous spot for people contemplating suicide. The very fact that 3,000 + people considered suicide and completed it should shake the core of our reality. It is frightening to think that so many people would want to die and that 1 bridge assisted in their deaths. We must use this example to be reminded that a person considering suicide will go to whatever lengths needed to achieve their desired outcome. We cannot minimize the fact that someone can complete a suicide using anything in their possession.
- Most people think of suicide but shy away from mentioning it or thinking further about it: Would you share your suicidal thoughts with people you believe would never understand, would never react empathically, or would undermine or minimize your pain? Why would you? I wouldn’t and I’m sure you wouldn’t either. Because of this, many people considering suicide quietly “send” signals, gather the tools to complete their plan, and then go forward with it. There are tons of behavioral signs you can learn to identify in someone considering suicide. I will discuss these things next week.
- Philosophy freely discussed suicide and saw it as a dilemma of being human: Philosophers such as Kant, Plato, Friedrich Nietzsche, or Socrates all discussed suicide including many other philosophers. In fact, Plato discussed that suicide was disgraceful and that these people should be buried without tombs or markings to identify them. Does this sound like a similar attitude held by many people in today’s society? Of course. This is why so many people shy away from mentioning suicide. It stigmatizes. Sadly, Plato saw suicide as a cowardly act. Kant viewed suicide as irrational and felt that self-preservation was important to the universe. Philosophers have long battled in the debate of suicide. Sadly, some people hold very rigid views of suicide that imprison’s many suffering people.
- There is often conflicting thoughts and feelings about suicide within the person considering it: Dr. Lisa Firestone, from the Glendon Association, studies suicide and violence. She reported that for many of the individuals who survived the jump from the Golden Gate Bridge displayed ambivalence which is always a factor in suicide. For me, I have seen many of my teen clients struggle with conflicting thoughts and emotions.
- People with suicidal tendencies are being influenced by genes, environment, and trauma: Research suggests that suicidal tendencies tend to occur in families where trauma has occurred, where individuals are predisposed to certain mental health conditions such as depression, and in an un-nurturing, invalidating, or complicated environment.
- Negative self-talk, rumination, thinking errors, and an internal locus of control all can lead to suicidal thoughts: Individuals who struggle with negative thoughts and self-talk, rumination (thinking of an event repeatedly and feeling depressed or anxious about the thought), and internal locus of control (i.e., believing that values, thoughts, or other personal characteristics are to blame for challenges in one’s life) can struggle with depression which can lead to suicidal thoughts. It is a dangerous cycle.
What has been your experience with this topic? Do you know anyone who is open to freely discussing this topic?
In the following video, I discuss my top reasons for why some people struggle with suicidal thoughts.
Stay tuned for next week as I add more detail about this topic.
As always, I wish you the best