Nov 30

“Suicidal: Why We Kill Ourselves” a Timely Book

Just yesterday there were multiple variations seen of this headline: “U.S. Life Expectancy Continues To Fall As Overdose And Suicide Rates Soar” (HuffPost). Such news highlights the importance of New Zealand psychologist Jesse Bering‘s timely book Suicidal: Why We Kill Ourselves, which, according to various reviewers, has been written in a uniquely approachable way.

Notably a survivor himself of an ongoing battle with suicidal ideation, Bering “knows that sometimes the most effective response to our darkest moments is a gentle humor, one that, while not denying the seriousness of suffering, at the same time acknowledges our complicated, flawed, and yet precious existence” (publisher’s blurb).

Bering’s earlier articles, e.g., his 2010 “What It Feels Like to Want to Kill Yourself” and “Why Do More Men Than Women Kill Themselves” also shed light on the topic, including his personal struggles.

His own background, as summarized by Michael Shermer, Scientific American, involved having been “a closeted teenager,” for one, and later unemployment as an academic, for another:

Yet most oppressed gays and fallen academics don’t want to kill themselves. ‘In the vast majority of cases, people kill themselves because of other people,’ Bering adduces. ‘Social problems—especially a hypervigilant concern with what others think or will think of us if only they knew what we perceive to be some unpalatable truth—stoke a deadly fire.’

One of the various reasons people consider or commit suicide is depression, of course, but “most people suffering from depression do not kill themselves (only about 5 percent Bering says), and not all suicide victims were depressed.” Genetics and environmental factors can also play a large part in one’s desire to stop living.

Kirkus Reviews:Bering concedes that having dark impulses is more commonplace than people would like to believe, and he highlights theories held by neuropsychiatrists and suicidologists who have isolated a specific neuron possibly responsible for suicidal intent.”

A major focus of Bering’s Suicidal, adds Publishers Weekly, is the work of social psychologist Roy Baumeister, “who identifies a typical six-stage mental process, starting with feeling of having fallen short of expectations, and culminating with disinhibition. Bering’s deep reading of an extraordinary diary written by a teen in the four months before her suicide in the context of Baumeister’s framework is disturbing but highly enlightening.”

In addition, Bering’s Suicidal “details with concern modern factors in suicides, such as highly reported celebrity deaths, internet suicide pacts, and glamorized media depictions as in the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why.”

If you find yourself contemplating taking your own life, please consider contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.

Apr 27

“Reasons to Stay Alive”: Matt Haig’s Still Here

The recent news report that deaths from suicide have been on the rise highlights the need for increased prevention efforts. Author Matt Haig hopes his 2015 book Reasons to Stay Alive, based on his young-adult experiences with severe depression and anxiety, is a resource that can help. British novelist Haig, now 40, has learned how to survive.

An excerpt from Haig’s Guardian article called “As Therapy Shows, Words Can Be Medicine” gives some important background to the writing of Reasons to Stay Alive:

On the inside, your head can feel crushed under a raging psychological tsunami, but outwardly you can look like a healthy 24-year-old man. Even when I got a little better, I found that reading and talking about depression could be hard.
But then a trusted friend told me to write about my own experiences, and feeling a now-or-never moment was upon me – 10 books into my career – I did. I imagined writing to myself at 24, when I very nearly tried to solve my life by throwing myself off a cliff…

According to Kirkus Reviews, in Reasons to Stay Alive Haig has written “brief, episodic vignettes, not of a tranquil life but of an existence of unbearable, unsustainable melancholy. Throughout his story, presented in bits frequently less than a page long (e.g., ‘Things you think during your 1,000th panic attack’), the author considers phases he describes in turn as Falling, Landing, Rising, Living, and, finally, simply Being with spells of depression.”

Entertainment Weekly: “…(H)e addresses the guilt and shame that comes with clinical depression—especially for men, who are disproportionately more likely to take their own lives—and the ways its symptoms can be misunderstood and dismissed by even the most well-meaning outsiders. (The 21-item list in a chapter called ‘Things That Have Happened to Me That Have Generated More Sympathy Than Depression’ includes ‘consuming a poisoned prawn,’ ‘breaking a toe,’ and ‘bad Amazon reviews.’)”

On the issue of what helps, “Haig…assesses the efficacy of neuroscience, yoga, St. John’s wort, exercise, pharmaceuticals, silence, talking, walking, running, staying put, and working up the courage to do even the most seemingly mundane of tasks, like visiting the village store. Best for the author were reading, writing, and the frequent dispensing of kindnesses and love. He acknowledges particularly his debt to his then-girlfriend, now-wife.”

Lettie Kennedy, The Guardian: “Medication is discussed briefly; notable by its absence is any discussion of therapy, presumably an avenue Haig did not himself explore. Among the most affecting passages in the book are three ‘Conversations across time’: dramatised exchanges in which ‘Now Me’ reassures ‘Then Me’ that the fire in the brain will burn out and life will once again be full of promise.”

A Few Notable Quotes From Reasons to Stay Alive:

You can be a depressive and be happy, just as you can be a sober alcoholic.

Things people say to depressives that they don’t say in other life-threatening situations:

Come on, I know you’ve got tuberculosis, but it could be worse. At least no one’s died.’
Why do you think you got cancer of the stomach?
Yes, I know, colon cancer is hard, but you want to try living with someone who has got it. Sheesh. Nightmare.
Oh, Alzheimer’s you say? Oh, tell me about it, I get that all the time.
Ah, meningitis. Come on, mind over matter.
Yes, yes, your leg is on fire, but talking about it all the time isn’t going to help things, is it?
Okay. Yes. Yes. Maybe your parachute has failed. But chin up.

The key is in accepting your thoughts, all of them, even the bad ones. Accept thoughts, but don’t become them. Understand, for instance, that having a sad thought, even having a continual succession of sad thoughts, is not the same as being a sad person. You can walk through a storm and feel the wind but you know you are not the wind.