Suicide Is Not a Choice and Other Myths Debunked

Interview: Dr. Colleen Cira, Psy.D.

Dr. Cira has worked with hundreds of people struggling with suicidal thoughts. Unfortunately, she also had a family member commit suicide, so she understands the tragedy of this both personally and professionally.

From Dr. Colleen Cira
On Suicide:

Suicide is so confusing and difficult to understand because suicide sounds awful to someone who isn’t in tremendous amounts of pain. The idea of taking your own life sounds terrifying to most of us and then all of the consequences that come with suicide (loved ones grieving, feelings of failure, etc) make it sound pretty unappealing if you’ve never been in so much pain that death sounds like a relief. But someone’s profound pain coupled with the hopelessness of feeling like the pain is never going away can make death sound/feel like an answer. The problem is that most pain DOES go away, but sometimes it takes a lot longer than what is ideal which leaves people in a tough position.

Also problematic is how people perceive suicide and the people who carry out these acts or suffer with suicidal thoughts. Here are four myths concerning suicide:

1) People do not actively choose to commit suicide. I know that may sound counter-intuitive because people do decide to end their lives, but hear me out. The best metaphor I’ve heard to explain this is imagine you are holding onto a rope with your hands. At first you may feel fairly strong as you’ve only just begun. But holding onto a rope with your hands is still difficult even if you feel strong at the beginning. As time goes by, it becomes increasingly hard to hang on. Your muscles fatigue, your hands start to hurt and you wonder how much longer you’ll need to hold on for and as a result, you become more and more hopeless about your situation ever changing. Eventually your hands slip, from the chronic nature of your predicament, and you let go. Not because you want to let go or fall, but because it was too hard to keeping holding on. That’s what suicide is. You simply reach a point where you are in so much pain and you’ve been trying your best for so long, that you simply cannot do it anymore.

2) Suicide is not selfish. This is a common myth and as someone left behind, it can certainly feel that way. It’s easy to feel like your loved one did made this choice that made it hard for everyone around them. But when someone is forced to let go, they are likely completely convinced that you, the loved one still in this life, is better off without them. Or they are in so much pain, they don’t have the bandwidth to even consider it. Would we ever expect someone who is starving to think about much other than food? Would we ever call a starving person selfish because they weren’t worried about others who might be a little hungry? Of course not because we can recognize that someone who is starving has to deal with that primary need before they can work on any other needs and certainly before they can start to worry about anyone else’s needs. It’s not selfish . . . it’s just not realistic to expect much else from them until some of their basic needs are met. Suicide is similar. Someone is in such terrible pain that we can’t expect them to consider how everyone else is/will feel, when they obviously weren’t able to even cope with their own feelings. But just because it’s not a selfish act, doesn’t mean that the people left behind aren’t entitled to their feelings about it.

3) Suicide is NOT the “easy way out.” For most people, thinking about suicide is incredibly painful. It may make you feel weak, selfish, hopeless, crazy or any other number of difficult emotions to endure. And that’s simply thinking about it. But as one begins to plan a suicide, each step in that process is often filled with immense pain, grief, ambivalence and possible regret. And the actual act of suicide . . . there’s nothing easy about that. We know from people who have survived or changed their minds at the last minute, that those moments right before a suicide attempt are often some of their most painful moments in their entire life. Nothing about suicide is ever easy.

4) Suicide is a rare occurrence. Many people at some point in their lives have experienced thoughts of death and/or suicide. According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2016, 9.8 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 2.8 million made a plan, and 1.3 million attempted suicide.  Suicide is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. This is not a rare or obscure thing that only the “mentally ill” contend with . . . this is a human problem.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, there is help and it can get better. Most survivors eventually wind up happy that they survived. Get the help that you need. If you have experienced a loved one’s suicide, please seek professional assistance. Grief and loss are always incredibly difficult to move through, but death by suicide is even more difficult and far more complex. Bottom line: you don’t have to do this by yourself.

Available for Interviews: Dr. Colleen Cira, Psy.D.

Dr. Colleen Cira received both her Masters and Doctorate from The Illinois School of Professional Psychology and is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the State of Illinois.  She’s the Founder and Executive Director of Cira Center for Behavioral Health, PC, a boutique group practice specializing in Women and Trauma with locations in Chicago and Oak Park.

She was named one of the “Top 100 Women in Chicago Making a Difference,” by Today’s Chicago Woman. Dr. Cira is a trauma and anxiety expert, clinical supervisor, writer, speaker, consultant, activist, wife, and Mommy to two little ones.

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