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Being Suicidal: What It Feels Like to Want to Kill Yourself

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This blog appears in the In-Depth Report Genius, Suicide and Mental Illness: Insights into a Deep Connection

One of the more fascinating psychotic conditions in the medical literature is known as Cotard’s syndrome, a rare disorder, usually recoverable, in which the primary symptom is a “delusion of negation.” According to researchers David Cohen and Angèle Consoli of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, many patients with Cotard’s syndrome are absolutely convinced, without even the slimmest of doubts, that they are already dead.

Some recent evidence suggests that Cotard’s may occur as a neuropsychiatric side effect in patients taking the drugs aciclovir or valaciclovir for herpes and who also have kidney failure.* But its origins go back much further than these modern drugs. First described by the French neurologist Jules Cotard in the 1880s, it is usually accompanied by some other debilitating problem, such as major depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy or general paralysis—not to mention disturbing visages in the mirror. Consider the case of one young woman described by Cohen and Consoli: “The delusion consisted of the patient’s absolute conviction she was already dead and waiting to be buried, that she had no teeth or hair, and that her uterus was malformed.” Poor thing—that image couldn’t have been very good for her self-esteem.

Still, call me strange, but I happen to find a certain appeal in the conviction that one is, though otherwise lucid, nevertheless already dead. Provided there were no uncomfortable symptoms of rigor mortis cramping up my hands, nor delusory devils biting at my feet, how liberating it would be to be able to write like a dead man and without that hobbling, hesitating fear of being unblinkingly honest. Knowing that upon publication I would be tucked safely away in my tomb, I could finally say what’s on my mind. Of course, living one’s life as though it were a suicide note incarnate (yet remember this is precisely what life is, really, and I would advise any thinking person to stroll by a cemetery each day, gaze unto those fields of crumbling headstones filled with chirping crickets, and ponder, illogically so, what these people wish they might have said to the world when it was still humanly possible for them to have done so ) is an altogether different thing from the crushing, unbearable weight of an actual suicidal mind dangerously tempted by the promise of permanent quiescence.

In considering people’s motivations for killing themselves, it is essential to recognize that most suicides are driven by a flash flood of strong emotions, not rational, philosophical thoughts in which the pros and cons are evaluated critically. And, as I mentioned in last week’s column on the evolutionary biology of suicide, from a psychological science perspective, I don’t think any scholar ever captured the suicidal mind better than Florida State University psychologist Roy Baumeister in his 1990 Psychological Review article , “Suicide as Escape from the Self.” To reiterate, I see Baumeister’s cognitive rubric as the engine of emotions driving deCatanzaro’s biologically adaptive suicidal decision-making. There are certainly more recent theoretical models of suicide than Baumeister’s, but none in my opinion are an improvement. The author gives us a uniquely detailed glimpse into the intolerable and relentlessly egocentric tunnel vision that is experienced by a genuinely suicidal person.

According to Baumeister, there are six primary steps in the escape theory, culminating in a probable suicide when all criteria are met. I do hope that having knowledge about the what-it-feels-like phenomenology of ‘being’ suicidal helps people to recognize their own possible symptoms of suicidal ideation and—if indeed this is what’s happening—enables them to somehow derail themselves before it’s too late. Note that it is not at all apparent that those at risk of suicide are always aware that they are in fact suicidal, at least in the earliest cognitive manifestations of suicidal ideation. And if such thinking proceeds unimpeded, then keeping a suicidal person from completing the act may be as futile as encouraging someone at the very peak of sexual excitement to please kindly refrain from having an orgasm, which is itself sometimes referred to as la petite mort (“the little death”).

So let’s take a journey inside the suicidal mind, at least as it’s seen by Roy Baumeister. You might even come to discover that you’ve actually stepped foot in this dark psychological space before, perhaps without knowing it at the time.

Step 1: Falling Short of Standards

Most people who kill themselves actually lived better-than-average lives. Suicide rates are higher in nations with higher standards of living than in less prosperous nations; higher in US states with a better quality of life; higher in societies that endorse individual freedoms; higher in areas with better weather; in areas with seasonal change, they are higher during the warmer seasons; and they’re higher among college students that have better grades and parents with higher expectations.

Baumeister argues that such idealistic conditions actually heighten suicide risk because they often create unreasonable standards for personal happiness, thereby rendering people more emotionally fragile in response to unexpected setbacks. So, when things get a bit messy, such people, many of whom appear to have led mostly privileged lives, have a harder time coping with failures. “A large body of evidence,” writes the author, “is consistent with the view that suicide is preceded by events that fall short of high standards and expectations, whether produced by past achievements, chronically favorable circumstances, or external demands.” For example, simply being poor isn’t a risk factor for suicide. But going rather suddenly from relative prosperity to poverty has been strongly linked to suicide. Likewise, being a lifelong single person isn’t a risk factor either, but the transition from marriage to the single state places one at significant risk for suicide. Most suicides that occur in prison and mental hospital settings occur within the first month of confinement, during the initial period of adjustment to loss of freedom. Suicide rates are lowest on Fridays and highest on Mondays; they also drop just before the major holidays and then spike sharply immediately after the holidays. Baumeister interprets these patterns as consistent with the idea that people’s high expectations for holidays and weekends materialize, after the fact, as bitter disappointments.

To summarize this first step in the escape theory, Baumeister tells us that, “it is apparently the size of the discrepancy between standards and perceived reality that is crucial for initiating the suicidal process.” It’s the proverbial law of social gravity: the higher your majesty is to start off with, the more painful it’s going to be when you happen to fall flat on your face.

Step 2: Attributions to Self

It is not just the fall from grace alone that’s going to send you on a suicidal tailspin. It’s also necessary for you to loathe yourself for facing the trouble you find yourself in. Across cultures, “self blame” or “condemnation of the self” has held constant as a common denominator in suicides. Baumeister’s theory accommodates these data, yet his model emphasizes that the biggest risk factor isn’t chronically low self-esteem, per se, but rather a relatively recent demonization of the self in response to the negative turn of events occurring in the previous step. People who have low self-esteem are often misanthropes, he points out, in that while they are indeed self critical, they are usually just as critical of other people. By contrast, suicidal individuals who engage in negative appraisals of the self seem to suffer the erroneous impression that other people are mostly good, while they themselves are bad. Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, inadequacy, or feeling exposed, humiliated and rejected leads suicidal people to dislike themselves in a manner that, essentially, cleaves them off from an idealized humanity. The self is seen as being enduringly undesirable; there is no hope for change and the core self is perceived as being rotten.

This is why adolescents and adults of minority sexual orientations, who grow up gestating in a social womb filled with messages—both implicit and explicit—that they are essentially lesser human beings, are especially vulnerable to suicide. Even though we may consciously reject these personal attributions made by an intolerant society, they have still seeped in. If we extrapolate this to, say, Tyler Clementi as he was driving towards the George Washington Bridge to end his own life in the wake of being cruelly and voyeuristically outed over the Internet, I’d bet my bottom dollar that he felt even the songs on the radio weren’t meant for him, but for “normal people” more relatable to the singer and deserving of the song’s message.

Step 3: High Self-Awareness

“The essence of self-awareness is comparison of self with standards,” writes Baumeister. And, according to his escape theory, it is this ceaseless and unforgiving comparison with a preferred self—perhaps an irrecoverable self from a happier past or a goal self that is now seen as impossible to achieve in light of recent events—fuelling suicidal ideation.

This piquancy of thought in suicidal individuals is actually measurable, at least indirectly by analyzing the language used in suicide notes. One well-known “suicidologist,” Edwin Shneidman, once wrote that, “Our best route to understanding suicide is not through the study of the structure of the brain, nor the study of social statistics, nor the study of mental diseases, but directly through the study of human emotions described in plain English, in the words of the suicidal person.”  Personally, I feel a bit like an existential Peeping Tom in reading strangers’ suicide notes, but it’s a longstanding cottage industry in psychological research. Over the past few decades alone, nearly 300 studies on suicide notes have been published. These cover a broad range of research questions, but because they tend to yield inconsistent findings, they have also painted a confusing picture of the suicidal mind.

This is especially the case when trying to reveal people’s motivations for the act. Some who commit suicide may not even be aware of their own motivations, or at least they have not been completely honest in their farewell letters to the world. A good example comes from University of Manchester sociologist Susanne Langer and her colleagues’ report in a 2008 issue of The Sociological Review . The researchers describe how the suicide note written by one young man was rather nondescript, mentioning feelings of loneliness and emptiness as causing his suicide, while, in fact, “his file contained a memo inquiring about the state of an investigation regarding sexual offences the deceased had been accused of in an adjacent jurisdiction.”

The more compelling studies on suicide notes, in my view, are those that use text analysis programs enabling the investigators to make exact counts of particular kinds of words. Compared to fake suicide notes, real suicide notes are notorious for containing first-person singular pronouns, a reflection of high self-awareness. And unlike letters written by people facing involuntary death, such as those about to be executed, suicide note writers rarely use inclusive language such as plural pronouns, such as “us” and “we.” When they do mention significant others, suicide note writers usually speak of them as being cut off, distant, separate, not understanding, or opposed. Friends and family, even a loving mother at arm’s length, feel endless oceans away.

Step 4: Negative Affect

It may seem to go without saying that suicides tend to be preceded by a period of negative emotions, but, again, in Baumeister’s escape model, negative suicidal emotions are experienced as an acute state rather than a prolonged one. “Concluding simply that depression causes suicide and leaving it at that may be inadequate for several reasons,” he writes. “It is abundantly clear that most depressed people do not attempt suicide and that not all suicide attempters are clinically depressed.”

Anxiety—which can be experienced as guilt, self-blame, threat of social exclusion, ostracism and worry—seems to be a common strand in the majority of suicides. As I mentioned in last week’s post, we may very well be the only species for which negative social-evaluative appraisals can lead to shame-induced suicide. It’s not without controversy, but the most convincing data from studies with nonhuman animals suggest very strongly that we are the only species on the face of the earth able to take another organism’s perspective in judging the self’s attributes. This is owed to an evolutionary innovation known as “theory of mind” (literally, theorizing about what someone else is thinking about, including what they’re thinking about you ; and, perhaps more importantly in this case, even what you’re thinking about you) that has been both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it allows us to experience pride, and a curse because it also engenders what I consider to be the uniquely human, uniquely painful emotion of shame.

Psychodynamic theorists often postulate that suicidal guilt seeks punishment, and thus suicide is a sort of self-execution. But Baumeister’s theory largely rejects this interpretation; rather, in his model, the appeal of suicide is loss of consciousness, and thus the end of psychological pain being experienced. And since cognitive therapy isn’t easily available—or seen as achievable—by most suicidal people, that leaves only three ways to escape this painful self-awareness: drugs, sleep and death. And of these, only death, nature’s great anesthesia, offers a permanent fix.    

Step 5: Cognitive Deconstruction

The fifth step in the escape theory is perhaps the most intriguing, from a psychological perspective, because it illustrates just how distinct and scarily inaccessible the suicidal mind is from that of our everyday cognition. With cognitive deconstruction, a concept originally proposed by social psychologists Robin Vallacher and Daniel Wegner, the outside world becomes a much simpler affair in our heads—but usually not in a good way.

Cognitive deconstruction is pretty much just what it sounds like. Things are cognitively broken down into increasingly low-level and basic elements. For example, the time perspective of suicidal people changes in a way that makes the present moment seem interminably long; this is because, “suicidal people have an aversive or anxious awareness of the recent past (and possibly the future too), from which they seek to escape into a narrow, unemotional focus on the present moment.” In one interesting study, for example, when compared to control groups, suicidal participants significantly overestimated the passage of experimentally controlled intervals of time by a large amount. Baumeister surmises, “Thus suicidal people resemble acutely bored people: The present seems endless and vaguely unpleasant, and whenever one checks the clock, one is surprised at how little time has actually elapsed.”

Evidence also suggests that suicidal individuals have a difficult time thinking about the future—which for those who’d use the threat of hell as a deterrent, shows just why this strategy isn’t likely to be very effective. This temporal narrowing, Baumeister believes, is actually a defensive mechanism helping the person to cognitively withdraw from thinking about past failures and the anxiety of an intolerable, hopeless future.

Another central aspect of the suicidal person’s cognitive deconstruction, says Baumeister, is a dramatic increase in concrete thought. Like the intrusively high self-awareness discussed earlier, this concreteness is often conveyed in suicide notes. Several review articles have noted the relative paucity of “thinking words” in suicide notes, which are abstract, meaningful, high-level terms. Instead, they more often include banal and specific instructions, such as, “Don’t forget to feed the cat,” or “Remember to take care of the electric bill.” Real suicide notes are usually suspiciously void of contemplative or metaphysical thoughts, whereas fake suicide notes, written by study participants, tend to include more abstract or high-level terms (“Someday you’ll understand how much I loved you” or “Always be happy”). One old study even found that genuine suicide notes contained more references to concrete objects in the environment—physical things—than did simulated suicide notes.

What this cognitive shift to concrete thinking reflects, suggests Baumeister, is the brain’s attempt to slip into idle mental labor, thereby avoiding the suffocating feelings that we’ve been describing. Many suicidal college students, for example, exhibit a behavioral pattern of burying themselves in dull, routine academic busywork in the weeks beforehand, presumably to enter a sort of “emotional deadness” which is “an end in itself.” When I was a suicidal adolescent, I remember reading voraciously during this time; it didn’t matter what it was that I read—mostly junk novels, in fact—since it was only to replace my own thoughts with those of the writer’s. For the suicidal, other people’s words can be pulled over one’s exhausting ruminations like a seamless glove being stretched over a distractingly scarred hand.

Even the grim, tedious details of organizing one’s own suicide can offer a welcome reprieve:  


When preparing for suicide, one can finally cease to worry about the future, for one has effectively decided that there will be no future. The past, too, has ceased to matter, for it is nearly ended and will no longer cause grief, worry, or anxiety. And the imminence of death may help focus the mind on the immediate present

Step 6: Disinhibition

We’ve now set the mental stage, but it is of course the final act that separates suicidal ideation from an actual suicide. Baumeister speculates that behavioral disinhibition, which is required to overcome the intrinsic fear of causing oneself pain through death, not to mention the anticipated suffering of loved ones left behind to grieve, is another consequence of cognitive deconstruction. This is because it disallows the high-level abstractions (reflecting on the inherent “wrongness” of suicide, how others will feel, even concerns about self-preservation) that, under normal conditions, keep us alive.

A recent theoretical analysis by University of Rochester psychiatrist Kimberly Van Orden and her colleagues sheds some additional light on this component of behavioral disinhibition. These authors point out that while there is a considerable number of people who want to kill themselves, suicide itself remains relatively rare. This is largely because, in addition to suicidal desire, the individual needs the “acquired capability for suicide,” which involves both a lowered fear of death and increased physical pain tolerance. Suicide hurts, literally. One acquires this capability, according to these authors’ model, by being exposed to related conditions that systematically habituate the individual to physical pain. For example, one of the best predictors of suicide is a nonlethal prior suicide attempt.

But a history of other fear-inducing, physically painful experiences also places one at risk. Physical or sexual abuse as a child, combat exposure, and domestic abuse can also “prep” the individual for the physical pain associated with suicidal behavior. In addition, heritable variants of impulsivity, fearlessness and greater physical pain tolerance may help to explain why suicidality often runs in families. Van Orden and her coauthors also cite some intriguing evidence that habituation to pain is not so much generalized to just any old suicide method, but often specific to the particular method used to end one’s own life. For example, a study on suicides in the U.S. military branches found that guns were most frequently associated with Army personnel suicides, hanging and knots for those in the Navy, and falling and heights were more common for those in the Air Force.

So there you have it. It’s really not a pretty picture. But, again, I do hope that if you ever are unfortunate enough to experience these cognitive dynamics in your own mind—and I, for one, very much have—or if you suspect you’re seeing behaviors in others that indicate these thought patterns may be occurring, that this information helps you to meta-cognitively puncture suicidal ideation. If there is one thing that I’ve learned since those very dark days of my suicidal years, it’s that scientific knowledge changes perspective. And perspective changes everything. Everything.

And, as I mentioned at the start, always remember: You’re going to die soon enough anyway; even if it’s a hundred years from now, that’s still the blink of a cosmic eye. In the meantime, live like a scientist—even a controversial one with only an ally or two in all the world—and treat life as a grand experiment, blood, sweat, tears and all. Bear in mind that there’s no such thing as a failed experiment—only data.



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*Editor’s Note, 10/21/10: As originally published, this sentence erroneously stated that aciclovir and valaciclovir are prescribed for kidney failure. Thanks to the readers who pointed out the error.

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  1. 1. beru1 5:13 pm 10/20/2010

    Seems suicide for scholars is different from ordinary suicide and more complicated, so complicated, in fact, that one even might refrain from it as a scholar.

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  2. 2. amitsoni 6:58 pm 10/20/2010

    Enlightening article. Last two paragraphs filled my heart. Thanks.

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  3. 3. cosicave 8:45 pm 10/20/2010

    Intellectualising suicide? How very interesting – but surely for only those who do not see it as the only non-answer (sic).

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  4. 4. merinslips 10:05 pm 10/20/2010

    That was amazing. Nice work.

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  5. 5. DancerTiffy 10:58 pm 10/20/2010

    I killed myself—doa—-when I was totally convinced that no one would ever ever care for me or love me and that I was totally alone and would always be alone.
    Thank God I got my miracle and now I am loved.

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  6. 6. seeqer 11:34 pm 10/20/2010

    I was suicidal a little over ten years ago. My experience was that the fear of living another day, outweighed the fear of death. Thank goodness, I had my kids who were dependent on me. I wouldn’t be here now if I didn’t. For anyone who’s contemplating suicide. Get help now, life does get better again.

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  7. 7. cjurkoshek 12:35 pm 10/21/2010

    Another thought-filled article. You always make me think about something new and different. Thank you for exploring the human mind and sharing your thoughts.

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  8. 8. aedes 12:45 pm 10/21/2010

    There is a large mistake in this article. Aciclovir and valaciclovir are drugs used to treat herpes-virus infections. They are not used to treat renal failure, and in fact, are to be avoided in renal failure as they can make it worse, or even cause it in some situations.

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  9. 9. cdavie5 12:48 pm 10/21/2010

    Impressively accurate! Most people have such an unthinking aversion to the idea of suicide that despite intelligence and education, they can’t make a reasoned treatment of it. I’m increasingly convinced that it takes a formerly suicidal mind to describe the subject in a useful way (where useful is defined as: of use to the suicidal).

    Treatment is different from insight, unfortunately. It still takes a lot of psychiatric training to find a solution.

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  10. 10. Berlusca 1:09 pm 10/21/2010

    An article that well describes what some of us unfortunately have touched. It also points out the urgency with which those with heightened risk due to previous habituation need to seek help, or need someone to seek help for them. For those in difficulty now: though isn’t easy and often takes time – it gets better, it gets better, it gets better. Trust those who have passed through it. I did. Displace the interminably long now: later, you won’t feel like the worst thing in the world, and you won’t feel like you’re already dead.

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  11. 11. Muster Mark 1:12 pm 10/21/2010

    Cunning rhetoric my ass.
    Contrarianism is creativity for the untalented.

    Life is as good as you make it. Bit by bit, take your joy from the small things and learn to happily fart around again. It’s all anyone is here to do.

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  12. 12. c.harvey 1:17 pm 10/21/2010

    This is a remarkable article by Jesse. Two comments on the comments so far. @aedes, Jesse links to an article in the British Medical Journal citing aciclovir and valaciclovir as used for treatment in renal failure. Click on it. @bloomingdedalus, I agree with the commenter before me. You are a contrarian and one sick puppy to give tips for how to commit suicide in response to this thoughtful article.

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  13. 13. Berlusca 1:34 pm 10/21/2010

    To bloomingdaedelus: Some here are likely sorry for what appears to be your unhappiness and lack of success or satisfaction. But the subject at hand is neither a personal game nor a joke. Moreover your arguments and prose correspond more to fadingicarus than any Daedelus. Unless, of course, you refer to pushing relatives off a cliff. That, by the way, didn’t work either.

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  14. 14. Kellz 3:01 pm 10/21/2010

    Very rarely do I get even the slightest urge to register for an article website to post a comment, but here I am.

    At the very end of the article is something extremely profound – I’ve experienced HUGE shifts in my perspective over the past 4-5 years, but I still get echoes of my former mindset of depression and suicide ideation. This is an amazingly accurate article.. I could point out almost every step in my own mind.

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  15. 15. vasilatos 3:17 pm 10/21/2010

    a suicide hotline lady told me it was a sin. i went and cut my wrists, in my teens. bad suicide hotline lady.

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  16. 16. Belle_Bela 3:52 pm 10/21/2010

    What an beautifully worded metaphor…

    "For the suicidal, other people’s words can be pulled over one’s exhausting ruminations like a seamless glove being stretched over a distractingly scarred hand."

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  17. 17. Belle_Bela 3:54 pm 10/21/2010

    Ummm..yeah! Very, very, bad hotline lady!

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  18. 18. NurseP 4:58 pm 10/21/2010

    I don’t think they meant it is used for renal failure. The neuropsychiatric side effects were observed in patients taking the drugs aciclovir or valaciclovir for herpes who happened to *also* have kidney failure.

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  19. 19. klkeough 8:19 pm 10/21/2010

    Good to see a research psychologist turn his skills on the growing public health problem and tragedy of suicide.

    It is worth adding the thoughts of novelist and non-fiction writer Walker Percy. He introduced the terms a)"Non-suicides"-people that have never given serious thought to killing themselves and
    B)"ex-suicides" -people that have given very serious and extensive thought to ending their lives deciding against it for the time being. This group reports a sense of calm and serenity knowing that on any day they could change their minds and off themselves.

    Percy offers an astute and fascinating recommendation that we consciously become "ex-suicides". As only he can Percy describes the fundamental shift in perception and sense of freedom leading to more authentic living on the part of ex-suicides.

    Just an fyi…………

    He asserted th

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  20. 20. alprufrock 10:33 pm 10/21/2010

    OK, a question: What if I read this and all I think is, "Yeah, that’s me"?

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  21. 21. way2ec 1:20 am 10/22/2010

    Thanks Jessie. Yes, it does get better. And then sometimes it gets bad again, but if we can pass from the bad to the better just once, we can never deny it won’t happen again. Cognitive deconstruction, Step #5, makes the normally good advice of Be Here Now turn into an endless emptiness. How much "time" can pass between each tick and tock! The total inability to project anything into any kind of future adds to the bleakness. My first encounter "snuck up" on me. Happened on an incredibly beautiful day. My dearest friend had asked me to write a suicide prevention number and put it into my wallet. I did it for her. Weeks later, at the very last second, knowing that it would be found in the wreckage, was the only thing that broke the evil spell that had my foot stuck to the gas pedal. She had noticed that I had gone emotionally "flat", in my darkness I had found a way out, but it hadn’t yet registered in my conscious thoughts.

    I’d like to tweak the "It gets better" message. I get better. We get better. Better at dealing with life. Better as in getting better after being ill, healing, recovery. And better at recognizing the signs of both another clinical depression coming on as well as the signs that I am getting better, again.

    How do we get these messages to the impossibly young ones that need it the most? So young that the past consists of maybe yesterday, the future is a total abstraction, and so young that things are black or white, yes or no, life or death, make the pain stop NOW. No need for deconstruction, haven’t lived long enough for there to be much construction, such a tenuous hold, such a fragile life line.

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  22. 22. reynardloki 2:06 am 10/22/2010

    Mr. Bering, you assert that "most suicides are driven by a flash flood of strong emotions, not rational, philosophical thoughts in which the pros and cons are evaluated critically." That’s really not saying anything. One could argue that many if not most decisions made by the average human are done in much the same way. A far more interesting inquiry would be to investigate those suicides that are logical and well thought out. But the larger underlying flaw in your analysis is the fact that you "hope that having knowledge about the what-it-feels-like phenomenology of `being’ suicidal helps people to recognize their own possible symptoms of suicidal ideation and–if indeed this is what’s happening–enables them to somehow derail themselves before it’s too late." Why? We should only hope that people make the best decisions when it comes to their own lives, including the ending of it. We do not ask to be born. So the assumption that people should want to remain alive is actually a folly. The decision whether or not to retain this status quo of "remaining alive" is the most important decision one can make. To make suicide illegal, or to frown upon it, or to somehow make it seem like it is invariably the wrong choice is to take away this decision, which is actually the most ultimate power one has in one’s own existence. It also assumes that there is some kind of universal, shared outlook on what it means to exist, and this is just not possible, considering how truly little we know of the brain and how it creates a sense of individuality. For your next piece on suicide, I’d like to see an analysis of the logical suicides in history, the ones where smart, logical, thoughtful people said, "I’m done with this, I’m going into the vast unknown." For what is death other than that? If it could one day be proven that the afterlife is total bliss and communion with the most basic energies of the universe, do you think suicide would have such a bad rap then? Since we can’t prove it’s not, let’s stop assuming that taking one’s life is a bad thing.

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  23. 23. friendlyanon 2:26 am 10/22/2010

    I am picking up Baumeister’s Journal Article as soon as possible at my local library… I’m a college student in my early 20s and this article hits oh so close to home, it’s been about 5-6 years now and the last 3 years have been torture to the point where I take 1 or 2 classes a semester. Unfortunately contemplating and planning suicide is a common occurrence for me and it’s awful. Thanks for this article I need everything I can get to help me hang on.

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  24. 24. unscientificunamerican 3:33 am 10/22/2010

    Thank you. This is exactly what I am experiencing. I perform well in school. I’m even on the verge of perhaps being successful in music and I have suicidal thoughts all the time. I’m not poor, I have a great job already and I’m still in college but I’m bored by everything around me. I’m not unattractive, not particularly depressed all the time just so god damn bored. Time creeps by so slow. I can’t tell you how this article spoke to exactly how I feel. I think about ending it all the time… while I’m driving just careening off the road into a tree. Or, I dunno hanging doesn’t seem too painful.

    Your last paragraph though really made me rethink things. Life really is just a cosmic blink. It seems like eternity because it’s all we know but really its not that long.

    Thanks for describing these stages, and thanks for writing this. I don’t think I will ever cross the barrier from thinking to doing.. I’m far too freaked out by physical pain and the thought of family and friends being upset. But this article will maybe help me realize why these thoughts are occurring (extremely high expectations, anxiety) and help me deal with the root causes rather than just self medicate or focus on nonsense.

    Thank you.

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  25. 25. danbloom 9:49 am 10/22/2010

    Sir, great suicide article. ……i know why people do it…the pain of living is SO great that to get rid of the pain is a sweet way out, they don’t really wANT To DIE, they just want pain relief. right? i am sure…beause animals do not commit suicide, only humans, as you said so well. GREAT ARTILCE, it will help many people, Danny Bloom, Tufts 1971

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  26. 26. marthalt 9:58 am 10/22/2010

    I re-read the section you’re referring to, and I’m not certain it’s an error. I think it may be an editorial issue, and should be clarified. (It’s possible, for example, that what the author is actually referring to two different groups, not one.)

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  27. 27. marthalt 9:59 am 10/22/2010

    I plan to share this article with many, many people. Thank you for putting together such a thoughtful, informative article.

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  28. 28. Francophile1962 11:07 am 10/22/2010

    "…many of whom appear to have *lead* mostly privileged lives…" "lead" s/b "led"

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  29. 29. afobry 1:29 pm 10/22/2010

    I was always under the impression that suicidal folks thought of their loved ones as better off without them. This implies they are picturing a future, or considering the consequences of their actions. This seems to contradict some of the evidence presented here.

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  30. 30. LiamMonaigh 6:36 pm 10/22/2010

    Thank you.

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  31. 31. adina2678 8:09 pm 10/22/2010

    When I was suicidal I felt like nothing positive or connectable was "for me". It felt like I was some sort of quietly dying, emotionally numb animal sitting in a corner who no longer cared enough to eat the food in front of it.
    Time existed without passing. I could "lose" hours sitting insensate, but find them again waiting for a minute to pass on a clock.
    Any "thing" in the world seethed with painful memories and associations. Any person in the world was not "like me". I was incomplete, lacking, flawed, like a three wheeled station wagon that no one could see was missing a wheel.
    It was so self evident to me, rattling along, scraping on the gravel, pouring out fluids, that anyone who failed to see my deficiency was naive and goodhearted, undeserving of the pain that they might feel if I confided in them.
    I knew they cared about me. I knew they were there to help if I wanted it. I didn’t want help. I wanted to cease to be. I wanted oblivion.
    I had planned it all, even packed and labeled my possessions, everything.
    The only thing that kept me here was my cat, oddly enough.
    She was a sweet innocent creature who _couldn’t be expected_ to understand. I had hoped everyone else would, as I had written some notes. I tried to be as lucid and descriptive and explanatory as I could. I didn’t want anyone to feel guilty.

    My advice for anyone is to never ever tell someone who is sad that things will get better, things aren’t so bad, you’re overreacting, or even cheer up. These statements can make a suicidal person decide you can’t understand. You might see them cheer up, stop reacting and say things are better but in truth, they are trying to please you, trying not to hurt you by keeping it from you. To a suicidal person, death is inevitable so we don’t feel bad about letting you feel good til "the time comes" when you will feel bad anyways. Hell, we wish we felt good too…

    If you want to help, just listen. Tell them if what you hear worries you, but nothing else. Just let THEM talk.

    Don’t suggest treatments, but feel free to agree with the person’s ideas for it. Any time anyone suggested a treatment they stopped reaching me. I knew they were out there, I knew where to go. I knew I was broken. What I needed to know was that it didn’t matter.
    Everyone is broken.

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  32. 32. kpatterson 1:45 am 10/24/2010

    Excellent article. A former boyfriend of mine killed himself last year. Of all the books I’ve read and documents I’ve pored over to try to understand the architecture of his suicide, this is the first piece where I felt like I was really sitting inside his mind. Just plug in my former boyfriend’s personal details and, based on his personality, background and behavior, and Baumeister’s ideas are a perfect fit. Thank you so much. Aside: I got a copy of Baumeister’s paper and the air just went out of my lungs. It’s a chilling and devastatingly insightful read.

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  33. 33. nickelbag 4:15 pm 10/27/2010

    Jesse, thank you for crafting this psychologically revealing, academically supported, practical and approachable article on a mostly mysterious, irrational and uncomfortable topic. And thank you for your candid admissions within. Your analogy in the Cognitive Deconstruction step that describes the threat of hell as a doomed "deterrent" struck me as astute, accurate and morbidly ironic. However, I differ in opinion when, in your discussion of the Negative Affect step, you describe the theory of mind issue and call it a blessing because it allows an individual to experience pride. I think the theory of mind issue is a blessing because it allows an individual to experience empathy. Pride is a self-conceit (also a fuel of sorts for egotistic perspectives that can precede suicide). Empathy also is a result of the theory of mind, and it is the blessing which allows individuals to change their perspectives (which, as you emphasized, is the guiding light to decline suicide). I feel this point is worth mentioning especially because you have expressed a sincerity in educating your audience, perhaps to the point of dissuading any suicidal tendencies members may have. I think empathy, the ability to feel what others feel, is the most powerful benefit derived from the theory of mind issue that can assist fragile, disturbed individuals to see a different, hopeful, joyful living future. Not pride. Thank you again for your intriguing and digestible piece.

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  34. 34. nickelbag 4:39 pm 10/27/2010

    Hunter S. Thompson. David Foster Wallace. Adolf Hitler & Eva Braun.

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  35. 35. lichenophile 5:36 am 10/29/2010

    Here is my response:
    THANK YOU for this article. Touched me potently and is helpful personally. As a child I dreamed of watching a dead man in a parade who was wheeled by in a cart after a band with a trombone. Although he was dead, he was pleasant and talkative. I was watching in the crowd. My mom woke me at 4 pm after this dream, saying she had thought I was dead. I had slept for over 14 hours.
    In my 30′s or 40′s I had a series of dreams of my own death….and of others who were dead and had a blue light on their faces. In dreams I was very tired and having to prove to people that I was truly dead, that I had no pulse…and I was having to arrange for my own place to be buried. On my tombstone it read: "She lived a full life."

    A Jungain analyst, Arnold Mindell has shared that our strongest childhood dream or memory sets the course for our life myth…that which will foretell our health issues and life path…
    Depression runs in my family…Environmental factors and stress worsens the tendency.
    What is the an evolutionary advantage to suicidal ideation? Why does it correlate with intelligence/high achievement?

    There must be SOME genetic advantage to this, at least for those of us who don’t follow through with our intentions yet face intense depression for long periods. From this we can develop a great depth of empathy. I believe undergoing this can also provide us with what was described…the awareness that we need to live each day of our lives as if we are already dead…in the sense of dead meaning that we learn to experience the freedom of death while on this earth. As you said, to live as if we are already dead. Exactly!

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  36. 36. lichenophile 5:39 am 10/29/2010

    Second installment….
    Every day, when I experience suffering, I work with this…sometimes ‘going under’ like drowning and other times emerging. For most of my life, this has been both a physical and mental state. Learning how to work with this is like learning how to be in a marriage…to accept the other person’s imperfections and idiosyncrasies.

    At 18 I was a junior in college. At age 28 although outwardly ‘successful,’ inwardly I experienced the opposite. For three years I’d trained intensively in body awareness training, zen meditation and Tai Chi with a perfectionist, shaming mentor. I reached a breaking point, confronted my mentor, and then went into seven years of suicidal fixation. I hated myself for not being able to put the knife through my heart, use a razor to slash my forearms or cut with broken glass. I’d hold these sharp objects to myself and hate myself for not even being able to ‘kill myself right."
    One time I went to a natural place, an old Indian burial ground to kill myself, and I found myself unable to move, going into a stupor, like sleep but weird altered state. After sitting behind the wheel of the car for who knows how long something shifted and I just drove my car back home.

    I broke many a mirror during that time. It was artistically a very productive time, but personally, a time of hugely distorted thinking both about myself and about how other people were really disgusted by me and didn’t want to be around me. (broken glass art…I’ve kept only one really ‘good’ suicidal piece in that it really coveys the essence of what it is all about)
    These seven years were a time of significantly magnified negative egotism…instead of self-inflated I was self-imploded, self-obsessed with misery of my own making based on delusions of complete inadequacy and failure rather than delusions of grandeur.

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  37. 37. lichenophile 5:41 am 10/29/2010

    3rd installment
    There are MANY pivotal moments of transformation and assistance on this journey.
    I met a Coast Salish native spiritual teacher who shared with me that in the shamanic tradition you have to go through your own death and experience your own funeral when you entered the shamanic training. The Coast Salish traditions were a core source of my healing. I studied then for 7 years to be a teacher in this tradition. I was told that a teacher in this tradition would be a would be someone who ‘accepted themselves and others completely.’ I WANTED that. Twenty five years later I have learned that this is a lifetime work. There is no panacea. No quick or permanent solutions to this… If it seems so, there will likely come around a time again where this isn’t so…
    In the Coast Salish Native tradition it is said that it does no good to kill yourself because you just have to work things out in the ‘next’ realm and deal with whatever you were trying to get away from. You can’t get ‘out’ of anything. You have to address your issues and work with yourself, with helpers too… There simply is no ‘escape.’
    During the seven years of intense suicidality I went through a period of needing to scream. I admitted myself to a hospital for help with the suicidal plans but when I informed them of my need to scream for my healing they didn’t have subscribe to this view and I almost got in the straight jacket until I composed myself enough to check myself OUT against medical advice!
    The native teacher drummed for me as I screamed as if this was a common occurrence. One time afterward he said: Oh, your screaming comes from the Grandmother Ocean Society type of scream! He had a CATEGORY for my screams! Traditional native ways time and time again mirrored and brought healing in positive ways for what I was undergoing, instead of inflating, deflating, placating , or medicating me.


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  38. 38. lichenophile 5:42 am 10/29/2010

    4th installment(I’d refused medications for many years and in the past 15 years have tried the gamut of anti-depressants, all of which don’t work after about 6 months and cause some negative side effects including return to specific suicidal plans.)

    For those of us who suffer daily with depression there are some things that have been helpful for me…I’m passing these things along, because I am grateful that I am still alive and even if you aren’t wanting to live, I want to share with you that you too can also live until you die of ‘natural causes’ and not kill yourself, no matter what your circumstance. If you’re suicidal, there is definite need to do something different, but different doesn’t HAVE to mean physical death. It means a chance is needed.
    I had that totally distorted thing going and still get it, but it is more muted…sometimes the volumune gets turned up. Look at it as no different than having any other physical or chronic health situation…I remember a man blind from birth who said he thought non-blind people were ‘blind impaired.’ Those of us that deal with severe and/or episodic/ chronic depression…it helps to have some useful tools for living.
    I’ve written for myself a literal "Survival Manual" of things to remember to do during the worse times. Each of us has to develop our own unique set of things for ourselves that works.. to help us to choose living until we die instead of suicide. Some tidbits from my own survival manual:
    -Be outdoors in nature daily. Notice the seasons. Remember: this too shall pass.
    - Take deep breathes. Breathing down to the belly physically helps with depression.
    -Exercise, even when all I want to do is go back to sleep and not get out of bed. Swim and walk some every day, and push through’ the heaviness.
    -Notice something in my surroundings and appreciate this.
    -Do something different.
    -Some depressions are to be sunk deeper into..other ones are to be pushed out of. Try doing both and see what happens
    -Call a crisis hotline. (If they are busy or say something you don’t like, (and they will) write about this, draw a picture)
    -Scream (In the car with window rolled up works well)

    They say too much isolation breeds ‘reptiles’ of the mind…Go to the local library, to someplace where there people
    -DIrectly counteract the negative self-talk. Tell yourself: I’m really NOT that different from other people. and Oh, this is just ‘clinical depression’ talking…that old thought pattern again..recognize that one…(cognitive behavioral
    -If you are someone does service for a living and/or does intensive volunteer service during time off…and you get deeply intertwined in other people’s suffering, then do something pleasurable that ISN’T based on ‘helping’ or ‘giving’ for a change…

    -If you are someone who hasn’t done this…volunteer somewhere…anywhere..especially in today’s economy there is a need for volunteer help…It can be working with kids, elderly, animals, landscaping… If you’re ‘too far gone’ for this…then seek out family…loved ones…If your family isn’t good for you, find "new family" and adopt family that feels good to you.

    If ‘doing’ anything is too much…remember you are a ‘human being’ and your value isn’t based on what you do or don’t do, achieve or can’t achieve.

    One fall years ago I held a ‘death ritual’ for myself…praying and fasting for four days. I had others dig a hole for my ‘grave’ and then cover me with earth, putting stones on my eyes…and only having my mouth and nostrils exposed. Being among the autumn leaves and in the earth was so very healing for me…I hope that you too will find ways and rituals of healing…whatever works for you. I send you my love and wish you well being and the fullness of life!

    You have a unique life on this planet….that no one else has….stay here and live it.

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  39. 39. veebs 8:02 am 10/30/2010

    It’s been fascinating reading and I’m not sure if Jesse responds to reader comments (or if someone else can clarify this for me)

    One of the things that really struck me was this kind of personalised ‘time dilation’ – where it feels like ages have passed but actually may have been only a few minutes.

    In most species time perception is directly linked to metabolic rate (slower the rate; faster the passage and vice versa) There have also been a few studies that have linked this process to parts of the visual cortex.

    I wonder how that links in with the pathology of a suicidal person? Do they have an elevated metabolic rate? or are they more prone to spend time in featureless spaces (another factor that affects time perception)

    Be interested to see what y’all think about that.

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  40. 40. cdavie5 3:57 pm 11/2/2010

    We spend a lot of time trying not to think. We seek out experiences that are at once mundane and distracting (rewatching favourite movies and rereading favourite books, for example). The fact that we actively avoid engaging with our surroundings on any but the most superficial level could have something to with the percieved passage of time. When we lapse into awareness, it brings interminable torment.

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  41. 41. lichenophile 4:07 am 01/6/2011

    Recently an artist friend who is chronically depressed actually had a lifting of her depression when she went deep into reading Dante’s Inferno and decided to create a video based on this about people who committed suicide and then became trees. Her attitude of chronic unhappiness shifted as she found purposeful focus and creativity through going into archetypal darkness…through the tunnel of classical art.

    Lately, also having been in a more hopeless round again…(wondering what reason is there to get out of bed day after day and everything being a huge effort etc.) my friend’s actions inspired me to seek meaning through exploring ‘the shadow’/darkness through classical writing and art…Researching the myth of Persephone was the beginning. Perspephone embodies being taken unwillingly from innocence into a dark, underground space/state of mind for a period of time before re-emerging again into ‘ordinary’ reality. This re-emergence brings growth and renewal and coincides with springtime. Because she ate just a few pomegranate seeds while she was in Hades, Persephone must return for Winter each year and enter into the land of the dead. Even before reading this myth my body craved fresh pomegranates. Ingesting the seeds ripe with red, blood-like juice is so vitalizing.

    After reading Persephone’s myth, going into depression can be seen as a mytholoic, ‘underground’ cycle seen in the context of being part of a natural life process, the ‘seasons.’

    Persephone research led me to the music group "Dead Can Dance" who have a marvelous "Persephone" song that can be watched on U-Tube. It is totally dark and musically communicates that darkest of places in the beginning and takes the listener on a full range of transformative journeying.

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  42. 42. sherylchilders 4:41 pm 03/8/2011

    This is a very good series of articles on suicide, and I appreciate your insight. But, I feel that suicide is probably less an evolutionary adaptation than a social one, which exists because of human intelligence. Right-to-die movements, for instance, can involve terminally ill individuals who want to end their own suffering or (more often) to reduce the burdens on their family. This could be argued as "good". But, young healthy individuals, especially with young influential children, only increase the chance of suicide in their genes, a maladaptation. Not all human behavior can be described as evolutionary. We are, in fact, free to make our own decisions, good or bad, and we are highly intelligent animals. Our freedom of will is a consequence of higher intelligence. And whether higher intelligence is adaptive or maladaptive is not the issue. Afterall, homo sapiens are a young species. In addition, I am guessing that suicide coincided with the development of language and/or society. Society in humans is also very, very young in the timeline of evolution, and it’s effect on evolution still cannot be determined. This question cannot be answered in terms of science, yet. But, of course we should try, because you have to start somwhere, right? Evolution cannot describe all behaviors. Society (here because of human intelligence), cannot be held on the same level as evolution. And suicide is societal. It is a social problem, not a scientific one. While neuropsychology may someday explain the exact mechanisms at work in a suicidal individual (the how), it will still not answer the question as to why it happens. Perhaps computers will someday solve this problem.

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  43. 43. agliptis91 8:45 pm 12/21/2011

    I have epilepsy and I have been suicidal since 2 years ago. I’m afraid but the artical was inspiring.

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  44. 44. sageguru 6:23 am 01/23/2012

    lichenophile… seemingly, i kind of owe you my life. have been hot and bothered about ending it all, though not right off just yet as i need to “clean house” first before i hie off to some ravine in this mountain where i find much solace in. naturally, the painless way i was to do it was to ingest a poisonous plant, abundant in mountains. thank you too for your survival manual

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  45. 45. Deep_Blue 3:23 am 05/18/2012

    Thank you for this insightful article. Sometimes I just wanted to “disappear”. But there are so many things that I must do before that; yet because there are so many things that I must do, it feels like a meaningless endless journey. So tired, really want to go home.

    I think I need to see a psychiatrist. I will be the first person in my extended family to actually go crazy.

    In recent years, I am actually afraid to fall to sleep too early. If I sleep early, I will have dreams, dreams that make me feel at ease, relax, feel just like home. The sadness that follows in the morning is indescribable. For months, I succeeded in not dreaming … until last night. For a brief and clear moment, I felt that I was at home. I don’t know how to make this stop.

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  46. 46. Geopelia 12:37 am 06/11/2012
    (Jowett translation).
    Around 2,500 years old, but well worth reading today.

    In my young days,the death of Socrates was almost as well known as the death of Jesus.

    Socrates is about to drink the hemlock (he is condemned to death) and talks with his friends before he dies.

    Different cultures have had various ideas about suicide. It was quite honourable among the Romans, and even recently among Japanese.

    Perhaps it may become acceptable sometime in our culture, when this life becomes unbearable.

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  47. 47. RomanBlade86 6:02 am 05/14/2013

    Wow, what an awesome article. So many things ring true through my own experiences. I also basically became a college student simply to indulge in monotonous work to completely dull my mind rather than actually learn and have done so many other times. I believe all the important things I’ve ever learned in life were done on my own time mostly as most college classes were worthless beyond belief and I was sitting there thinking I know something most of these people don’t know. I will have to read this article over and over again because so many things are so true. I like so many parts of the article but this last part of the article where you write:

    “And, as I mentioned at the start, always remember: You’re going to die soon enough anyway; even if it’s a hundred years from now, that’s still the blink of a cosmic eye. In the meantime, live like a scientist—even a controversial one with only an ally or two in all the world—and treat life as a grand experiment, blood, sweat, tears and all. Bear in mind that there’s no such thing as a failed experiment—only data.”

    I also believed in keeping an ally in this world and thought I had one for half of my life but I was severely betrayed at the height of my depression by what I thought was a best friend since childhood who had conspired with his businesswoman mother to fool me out of large amounts of money while I had been using alcohol for a couple of years on a regular basis as well as using marijuana all day with him so my trust in what I thought was a friend grew even stronger. He is the that introduced me to marijuana so I was completely gave into his world and made myself helpless and under his control.

    I opened up to him completely for a while as we smoked marijuana probably on a daily basis for over a year together before all of this happened. Each time it would seemed like it would pass at a different pace. This was after I was finished with college so I had all the time in the world afterwards and really didn’t know what to do with my time so I started drinking heavily and acting like an idiot for the sake of social experimentation and doing things I would normally never had done and as a result the depression I was already experiencing mixed with alcohol and marijuana caused huge identity issues that only intensified the depression.

    My “friend” became a completely different person than who I thought he was. He has told me many of his thoughts throughout the years and he has a dark mind as well but he is able to better assimilate into the population that I was without seeming like a strange guy. Maybe others thought he was a strange guy but my familiarity with him didn’t make him seem like a strange guy to me. He would tell me how he wished a bicyclist would go into his lane so he could hit him with his car or how he could kill a person and probably not feel anything and how he can keep lying but fool himself into thinking he is telling the truth. I really can’t believe at the time I didn’t much think of all of this because I was dealing with my depression and I was forgiving of him as a friend and was just glad to have someone by my side during my life. I thought that while he may have no problem hurting other people he would never hurt me because he cares for me but I was wrong. I was practically friends with a sociopath for half my life. The first half of my life was spent with what I think was a mentally ill mother and the other half was spent with this friend that I thought would be the answer to leading me out of this life that I previously had under the control of my mother. I also began realizing I was living a degenerative life that I never thought of living when I was a child looking forward to the future. I was so ambitious as a kid growing up and had high hopes for the future that I later began realizing are not possible and that also caused the depression and disassociation with the world and those around me to intensify.

    I couldn’t properly respond to anyone but this friend of mine who I had built up so highly in my mind. I completely lost track of my life and went felt like I went deep into the desert where I felt I had no one by my side and recognized no one but this one person. I didn’t engage in many other friendships and basically made this guy my only friend in the world and this was a huge mistake that ultimately had me experiencing suicidal desires. I felt I was guided deep into the desert and then left there by myself with no water or direction. I had these feelings as a child as well as I had once been lost at a mall as a child and remember being scared and made my way into the parking lot where two women found me crying and brought me back into the mall where they made an announcement throughout the mall’s megaphone where I was. and then I was casually picked up by my mother who was probably ignorant of the deep psychological scarring that occurred with this event. I also had a scary feeling once when I was in Japan by myself and I had stepped off a bus to go to the bathroom at night and totally lost track of which bus I stepped off because there were so many of them. The shock was brief but it was intense but I was able to handle it better than I was as a child lost in the mall. All of these realizations sent me into a tailspin into a dark and crippling suicidal depression.

    Back to the story with this friend of mine. He then would subtly taunt me through badly made up lies and body language after the heist he pulled off with his mother where I was practically brainwashed to transfer a check to his mothers bank account for the sake of a business dealing where I would help him and his mother out. I thought, “I have known the mother for most of my life and he was my best friend for half of my life. With my money I can show him my loyalty and appreciation for him being a friend and be useful.” After I had done this I soon began realizing through the thickness of the depression fueled through a guideless life and drug and alcohol use and lots of failed expectations of myself that I had practically been ripped off. I went through the motions of being his friend but I knew I had been taken advantage of and that caused even further depression and confusion but I felt I had no one else to be around this world so I continued to hang out with my victimizer and enabler. I think he was always jealous of me for various reasons and perhaps at the height of my weakness he took advantage of me and enjoyed each step of my visible downfall and felt totally in control. He seems genuinely amused and happy with himself as my world was falling apart. I was on the edge most of my life but sometimes had a couple of people guiding me so I don’t fall off the edge but those people have long left my life and I was only left with this person who I thought was a friend who gradually kept guiding me closer to the edge. I really don’t know how I allowed myself to go this far out without realizing that I was headed over the edge.

    I can write forever. My whole life has felt like one long experiment. My family had a strange history that I was not aware of until moving in with my father who I haven’t seen in over 20 years. So many things make more sense now on why I was the way I was and how past experiences and irrational religious beliefs of my mother influenced my confusing upbringing and made me cling to other people like this friend of mine who completely used me. I grew up poor without a father that was said to have molested me as a child and was banished from our family by my mother and her relatives as well being threatened by the law. I felt I was virtually alone in this world even if there were people around. My mother would be verbally and physically abusive towards me that often left me feeling unloved and ugly and would often ridicule me for being like my father whenever I did something wrong in her eyes and often reminded me that I was molested by my father even though I don’t remember it. We slept in the same bed and he was affectionate towards me and this is as far as I remember. Looking at myself as a child I was a beautiful child and can’t believe that used to be me when I looked at the picture. I have so many pictures of myself ingrained in my mind as a child. Every day I think about the joys I experienced as a child amongst the chaos that I tried to disassociate myself.

    I’m only 26 years old and last year had some half-assed suicide attempt that only messed me up even further but got me to understand myself even more which often causes crippling anxiety and flashbacks throughout the day from all of my experiences and the realization that I’m only 26 years old and most of my relatives had a long life. I seriously wish I was at least 50 or 60 so I can at least have the sense that this life of mine is coming to an end for sure in the near future. I can write forever and while I don’t think I’m the best writer out there probably due to my unsophisticated vocabulary I still enjoy doing it. Going to college and writing papers, while I didn’t always enjoy it due to some subject matters, was a way for me to fully express myself to another person in a clear matter that I otherwise couldn’t do with my language. I now see I was highly underestimated in my early upbringing and even up until today because I didn’t always use the spoken language to express myself but rather kept a lot of my thoughts inside or would express them through school. Those closest to me didn’t understand me and I had to always find strangers to show me some type of love. Due to me not always vocally or properly expressing myself I was labeled by this phony friend who I thought understood me well as being “simple.” The one person who I had opened my soul to at that point in my life felt so low of me probably for many years due to my poor and single parent upbringing in an apartment with my older brother who was also often not kind to me and who I felt a lack of connection with while this friend of mine was the oldest child, had both parents and lived in a house and had a mother he deeply admired due to her money earning capabilities. He also touted himself as being his mom’s favorite despite having three other brothers. Had I truly understood how he felt of me during our friendship I would never have been his friend because I would realize that he was only looking after himself and maybe his family. I was really a nobody in his life and a secondary person while I regarded him as a top priority and as a brother. I was at a disadvantage throughout the friendship because I had put him at such a high level in my life that wasn’t matched by him. Looking back he dropped countless hints of his perceived superiority of himself and his family over the years and while his arrogance irritated and upset me I would keep forgiving him over and over again and at the time I did not hold it against him. There wasn’t enough positive guidance in my life to open my eyes. There were brief glimpses of light but they were so brief that I disregarded it and continued into the darkness where I couldn’t make out anything in my path except this supposed ally that was nothing more than a foe.

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  48. 48. gophergirl 5:03 am 09/7/2013

    This explains a lot. Every single point is one I can literally tick off as something I’ve felt. I’ve had depression several times, am struggling with it now, and I don’t know how many times I’ve felt this way. I’ve certainly had the thoughts. I’ve not made a serious attempt, but at one stage when really depressed I read a book designed to give terminally ill patients pain free and 100% effective ways of ending their life with dignity. So I even have a method which will not land me back in ER with a botch attempt. I would be in the category of an ‘ex’. I have no firm plan to use the method, but I know it’s there. Most of the time my thoughts are normal, but there will be occasional recurrent acute suicidal thoughts (without a plan to do anything) when I am in emotional pain. I tend to be highly sensitive, so I tend to feel emotional pain acutely in situations and degrees of difficulty that others don’t. I still do fear death. That partly keeps it in check. The other thing is that you are correct in saying that lack of consciousness is the thing rather than death. If I have anything positive – and concrete – that I can do to propel my life forward in a good way, then I always take that wherever possible. It’s during the times when I feel I have none of the things you mention (not living up to standards, goals, ideals etc) that the suicidal ideas hang around. I definitely have high self-awareness as well.

    When things pick up, my emotions are the complete opposite of the suicidal mindset, and it almost seems to me at those times that I must have been imagining it when I felt that way, that I must have just been exaggerating or a drama queen. Guess that I may be incorrect about that, and that I probably am at risk in the long term.

    I’ve only been able to bring myself to discuss this with one person – a GP. No-one around me knows that I’ve ever felt this way, I would feel uncomfortable to talk about it, and I don’t think people would understand. All I would end up with is a negative label or stigma.

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  49. 49. regret 12:28 pm 07/14/2014

    i feel numb. invisible. hopeless. regretful. I feel I don’t fit in. I feel i’ll never have what I want in life. I feel i’ll never have the motivation to even try because its not worth it. i am afraid to kill myself but if it were easy i wouldn’t hesitate. I’ve been miserable for as long as i can remember, not miserable, just not happy. Anxious, separated, invisible, a burdon, a parasite. Fleeting moments of, not happiness, but forgetting about being unhappy with girlfriends, or playing golf and tennis, or drinking too much, or my goto move of watching movies. I can really transcend my own life by getting into movies. Sleeping and dreaming is my only other relief. Even nightmares are wonderful until I wake up and I am me again. I find it hard to concentrate but the first two steps of this article, falling short and the self are all too familiar. I’ve never worried about actually really wanting to end myself, but i’ve recently added a whole new feeling of isolation that is making time pointless. unimportance and insignifigance is running rampant around me. I feel and am invisible. Someone said their cat was keeping them alive, my dog is helping me, along with my moms belief that i would go to hell if…I imagine the grief it would cause. But then a part of me imagines a relief of those around me…that they would feel good for me that my numb existence is over. sorry for this rant, for what its worth for those interested in this article for whatever reason (i googled the stages leading up to suicide out of fear that i’ve reached a pivotal stage of thinking). The solitude and lack of attention from others is deafening for me. The monotony of droning on every day is like groundhog day, for the exception that nothing is improving. I’ve quit drinking because that makes it even worse and I don’t even give a damn about taking the numbness away. I’m a Walter Mitty of sorts who cannot live up to my incredible imaginations. I look at people who do not contemplate the same thoughts as mine as conformists who blindly lead pointless lives, as if they are lemmings, unaware at how miserable they actually are. The world is a rat race of lemmings, evil and parasitic, exhausting resources and grinning with greed, pride, selfishness, and bs. I’m afraid to attempt anything for attention because I can’t imagine failing at it. I don’t think i want to die, i just dont really want to live anymore.

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  50. 50. Valkyrie612 4:26 pm 07/15/2014

    This is one of the best articles on causes of suicide that I have come across in many years of studying psychology.

    I am a doctoral candidate of psychology. I am also a military veteran of 8 years. I work for state government, providing mental health services to inpatients at a state psychiatric hospital. I have worked for my state in this capacity for over 10 years.

    As you might imagine, I am quite familiar with suicidal behavior, given the work that I do. However, the greatest depth of my insight comes from personal experience. I have suffered with moderate to severe depression for many years. Some of the core causes (mainly risk factors) of my depression, and suicidal ideation, are mentioned in this article: Recent sudden death of a close family member; chronic discord with my family of origin; unfulfilled career goals; mountains of seemingly insurmountable school debt; never married, no children; no supportive friendships; social isolation; history of bankruptcy and severe financial hardship; history of multiple periods of homelessness; living in a city very high in poverty and social problems such as homelessness, crime, and mental illness (in other words, I never really leave work). Living this way for over a decade.

    Yet, believe it or not, I have survived much worse than this. I have cared for and taught others how to do the same, for years. But my own depression has worsened severely this past year. Now when I need help, I have to wait 3 months for the VA to see me, and even then the help is not helpful. I use the VA because I know nearly all the therapists in town, or have worked with them. I am treatment-resistant to medications, so much so that the VA intends to use a mild form of ECT, but that might not be for many more months or longer. I hold on to hope, as if my life depends on it.

    I have to tell myself that the suicidal thoughts are not me. I know from experience that they tend to wax and wane. So, I hold on tight while they are waxing, and live for the waning, making the most of the times when I genuinely feel like me, and doing all I can to lengthen the healthy periods.

    Reach out to others who understand what you’re going through, even when you don’t feel like it…Especially when you don’t feel like it. Know that many people really do care! I care!!!

    Best Wishes,


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  51. 51. bestspellcaster11 10:58 pm 07/22/2014

    A couple of years ago I was in a dark period in my life, the man I love to bits had gone off with someone else, that was when I was told about this spell caster. Well he told me he could see that we would get back together that gave me hope, and he was right, because this week we have moved in with each other and are so happy. A big thank you to Dr.Obodo. If you are in need of an angel please get in touch with my Dr.obodo at E-mail: or Cell: +2348155425481.

    from BD

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  52. 52. rshoff2 10:46 am 08/12/2014

    #6 is the key. During prolonged periods of ideation, # 6 prevents action. But it leaves us maimed and passive locked into a meaningless life. I’ve made a certain peace. Eventually, closer as I age, I will die anyway.

    One item not mentioned is the physical and instinctual drive for survival. Perhaps THAT is why suicide rates are lower in impovershed countries. Their meaning for life is defined by the drive for survival.

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  53. 53. rshoff2 11:00 am 08/12/2014

    Good advice, Muster. Truly. Unfortunately some people burdened with intense anxiety and depression, including hopelessness, are very incapable of such a simple and healthy concept. It is beyond many people.

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  54. 54. EyesWideOpen 4:07 pm 08/12/2014

    Jesse Bering, you stated “only death, nature’s great anesthesia, offers a permanent fix” of the three options a suicidal person may consider to escape “painful self awareness” which are “drugs, sleep and death.”

    This belief seems scientific, but it ignores our potential states of consciousness in a multifaceted universe. God doesn’t have to exist for consciousness to continue. Until there is scientific evidence that death offers anesthesia to consciousness, those contemplating suicide need to know that death is not necessarily the ultimate state of anesthesia surpassing sleep or prescription drugs or a combination thereof.

    Jesse, your statement reveals the delusions of the suicidal, the misconceptions there is either God (that I personally hope for, as my best case scenario, which may make this comment seem biased to some), or no God, which many atheists love to associate with cessation of existence (and therefore, nothingness, which is an forever state without consciousness or awareness). Both suppositions, God or no God, sorely lack scientific evidence or even logic based on current theories of multiverses by renowned physicists.

    For those who recall the movie “Groundhog Day,” the main character repeatedly committed suicide and returned to the morning of that same day. Stuck in a closed timelike loop (as physicists have theorized is possible), his breakout to proceeding to the next day involved — first and foremost — choosing life over death. Before long, he evolved as each day repeated, becoming a good Samaritan, a grand pianist, and connecting with the woman he loved. If Groundhog Day is our life, suicide destines us to forever return. Once the main character “got it right,” which was defined by his own self-aware assessment, the next day dawned.

    Those who embrace a belief they will permanently stop their pain, instead of clawing their way painfully to a resolution, may not receive the peace they hoped to attain. There may be laws of physics pertaining to consciousness that balance attempts to cause cessation of consciousness, if our consciousness is not tied to the atoms that comprise our bodies. Those who are suicidal need to understand the risk of taking this route may far outweigh the benefits of toughing it out to the end of “this life.”

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  55. 55. jgrosay 4:33 pm 08/12/2014

    I’d say suicides don’t want to kill themselves, they want to die, and it’s not exactly the same.

    This may be one of the reasons why some drugs, as anxiety reducers, may trigger a suicide in its first days on it, as the anxiety that masked the suicidal ideation gives the room for the self-punition or self-destructive wills.

    If somebody tells spontaneously or upon questioning, having had the idea of death in his/her mind, be it just as an instant flash, a consultation is mandatory, if the person talks about the problems approaching soon an end, and shows a reduced mood involvement from immediate days, he or she has already serious plans about how to engage into suicide, and an attempt will most probably follow.

    I don’t like the sentence: ‘Committed suicide’, the added guilt from this expression can do nothing but harm to those thinking in or having attempted suicide.
    Watch your step! Thanks

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  56. 56. GrooTheWanderer 4:50 pm 08/12/2014

    Edgar Allan Poe came to mind with “Loss of Breath”

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  57. 57. tocfmim 5:41 pm 08/12/2014

    During all my years reading SA articles.. I never felt a need to actually register and leave a comment.

    As a former suicidal such as the author. I can relate myself to the
    every step and its descriptions and they are so accurate.. about being concrete, excessive use of first person noun and so on..
    And I’ve discovered during reading the article that I still have a lingering suicidal ideation in me.. and I thought I completely shaken off those.

    And the last paragraph, I could not agree more with the article.
    I love how they are expressed.

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  58. 58. tocfmim 5:49 pm 08/12/2014

    During all my years reading SA articles.. I never felt a need to actually register and leave a comment.

    As a former suicidal such as the author. I can relate myself to the
    every step and its descriptions and they are so accurate.. about being concrete, excessive use of first person noun and so on..
    And I thought I’m at least out of those thinking patterns but it seems to me there are certain lingering aspects of suicidal ideation
    in me.

    I just love the messages in the last 2 paragraph..

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  59. 59. Lorrennon 7:02 pm 08/12/2014

    Very well done article. As one who is on step 4 but not yet transgressed to step 5, I understand and agree completely with this article except with one counterpoint. I find the longer the depression lasts the more likely suicide becomes an option. Currently, I use poetry to express myself and my daughter as my reason to continue living, but this is something I must tell myself on an almost daily basis. As each day passes, I find myself less and less inhibited by the fear of pain and death. I know that the day will come when the inhibition will be gone, but for now, my daughter needs me.

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  60. 60. Piume 3:53 am 08/13/2014

    Thank you. This article elaborate many scientific emotions and data and research findings. It is comprehensive article. Thank you again.

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  61. 61. saysme 11:57 am 08/13/2014

    I appreciate the author’s academic approach and some of seems to fit my own discovery. For me, it was going through a breakup and feeling such pain that each moment seemed to last an even hurt to breathe. And while the thought of suicide might run through the mind of an otherwise healthy mind, only to be discarded… in my despair it seemed to make sense… and the fright of it pulled me back. It did however, give me some empathy for those who continue to dwell on just how rational their ideation is becoming.

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  62. 62. DALEANN 12:18 pm 08/13/2014

    Thank you. I needed more of an explanation of suicide then what I’ve been recently reading. For me, I will never get the why of it – my life is a joy even through bad times. But I do understand now, and more so for reading your article.

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  63. 63. rshoff2 3:06 pm 08/13/2014

    @eyeswideopen 1 – There is no god. 2 – I would be happy to be wrong.

    3 – Consciousness does not continue. Of that I am sure. In fact, the rewards of heaven has driven many jihadists to commit carnage in otherwise civilized societies and it’s a dangerous myth.

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  64. 64. rshoff2 3:10 pm 08/13/2014

    Lorrennon – I know this is an abstract idea. But, WE ALL NEED YOU! It’s true. Please care enough to recognize that. Please don’t consider leaving us behind and missing that entity that is Lorrennon.

    Those aren’t ‘progressive’ steps. They are simply groupings of states of mind. #4 does not lead to #5.

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  65. 65. PRWnyc 3:41 pm 08/13/2014

    Let us be aware of the never-ending depressive news 24/7 of horrific crimes, disgusting behavior, impoverishment, natural disasters,racial/religious hatred,endless wars from the recent last century might very well la))st into the next century. If these stories don’t get you down it’s because we’ve become inured to the ugliness all around us.

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  66. 66. sknghlp 7:10 pm 09/12/2014

    Your idea of assuming that life is a scientific experiment and we are just collecting or providing data makes the thoughts of suicide more impractical, but what if the physical pain you are living with is controlling your life with no real hope of resolve and the pain is more than you feel you can bear just to provide data?

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