People don’t die from suicide. They die from the untreated fatal symptoms of the illness of depression. The core symptoms of depression are related with the brain chemistry balance which creates hopelessness, despair, and suicidal ideation. In other words, death by suicide is most often the fatal last symptom of chronic depression.
So people don’t die from suicide. Suicide is the immediate cause of death, but the illness of depression is what creates the urge to die. Let’s compare this way of thinking to other terminal illnesses.
When people die from cancer, their cause of death can be various horrible things such things as seizure, stroke, or pneumonia. When someone dies after battling cancer, and people ask “How did they die?” you never hear anyone say “pulmonary embolism”, the answer is always “cancer”. A Pulmonary Embolism can be the final cause of death with some cancers, but when a friend of mine died from cancer, he died from cancer. That was it. And when someone has suicide as the immediate cause of death they die from “Depression”. Depression often coexists with alcoholism and other drug addictions. They die from coexisting disorders with depression as the cause of the terminal symptom of depression.
Suicide is not a choice. People don’t make the decision to kill themselves if they are mentally and physically healthy. The word “suicide” gives many people the impression that “it was his or her own decision,” or “he or she chose to die.” Thus is very different from the way that we think about people who die from cancer, chronic heart disease, or AIDES. We see people with these illnesses as fighting to live and being overcome be the terminal symptoms of a progressive illness.
Depressed people fight for their lives against the disease of depression and die from the progressive symptoms of hopelessness and despair.
The real problem is that depression is a misunderstood condition. People somehow assume people suffering from depression choose to be depressed, choose to be hopeless, choose the chronic unbearable pain of depressive illness and ultimately choose to commit suicide when they believed they had other choices. The stigma associated with both depression and it’s terminal stage symptom of suicide is extreme. It causes people to hide their illness due to the feeling of guilt (I must be doing something wrong that causes my depression) and shame (my depression results from being a worthless person somehow inherently dysfunctional). When the illness is hidden and people feel ashamed of having it they are less likely to seek proper diagnosis and treatment.
Many people have little sympathy for people who are depressed and suicidal. Those who commit suicide are generally blamed for the pain their suicide caused to others rather than being empathized with for the pain they suffered that led to despair. In our current cultural misunderstanding of depression we should be able to pull ourselves out of depression by pulling up on our own shoelaces.
Let’s see if we can get a new and more helpful perspective of suicide as the fatal symptom of a long-term battle with the chronic disease of depression.
Depression is an illness, not a choice of lifestyle. It’s not the same as feeling sad, being down, getting discouraged or having a bad day. Depressed people can’t just “cheer up” and get over their depression by somehow choosing to feel better. Just as we can’t choose not to have cancer or use will power to get rid our tumors, we can’t just choose not to be depressed and use will power to get rid of the pain Nd hopelessness. When someone commits suicide as a result of Depression, they die from Depression – an illness that kills millions each year. Depressed people do not voluntarily become depressed nor do they voluntarily stay depressed. Most people suffering from depression fight back against their depression every day. The shame of being depressed, however, stops people from admitting they have an illness and researching all possible treatment options.
There are lifestyles that promote health and well bring and minimize the risk of developing chronic life-style related illness. These healthy lifestyles can delay the onset of depression and prepare a person with skills for managing the symptoms before the depression becomes debilitating. Depression, however, follows the same patterns of prevention as other illnesses. Healthy living and avoiding risk factors can delay the onset of symptoms. Knowing the early symptoms can result in early identification and being open to seeking a combination of biological, psychological, social and spiritual approaches to managing symptom episodes. Relapse prevention and early intervention strategies can lead to shorter episodes of less severe symptoms and radically extend the length and quality of life. The inherent level genetic predisposition, limited lifestyle options, and lack of access to effective diagnosis, treatment, and community support for recovery will make a big difference in the course of the illness and how well it is managed.
It is hard to know exactly how many people actually die from depression each year because the statistics only seem to show how many people die from “suicide” each year and because of the stigma of death by suicide the cause of death is often misrepresented. Another problem that confuses the issue is that not everyone who commits suicide suffers from depression.
But considering that one person commits suicide every 14 minutes in the US alone, we clearly need to do more to battle this illness, and the stigmas that continue to surround it.
Perhaps depression might lose some its “it was his own fault” stigma, if we start focussing on the illness, rather than the symptom. People don’t die from suicide. They die from Depression. Death by suicide is not usually a choice, although some people do consciously and rationally choose to end their lives. This issue involves people with debilitating terminal or disabling illnesses and involves the moral and political issue of “the right to die.” This is a different issue than suicide as an involuntary result of severe depression. The depression removes the choice by creating biochemical brain balances that create chronic pain, hopelessness and despair.
There is hope. There are disease management strategies that help people to manage the CHRONICALLY RELAPSING DISEASE of depression. The key is a healthy lifestyle that prevents or delays or the onset of symptoms, recognizing the symptoms early and knowing treatment options and resources.
The book DEPRESSION AND RELAPSE discusses the management of depression especially when the depression coexists with addiction.