The Pain of Suicide: It’s Not About Wanting to Die, It’s About Wanting the Pain to Stop

A Grief Like No Other

In 2021, 48,183 people died by suicide in the United States.

That is 1 death by suicide every 11 minutes.

The suicide rate among males in 2021 was approximately four times higher than the rate among females.

Males make up 50% of the population but nearly 80% of suicides.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Suicide Data and Statistics, 2021

And if you’ve lost someone you love to suicide, then you already know the pain that suicide brings. A grief like no other. A grief that makes you question everything. A guilt that makes you feel you missed something crucial, something that could have prevented their death by suicide.

And if you’ve lost a child to suicide? A pain vast and deep, a grief that shatters your heart, your world, your life, your dreams. Suicide grief alters your memories, makes you question everything, makes you wonder why you are here when your child is not.

Suicide grief haunts you with the darkness that extinguished their life. And it is a long night’s journey to find light enough in your own life to live again. To want to live again.

The Pain of Suicide

Because I lost my son to suicide and know the pain that suicide grief brings, I want to know more about suicide. I want to know why he died by suicide and if suicide is a choice. Rory O’Connor, a Professor at the University of Glasgow, researches and studies the why behind suicide. O’Connor’s videos are available at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and on YouTube.

Learning More About Suicide

Here are 3 videos by Rory O’Connor that have helped me learn more about suicide:

“The Pain of Suicide”-An Insightful Video by Rory O’Connor, Ph.D., University of Glasgow, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Understanding the Suicidal Mind-It’s About Wanting the Pain to Stop

“Understanding the Suicidal Mind: What We Know and What We Still Need to Understand,” Rory O’Connor, Ph.D, Glasgow, Scotland, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

What Leads Someone to Attempt Suicide

“What Leads Someone to Attempt Suicide”–The Transition Between Thinking About Suicide and Attempting Suicide, Rory O’Connor, Ph.D, Glasgow, Scotland, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

When It’s Darkest: Making Sense of Suicide

“When It’s Darkest: Making Sense of Suicide” is a long video available on YouTube. I especially like the part of the video where Professor Rory O’Connor talks about dispelling the myths of suicide. You can read more about the Myths of Suicide here: Suicide Prevention– Myths of Suicide, PBS Video

Facts and Statistics About Suicide

Along with suicides, since 2011, there’s been nearly a 400 percent increase nationally in suicide attempts by self-poisoning among young people. “Suicide attempts by the young have quadrupled over six years, and that is likely an undercount,” said Henry A. Spiller, director of the Central Ohio Poison Center, who called the trend “devastating.” “These are just the ones that show up in the E.R.”

Jane E. Brody, December 2019, The New York Times, “The Crisis in Youth Suicide”

Nationally, suicide has emerged as the second leading cause of death for children ages 10-19 old.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Center for Suicide and Research

*Nearly 1 in 6 teens has seriously contemplated suicide in the past year.

*Suicide affects people of all backgrounds. 

*Early identification of risk factors can aid behavioral health specialists in prevention strategies for youth at risk of suicide.

*Suicide is complex and tragic yet often preventable if communities are provided with the right tools.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Center for Suicide and Research

Wanting the Pain to Stop

In his book Why People Die by Suicide, Thomas Joiner outlines three factors that contribute to an individual’s acquired capacity for suicide:

  1. You are born with it. Some people just come into the world with a temperament for risk-taking. They do not seem to be afraid of anything. Natural risk-takers in our society include law enforcement personnel and military, skydivers, adventure explorers, race car drivers, and emergency room doctors. These folks are not at risk for suicide unless they have the first half of the diagram, “desire for suicide.” Should that desire ever develop, however, they have less distance to cross to self-harm because the fear of death or pain is not as great as in other people.
  2. You learn it. Other people may not be born with this innate sense of courage, but they learn it over time by living through painful and provocative experiences. By being exposed to violence and life-and-death situations, people become more accustomed and less afraid. For some people, this means a history of physical or sexual abuse. For others, it is chronic injuries or illnesses that require adapting to high levels of pain. For still others, it may be repeated suicidal thoughts or attempts.
  3. You have access to and familiarity with lethal means. For example, you might have at hand firearms, lethal medications, and access to high places. The more comfortable a person is with the lethal means of suicide, the more likely he or she will choose that method should he or she find themselves wanting to die by suicide.
Further Reading: Thomas Joiner, Why People Die by Suicide (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2006).

Wanting the Pain to Stop

Suicide epidemiologists and those who study suicidology lend important research, insight, and understanding to a means of death that leaves an inordinate amount of pain behind in its wake.

It’s not about wanting to die, it’s about wanting the pain to stop. And sadly, it is we who live on past our loved one’s suicide who want the pain to stop the most.

My son is no longer in pain, but the pain of losing him to suicide will always be with me.

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