There are always “lessons” that we, as survivors, try to extract from these tragic ends. There is a powerful need to explain, and explain away, what feels to most of us frightening inexplicable e.g. How could someone so…. rich, successful, famous, young, full of promise feel so hopeless, so dead-ended to do this? As a practicing psychoanalyst I feel our field has something special to say and to remind those of us left behind.
One at this point, almost trite way these outcomes are frequently “explained” is via “mental illness.” While it might be true that many suicidal people do struggle with forms of what have been generally identified as mental disorders, the reliance on this explanation is in part guided by a hope that we can gain reassurance that, since we do not have such diagnosable disorders, we are somehow exempt from the terror, pain, and helplessness that drives someone to take his own life. There are normally the usual unfunded suggestions regarding greater access to mental health options.
From my chair, I see the effort to live vitally and, in so doing, to set aside the daily assault on us by the pressures of aging, competition, broken families, racism, and the damning effects of often early physical and sexual abuse, as a constant challenge. Even under what might be considered optimal conditions, we need security in our self-image, in sense of ourselves as valuable, precious and loveable to creatively tackle the constant strain of living with its ever-present components of pain and loss. I see our society caught up in a mad dash for money and name recognition and outward symbols of success, while drowning in the buzz of pleasant distractions of drugs, mobile phones, cable TV.
To live a life of meaning and value to yourself and others has been demoted to a fool’s endeavor since such a person would never end up on Entertainment Tonight.
The bottom line is that people who kill themselves, leaving aside those who do so in the setting of terminal illness, are people, who feel regardless of the people around them, unloved and alone with only mirrors for company. The take home lesson for those of us who survive is that a sense of goodness can emerge if we begin to repay attention to what is “inside.” This is not the stuff of philosophers, nor mysticism nor even necessarily religion; it is at base what is aimed for in a true dynamic psychotherapy or psychoanalysis. In our complex, confusing and dangerous world it is crucial to identify and re-fortify our goodness inside and increase our ability to love. The result is a happy soul which sustains us without effort and in turn, the people around us who need us here.