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Posted on Mon, 25 June, 2018

The world definitely is a hard place to live in.  Each era in history has had it’s challenges, and our contemporary era is no different: tribal politics, cut-throat academic competition for higher education and resources, superbugs threatening our health, super storms threatening everything. It is believed that with access to greater resources and greater opportunity, the suicide rate has increased, because of competition for these resources. 

Suicide can be viewed as a symptom.  The depression and profoundly deep and disturbing sense of self that underlies it is intolerable, creates powerlessness and hopelessness.  So much so, that suicide is viewed as the solution to end these devastating feelings by those held prisoner by them. It is definitely not the solution, the ripple effects of suicide don’t stop with an individual’s death and those who attempt are often remorseful of them and the consequences. I think we are still learning on a macro level what the consequences are.

Learning from Kate and Anthony

Two celebrities recently brought our attention back to the often taboo, always challenging topic of suicide: Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Just one week after Mental Health Awareness Month concluded, these two people who seemingly “had it all” by conventional definitions of success, could no longer cope with their inner demons despite their material success.  Perhaps even because of it – only those with celebrity know the evil side of it.  Due to the nature of copy-cats, suicides are not mentioned in the news, unless committed by a celebrity.  A fact I feel strongly about applying to school shootings – if you give it less airtime, it becomes less of a solution for those outliers contemplating it.

Lest we forget the numerous others before Kate and Anthony: Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, Whitney Houston, and not least of all Robin Williams. His was a specific problem for me.  Yes because of my love for his incredible skill and local persona in the Bay Area, but more so because he gave tacit permission to anyone contemplating suicide.  I had two suicidal clients at the time of his death, who stated verbatim, “If he can do it, I can do it.”  It’s hard enough to challenge the allure of suicide as a solution without revered icons modeling exactly that as a condoned way out.  I believe it is precisely because he is so well respected that people felt it was alright to do it. Thankfully I can say that even at the time of this writing, neither client has committed suicide.


Changing the Approach

To reduce suicide as a solution we have to first explore what underlies it.  Our western culture and lifestyle makes it difficult to sustain a satisfying life, in fact it colludes against us by demanding we adhere to unreasonable standards while taunting us with the need for balance.  You can have it all and you should do it all, but when you do and are burned out you should work differently to balance it all out with activities that eat up more of the time we were supposed to be applying to everything originally – and we’ll call that self-care. That’s crazy-making by itself.  Now add in all the cyber bullying, discrimination, etc. and people become desperate for solutions.

We profess such shock when we hear of a new suicide, yet remain frozen in our inaction.  Sort of like with school shootings, we are outraged and yet remain complacent until it hits close enough to home.  I think it’s because we just don’t know what to do, it feels overwhelming – the problem feels too big and we eventually go back to the status quo as a means to cope.  Remember the drastic increase in positive humanity after 9/11?  We can’t sustain extreme behaviors or feelings long term, without seeking a neutral base line. Dealing with the outcome of suicide is no different, as evidenced by the inability to sustain support of people grieving

There is no obvious solution to what is becoming an endemic mental health crisis in the U.S.  Systemic changes to our culture would help but take massive efforts over long periods of time to change values and lifestyle.  That will require money to make these changes and therein lies the real problem in a capitalist society.  Insurance companies will do whatever they can to avoid paying on common issues, especially if it’s difficult to treat as chronic depression often is.

A significant contributor to homelessness is untreated mental health problems.  A significant contributor to depression is isolation and feeling unwanted (a basic human need).  The facilities that housed many chronically and severely mentally ill people are defunct now thanks to the Reagan administration.  They cost an enormous sum to run, were often abusive and certainly aren’t the only solution, but having them back in a highly structured, healthier capacity certainly would help address the problem.  They can’t go back to being a repository for unwanted relatives no one knows what to do with, but should be facilities like assisted living for the elderly; a loving solution for citizens with no private resources to address it.  I guess I just described a socialist health care system.  


The Pain of Powerlessness

Calls to suicide help lines spiked after Bourdain’s and Spade’s deaths, as they do with most celebrity suicides.  This cycle will continue until we treat the underlying conditions influencing suicide: chronic depression, PTSD, and the situational depressions that (although not organic like chronic depression) become chronic because they blossom from powerlessness from disenfranchisement or a lifestyle promoting we are not doing, having or being enough.  A negative feedback loop.

In over 14 years of private practice, I have observed a marked reduction in people’s ability to cope with frustration and negative experiences.  I find it helpful to actually educate people as to the reasoning of yin-yang so that they become more comfortable with the necessary presence of difficult, unpleasant, upsetting or tragic experiences.  Bad things will happen, and that is not reason enough to give up dealing with it.  The solution for when bad things happen is not remove yourself from the world, but to change how you engage with it.  I intentionally did not say “…is not a reason to give up,” because no suicidal person feels they are giving up by choosing suicide. They truly believe it is the best option for them and those around them.  It is a distortion for sure, but important to respect the sustained efforts they perceive they engage in on a daily basis.

The underlying causes of suicide like PTSD, depression, etc. attack our sense of agency, esteem and ability.  Over time that creates the perfect recipe for self-hatred, lack of purpose and all that is much worse if you’re targeted as a object of hate or bullying.  Treating suicide is challenging and sometimes, doesn’t work.  The people who truly want to end their lives will not seek help from a friend let alone mental health counseling.  That tells me that we ned to change how address it; systemically, with shifts in attitude and expectations of success, beauty and importance.  Suicide is not a solution, it is a symptom of a broken system; either yours individually and/or ours collectively.


There are many ways to reach out for help

Project Semicolon has gained nationwide recognition in part due to it’s use of the semicolon tattoo to teach change in suicide awareness, “that the optional semicolon continues a sentence rather than ending one like an abrupt period.”

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255



Jodi Klugman-Rabb is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Marin and Napa Counties.  She specializes in connecting with clients on a humorous and practical level, helpful when specializing in Parental Identity Discovery™, ADHD and trauma.  She uses EMDR to treat traumas and fears of all types. She is a wife of 18+ years and the mom of two funny and awesome kids. Connect with Jodi on her website or Facebook.

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A blog written by a hip, sometimes irreverent shrink who’s been around the block and calls it like it is

Humor is a great way to make sense of the world around us - and a little psychological perspective never hurt

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