Mind Matters — The Pain of Suicide

“There is no silver bullet to understand why [suicide and self-harm occur]. Suicide and self-harm are idiosyncratic to the individual, unique to a person’s response to stress.” So says Jack Klott, a prominent suicidologist.

However, bullets are one of the main causes of suicides in the United States. At a recent meeting in Boston, Klott highlighted the most recent research findings and reported that white males have the highest rates of suicide and that ninety per cent of the time the act is carried out with a firearm. And the group that has the lowest suicide rate? African American women sixty-five years and older. Why is there such disparity between white males and older African American females? Klott notes that African American women, when asked what they did in a time of crisis, responded “I try to figure a way out—I keep trying until I find what works.” This is the foundation of resilience, along with social connection and a sense of purpose. Klott also reminds us that, while white women got the vote in 1920, African Americans’ empowerment began with the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and, especially, with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Is the upside of this situation that African Americans are enduring and hopeful for change? It certainly indicates their lack of entitlement for what should have been intrinsically theirs.

Meanwhile, white males have pretty much always had a sense of entitlement. Klott refers to the Jungian analyst, James Hillman, as to how this sense of entitlement may tie in with rates of suicide among white males. What happens when what you thought you had—entitlement, control, power, immunity to anything bad happening—is lost? Might such sense of loss of place in the universe lead to suicide (or in some cases, homicide, and then suicide)?

Klott believes that one practical antidote to suicide is gun safety. He discussed a program supported by the NRA that provided thumb sensor locks on guns. Where there is access to guns in the house, the suicide risk rises. Gun control and gun safety are part of the solution, he says. We also need to find antidotes to the four pillars of suicide: hopelessness, isolation, self hate, and inability to cope.

Suicide is incongruent to our neurological wiring. An individual commits suicide as a protection against great pain, notes Klott. Healing this pain might include building resilience, making connection, finding reasons for living, engendering hope for the future.

Despite all our best efforts as parents, as therapists, as friends, as family, another’s choice of suicide is ultimately beyond our control. Nevertheless, we can have hope for a future where it is exceedingly rare and do what we can to prevent it from happening.

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