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Suicide: A Reactive Action

Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D., and Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Updated: Jul 25th 2016

Suicidal acts seldom happen spontaneously. They are typically planned events triggered by a chain of stressful internal and external circumstances. In other words, most suicide occurs as a reaction to stressful events. Since suicidal impulses are reactive, such urges typically fade as stressful events pass. It is not inevitable that you will continue to feel the urge to commit suicide just because the idea enters your head. If you can find a different, more effective way to cope with or think about the stressful events that have caused you to think in a suicidal direction, your suicidal thoughts and the impulse to act upon them will usually decrease.

upset teenAs suggested previously, suicidality is often described as happening along a continuum of potential lethality and intent. Lethality has to do with how likely some action is to cause death. Intent has to do with how determined you are to succeed. The more you are determined to kill yourself, and the more lethal the methods you choose to end your life with, the more dangerous is your situation.

Your moment-to-moment level of risk is influenced by multiple factors including whether you have:

  • a specific and defined plan for committing suicide
  • easy access to the tools you need to carry out your plan
  • a history of past suicidal gestures.

All of these things increase your present risk of committing suicide.

Your psychological state is, of course, a vital component in determining your risk. If you are in a good place in life, your risk is lower than if you are experiencing a stressful life crisis. If you are able to cope and manage the level of stress you are currently experiencing, your risk is lower than if you are feeling overwhelmed by circumstance. We will discuss other factors that contribute to your suicide risk in a later section of this center. Right now, it's important to understand that people often move backwards and forwards across this spectrum of suicide-danger-risk as the circumstances that trouble them change and their related emotions come and go.

The Suicide Crisis


Suicidal ideation is relatively common and is not necessarily associated with a crisis situation. Instead, it may be a symptom of an ongoing problem that is difficult to address without outside assistance (such as depression). In contrast, suicidal gestures typically happen in the context of crisis periods, or periods that are associated with overwhelming stress. These periods can feel unbearable with unendurable emotional and/or physical pain, and can seem to have no possible solution other than suicide.

The stresses endured by people in a suicidal crisis are undoubtedly severe and overwhelming, but they are not typically unsolvable or permanent.  However, they seem that way to people who are experiencing the crisis. Their strong emotions overwhelm, interfere with and reduce their ability to think rationally and to place their problems in perspective. 

The thinking of people who are experiencing a suicidal crisis is typically clouded and negative, intensely self-focused, and highly emotional. Homicidal feelings may be mixed with suicidal feelings if there is a sense that someone else has deliberately caused harm. Feelings of loneliness, isolation, alienation, anger and rage are common, as well as the following kinds of thoughts of hopelessness:

  • A sense that things will never get better
  • A feeling of inability or lack of motivation to change the situation
  • A belief that your emotional pain is permanent or too much to bear
  • A sense of personal worthlessness, self-hatred or self-loathing
  • A sense that all meaning has been removed from life
  • A sense that suicide is the only way to make the stressors stop (founded upon the utter sense of hopelessness described above).

Even though it is very hard to believe it in the moment of crisis, the following statements are almost always true:

  • Suicidal crises are temporary conditions.
  • The intensity and urgency associated with suicidal crises tends to disappear or diminish with time.
  • People CAN be helped through suicidal crises if they are open to accepting appropriate help and treatment.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Done with it. - - Oct 26th 2012

I had a crappy life.

So, when I was 22 I shot myself in the head with a .38. The bullet dug a furrow in my skull and left me otherwise fine. Couldn't even get that fu**ing right.

I am now 43. In a bad (really bad) marriage. Stayed for my son. Just found out he is gay.

I am done now. Don't care. Not even depressed, just done.

But frankly, I want to make sure this time...

my son committed suicide - - Mar 20th 2012

A mental hygiene was processed to have my son picked up. 2 weeks later never was picked up. why?

LOST - - Sep 11th 2010

YEARS AGO I LOST MY BABY GIRL AND TOOK IT HARD, 5 DAYS AGO THE LOVE OF MY LIVE TOOK IS OWN LIFE OR SO WE THINK,HE WAS THE FATHER OF MY BABY GIRL. LIFE SEEMS SO EMPTY AND I DONT FEEL LIKE LIVING ANYMORE FOR ME THERES NO PURPOSE TO GO ON IM TIRED OF THE PAIN AND ANGER AND REALLY DONT CARE ANYMORE HE WAS MY WORLD AND NOW HIS GONE SO WHAT MEANING IS THERE STILL TO GO ON

! - - Mar 6th 2010

yeA, HELP!

 

Helpful Articles - Katrina - May 17th 2009

I've been having problems with depression since I was in my early teens, and have found in recent years that reading online about suicide tends to help me get through the really bad phases in which I start planning how to do it.  Some of the factors include simply having the idea that I am not the only person who feels this way forced into my conscious awareness, and seeing statements that it's not a rational or normal state of thought.

 I'm a scientist (by degree but not profession), and I've found that reading about the the neurochemistry of depressed and suicidal people will bump me out of the suicidal mode and into an analytical mode of thought.  Also, perhaps the study of oneself imposes a need to have a degree of separation therein, which helps me get out of the emotional pit of wanting to die.

One of the sites that helped me get through the worst phase was http://www.well.com/~art/suicidenotes.html , a collection of notes from people who committed suicide.  It seemed to be cathartic for me but may have the opposite effect for others.

 Something about the series of suicide articles on mentalhelp.net has finally motivated me to ask my doc for an antidepressant.  
I still don't know that I'll actually ask - I've an appointment for something else tomorrow - but I guess it's a step in the right direction.  I'm getting tired of feeling okay one hour, then the next hour feeling like my life is falling apart, and staying that way for days or weeks, when absolutely nothing external has changed.

i'm just like you - nikky - Apr 13th 2009

I DON'T KNOW WHY I FEEL THE WAY I DO BUT ALWAYS HAVE AS LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER I HAVE WANTED TO END MY LIFE BUT AT TIMES THE ONLY THING THAT STOPPED ME WAS THAT GOD WOULD NOT FORGIVE ME FOR TAKING MY LIFE AND I WOULD SPEND ETERITY IN HELL BUT NOW I AM 39 YEARS OLD AND NOT EVEN THAT STOPS THE FEELINGS ANYMORE .SO MANY TIMES I COULD BE DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD AND THINK ABOUT HITTING THE GAS A LITTLE HARD AND GOING OFF THE BRIDGE OR SOMETHING I JUST WANT TO MAKE SURE I DIE IS ALL I DON'T WANT TO LIVE SO HALF ASS ISN'T GOING TO BE GOOD ENOUGH .IT HAS TO BE DEATH .IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ANYTHING ANYONE HAS DONE TO ME I HAVE NEVER BEEN ABLE TO FEEL LIKE A NORMAL PERSON SHOULD FEEL .I USE TO TAKE WELLBUTRIN AND I ADMIT IT HELPED WITH MY ANGER SOMETIMES BUT THE FEELING I WANT TO DIE WAS ALWAYS THERE NO MATTER WHAT AND IT  WILL ALWAYS BE THERE UNLESS I END THIS .I REALLY HATE HURTING MY FAMILY LIKE THIS THEY HAVE LOST SO MUCH ALREADY AND DON'T DESERVE THIS BUT I'M SO EMPTY INSIDE AND HAVE ALWAYS BEEN THIS WAY EXCEPT TO ANIMALS I LOVED THEM .I KNOW WHAT SOMEONE WILL SAY TO THAT WILL THEN WHY DON'T I CONCENTRATE ON THAT THE ANIMALS BECAUSE I DON'T WANT TO .YOU SEE I DON'T GIVE A SHIT TO CARE ABOUT ANYTHING SO HOPEFULLY I WILL BE IN HELL SOON....LATER ALL

9 years of hell - No One - Mar 28th 2009

I disagree with Dr. Joiner and Dr. Dombeck.  Major Depression for some like me is NOT treatable. It gets old for you and everyone around you.  You burn your bridges and are finally are alone.  I do believe that sucide should be the final option. I pray for others that they don't reach that point.  For me it is time.

Crisis - Suicide at 25 - Mar 21st 2009

I'm in the process of deciding wether or not to off myself today. I have read much here and I do agree that these feelings go away, but only to return. I will bear that in mind. Don't show much signs and I have a sense of humor so I might die with a smile on my face. I tried suicide twice but was unsuccessful due to miscalculations of dosage. My body is very strong.  My main reason to die is self loathing. I hate myself ever since I can remember. It seems that I learned how to take care of myself by mimicing rather than by choice. I smoke enough to kill myself down the line and  it is only a matter of time, I feel, before I am going to do it. Maybe today? I have to get a gun first. I love my family and friends but not enough to keep up appearances. How to handle the funeral cost...medical donations? Maybe my sorry life will mean something to an aspiring medical doctor.

Editor's Note: Please have a listen to the recent Wise Counsel Podcast interview with Dr. Thomas Joiner , one of the worlds leading psychological suicide researchers.  Dr. Joiner makes clear, and I (Dr. Dombeck) second, that the drive to suicide is overwhelmingly due to the presence of a mental illness like Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder, etc. Importantly, these are treatable conditions, and when they remit somewhat, so too will the pressure you feel to kill yourself.  Please go get yourself accurately diagnosed and treated for whatever your personal condition happens to be by making an appointment with a psychiatrist as soon as you can. Suicide is always an option of last resort you can keep in your back pocket, so to speak - You shoudl try and thoroughly exhaust the other avenues in front of you which hold the promise of relief before you go there, keeping in mind that if one doctor doesn't get it right for you (and that happens sometimes) there are other doctors to work with who will be able to help.  

Thanks - - Nov 14th 2007
thanks 4 the help im studying pysch 1 and i chose to go here and wow it is a lot of help thanks

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