This information helps you to meta-cognitively puncture suicidal ideation.
October 21, 2010 5:23 PM   Subscribe

Criminy. I just finished reading this article about a mysterious person that encourages suicidal people, met in chat rooms, to commit suicide. I'll have to take a breather before I get to this one.
posted by jabberjaw at 5:31 PM on October 21, 2010 [14 favorites]

Was sure this was going to be the "Whip My Hair" video.
posted by hermitosis at 5:32 PM on October 21, 2010 [11 favorites]

i have friends whose loved son has commited sideways and hope they don't read or see this post, too painfull. Not all posts are happy, feel-good stories, here on the Me-Fi.
posted by tustinrick at 5:39 PM on October 21, 2010

Oh thank god, I wouldn't have known at all, without this timely FPP!

E. Coli burger!
posted by hincandenza at 5:43 PM on October 21, 2010

I don't mean this as a joke, but "committed sideways" appears to be an unintentionally poetic iPhone autocorrect.
posted by hincandenza at 5:45 PM on October 21, 2010 [12 favorites]

I plodded through to the end but frankly, the writer lost my respect for the article in the first few paragraphs, starting with, "Provided there were no uncomfortable symptoms of rigor mortis cramping up my hands, nor delusory devils biting at my feet, how liberating it would be to be able to write like a dead man and without that hobbling, hesitating fear of being unblinkingly honest."
posted by Houstonian at 5:57 PM on October 21, 2010 [8 favorites]

I remember when I was about sixteen or so and I finally became aware of the fact that I was gay, and that my lifelong attraction to other boys wasn't just a fluke or some bizarre phase that I would grow out of.

Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian household, I had heard all the right sermons. These overpowering feelings of mine were Abominations Unto The Lord, and that when the End Times came (and surely thou art coming soon, Lord Jesus), I would be judged and found wanting. I remember reading the "...shouted from the rooftops" verse in Sunday School, and I remember the dawning horror that one day, even if I did end up in heaven, Jesus would still reveal my gayness to all the Saved, who would look away in shame at my terrible sins. My poor mother, my poor father. Their son was a fag and they would have to live in eternity with that knowledge.

This was around the same time that the Internet was really taking off and lo and behold, I discovered gay porn online in short order. We only had one computer in the house (remember those days?) and it had a noisy dial-up modem which connected me to a world unlike anything I had ever seen. How pathetic I must have seemed: some poor religious kid who wanted nothing more than to please God and be a Pastor or maybe a missionary or something -- connecting to the internet late at night (with blankets wrapped around the tower to muffle the connection noises) and furtively masturbating to his sweetest desires.

So it was one night I got done jerking off and went into the kitchen to get a towel when I realized, like a bolt of lightning out of a clear blue sky, that I was damned. Eternally, forever, for all-times damned to the undying fires of Hell. I always asked forgiveness, of course. Ask and ye shall receive, and all that. But I knew it was futile. God might forgive seventy times seven times, but this gay thing isn't going away and one day I was going to die, and I was going to die as a Fag. Oh sure, Official Doctrine stated that once you were saved, you were always saved. But nobody really believed it. Not really. Good clean living was considered one of the proofs of salvation. Continued living in sin was considered proof of an absence of salvation, even if you had said the sinner's prayer. I knew I would never stop being gay. I knew that I would not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. I would be tortured along with Hitler and Judas, forever.

So I was standing there in the kitchen and my eyes fell upon the block of carving knives and I thought to myself, "Which one of these knives would be the best one to end my miserable fucking existence?" I thought, in my mind, that if I prayed and asked for forgiveness (for what I had done and what I was about to do) and then killed myself in a state of grace, I could enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. I remembered my Pastor talking about all the children that God killed in the Old Testament, about how it was good that God had killed them early, since they would have probably become much worse sinners if they had gotten the chance to grown up.

I would offer myself up as a sacrifice to the Lord, that I could perhaps escape the terrible fate that he had pre-destined for me, as if such a thing were possible.

I know this seems a little odd, but I don't completely remember what happened next. I don't remember how I chose not to plunge that knife into my heart or my neck. My memory fails me but if I'm not mistaken, at the time I convinced myself that suicide would be unnessecary because God would soon strike me down with cancer or something similar for my sins. At least then I would be granted the dignified bedside death and have ample opportunity to try and stop sinning. What a tortured soul I was to wish for cancer as a cure to my gayness!

The next few years were hard. Very, very hard. High school was a hellish insane asylum that, from my point of view, was designed specifically to break children of their humanity. I spent a few years after high school kind of aimlessly wandering, taking a few classes here, a few jobs there. Eventually I got some marketable skills, got a decent job, my own apartment and, while still being a student, things are a lot better.

And that's really what I want to say. If there is anybody reading this, anybody that thinks God hates you because you're gay or lesbian or trans or whatever, let me just tell you that there is a world outside of the prison that has been carefully built around you. I can't tell you that your religion is wrong. You'll have to reach or not reach that decision on your own. I can tell you, however, that your Gods are only as hateful as you allow them to be and that it's possible to live in a world where God loves the way you are or where there is even no God at all, should you so choose.

The world is not a perfect place, or even necessarily a good place. Like most things in the universe, it just is what it is. But today I went to see a production of Tartuffe put on by some of my friends, had a good laugh, went over to a friend's house afterward, got freaky with him, went back to my place, made dinner and read my favorite blogs, all without wanting to kill myself - just like a normal person. Because I am a normal person, and I am loved, warts and all.

My metafilter name is Avenger but my real name is Karl and if you're reading this, and you're hurting, I want you to know that it gets better. Love ya.
posted by Avenger at 6:04 PM on October 21, 2010 [240 favorites]

I hate anything that attempts to explain to me that the orgasm is also known as la petit morte.
posted by lizzicide at 6:05 PM on October 21, 2010 [7 favorites]

Ja Accuse!
posted by clavdivs at 6:06 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

jabberjaw, that article you linked is postworthy on its own. Chilling stuff (and, without knocking the FPP here, significantly better written).
posted by immlass at 6:17 PM on October 21, 2010

I recently came across this, which is purported to be less a game and more a way to experience in some sense the feeling of [suicidal] depression.
posted by Eideteker at 6:18 PM on October 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

The article is pretty dry and clinically written. Hardly the state a suicidal person would be in.
posted by nomadicink at 6:20 PM on October 21, 2010

@ Houstonian. Seriously? That's exactly where the author gained my respect for the article.
posted by blasebeast at 6:22 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, after reading both - I got much more out of jabberjaw's article.
posted by cerulgalactus at 6:24 PM on October 21, 2010

One thing that wasn't discussed in the article was impulse suicides. I recall this article from the New York Times Magazine some years back. It suggests that some percentage of suicides are preventably by removing the means or opportunity of suicide. It would be interesting to know whether impulse suicides are fit into the framework described in the Scientific American article. (Of course, the NYT article doesn't really have a coherent thesis--it suggests that there are many highly impulsive suicides, but then discusses people who survived suicide attempts that were clearly planned. Going to the Golden Gate Bridge with the intent of jumping off, not doing so and never having another suicidal thought for the rest of one's life strikes me as a different phenomenon than walking across the bridge and suddenly experiencing an urge to jump.)
posted by hoyland at 6:27 PM on October 21, 2010

My moment came late one night in the midst of a severe bout of depression following the end of a relationship. I was in a particularly gloomy mood that night. It was about 8pm, I had had a late class at University, I had very little money in my wallet and I was tired and just wanted to be home where I could brood in solitude. My bus was late. But finally it showed. I stood up from the bus stop seat and stood near the edge of the road, waiting for the bus to pull up next to me. And then my mind had a sort of Matrix 'Bullet Time' moment. The bus and everything around me was in slow motion and I imagined stepping out in front of that bus and ending it all. I wanted it so bad. I wanted everything to just end and I knew in that slow motion moment that if I did it then I would finally have peace.

But then everything returned to normal time and I actually said to myself "Whoa... that's fucked up." And I realised even more than I had in that moment just a few seconds ago that my death would bring me peace but would torment the driver, my friends, my family. It would be an incredibly selfish act and I couldn't let that happen. And so, in that moment I decided that this was no way to live and I began a long hard road to recovery.

I want to echo what Avenger said up-thread to all those who were in the same place I was once in. I know how hard it can be but I know it can also get better. Trust me, it really can.
posted by Effigy2000 at 6:34 PM on October 21, 2010 [9 favorites]

Eideteker: I thought that was going to be Every day the same dream.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 6:35 PM on October 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

"Catch the bus" ..... what an oddly comforting euphemism, just like Emily Dickinson's ethereal couplet,
The Carriage held but just Ourselves—
And Immortality.
posted by blucevalo at 6:38 PM on October 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

"Suicide can be seen as an ultimate step in the effort to escape from self and world."

Anomie should suffice as a cite.

(constricted temporal focus, concrete thinking, immediate or proximal goals, cognitive rigidity, and rejection of meaning)

is that not similar to Durkheims criteria?
posted by clavdivs at 6:38 PM on October 21, 2010

I find this entire treatment somewhat useful, but overly complicated. Without getting into the details here, I would like to recommend a book that I have given away to dozens of people, some of them in serious depressions. Even those who don't have a mood disorder could profit from reading this book; its based on sound cognitive scientific research.

This book is one of the best "help" manuals for those suffering from depression, or looking for ways to improve their lives. the last 1/3 of the book is about antidepressant medication, and is a bit dated.

Suicidal ideation is an emergency condition; treat it like chest pains. Go see someone or talk to someone right now!. Suicide is 100% preventable. Suicide is singularly a brain disease, sometimes caused by congenital disease, and other times brought on by thought patterns that drive the brain to a state where real pain results - pain that is impossible to accurately describe, and that results in what Alavarez called a "rush to death".

This is all aside from the voluntary ending of one's life when one is near certain death from disease. That is another question, altogether. One of the interesting things about the first book mentioned at the beginning of this post is that even life-end situations can be relieved by using the exercises contained in the book, that themselves have come out of very good brain research and well-controlled studies.

Take care...
posted by Vibrissae at 6:39 PM on October 21, 2010 [7 favorites]

That was so honest and amazing and... just beautiful, Avenger. Words fail me.

Thank you, on behalf of every person floundering who will eventually read it and gain some reassurance.

And to Effigy2000 too, on preview.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 6:39 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

It’s a blessing because it allows us to experience pride, and a curse because it also engenders what I consider to be the uniquely human, uniquely painful emotion of shame.

Clearly this person has never had a dog.
posted by nola at 6:46 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Suicide rates are higher in nations with higher standards of living than in less prosperous nations; higher in US states with a better quality of life; higher in societies that endorse individual freedoms;

Okay, I'm not an expert on this, but even a cursory search of Wikipedia suggests this is wrong. The top ten on the list on this page are all developing world with the exception of Japan, which has its own interesting story, and the rest of the list suggests a mixture of wealthy and poor societies - most of the European and other developed nations seem to fall in the twenty-five to seventy-five range, neither in the top or the bottom ten. In the USA, state suicide demographics seem to correlate more to geography and race.

In the case of poorer and more authoritarian nations having lower suicide rates - I wonder if its not just the fact that people are more likely to be killed by disease, famine, or state and civil violence and anyone who's ambiguous about the value of their life doesn't necessarily live long enough to take steps themselves.
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:56 PM on October 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

*reads Avenger's comment and realizes what a dud of a comment I just made*

*feelings of shame and self loathing wash over me like a rivlets of sputum eddying me down a dark drainspittle of neither*

Been reading to much Cormac McCarthy
posted by nola at 7:01 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sometimes all suicide is is a deep desire to end unbearable mental or emotional pain. This I understand all too well. I can never find it in my heart to judge or be angry at a suicide-or at least, while angry the act took place, I have compassion and grief for its victim. And I consider people who commit this act, for the most part, to be victims.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:03 PM on October 21, 2010 [13 favorites]

It may seem to go without saying that suicides tend to be preceded by a period of negative emotions, but, again, in Baumeister’s escape model, negative suicidal emotions are experienced as an acute state rather than a prolonged one. “Concluding simply that depression causes suicide and leaving it at that may be inadequate for several reasons,” he writes. “It is abundantly clear that most depressed people do not attempt suicide and that not all suicide attempters are clinically depressed.”

Anxiety—which can be experienced as guilt, self-blame, threat of social exclusion, ostracism and worry—seems to be a common strand in the majority of suicides.

I found this to be one of the most interesting sections of the article. Speaking someone with enough depression and anxiety to give a horse a heart attack, I can state with some authority that, while depression brings me down, anxiety is the one that convinces me everyone's going to beat me with tire irons because I missed an email.

I definitely disagree with the idea that suicide is merely an extreme outcome of depression itself (not that anyone necessarily believes in that straw man) - anxiety and shame play a huge part in it.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:16 PM on October 21, 2010 [5 favorites]

When I think about all of the amazing experiences I have had after my depression, I'm glad I stuck around, and didn't cut my life short for some temporary life situations.

It does get better, as others have said. I started surfing, traveling, playing the drums. Everything I wanted to do before, and had told myself was a waste of time or money to disguise my real belief that I wasn't worth it. My best recommendation is to reach back into your childhood, and pick something out that you wanted to do when you would eventually have your freedom as an adult. And if you're not an adult, go nuts, fall in love, start a band, write poetry, join clubs, learn how to dance, or draw, or act, or speak a new language. If you are an adult, do the same thing.

I took the person I loved to France. It didn't work out in the end, but damn it all, I fell in love in Paris. And no one can take that moment away from me, or all of the others I've had since.
posted by notion at 7:18 PM on October 21, 2010 [11 favorites]

Someone I knew committed suicide a few days ago. He wasn't someone I really liked; he was an aggressive vendor who tried too hard to push his product on me and my coworkers. But learning that he was in so much pain as to take his own life was really sobering, and he has been on my mind for days (I wish I had been friendlier to him; I have learned from this). And twice now I've heard people laughing about his death. One tried to engage me tonight in joking about it and I told her I found it offensive. These are people who, unlike me, believe in God, and believe that they are good Christians.

I don't even know my point. I just had to vent.
posted by amro at 7:37 PM on October 21, 2010 [6 favorites]

Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.

My night will never end. I understand that. And all of the articles explaining to me why I feel this way won't help. Bless your heart, Avenger, but for some of us, things will never get better.
posted by SPrintF at 7:41 PM on October 21, 2010 [6 favorites]

Sometimes all suicide is is a deep desire to end unbearable mental or emotional pain. This I understand all too well. I can never find it in my heart to judge or be angry at a suicide-or at least, while angry the act took place, I have compassion and grief for its victim. And I consider people who commit this act, for the most part, to be victims.

This is why it's not fair to call people who commit suicide "selfish." That's like calling someone who is in unbearable physical pain selfish for wanting to die. That person is in far too much pain to be expected to think about anyone else right then.
posted by amro at 7:52 PM on October 21, 2010 [11 favorites]

I've never been in a place where I've attempted suicide, but when I've been in a place to consider it (I've been suffering from chronic depression for most of my adolescent and young adult life), I was in a place where depression turns from very intense sadness to an all-consuming exhaustion. Hamlet's consideration of "to sleep, perchance to dream" always resonated with me for that reason. Maybe it's like the part of freezing to death where you suddenly feel very warm and lay down in the snow to sleep; that life has become so tiring that death would be a release, a restful state. Maybe it's different because I've never gotten out of the "cry for help" stage of suicidal thinking; I've always been able to find someone to hold my hand while I dug myself out.

I'm glad I never did it. I hope I never do. I don't think the kind of depression I have is the kind where I'll ever be out of the woods; there will always be times when the exhaustion overpowers me so much that death feels like a reasonable alternative.
posted by NoraReed at 8:24 PM on October 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, I completely agree, amro. Calling someone who tried to (or did) commit suicide "selfish" has always seemed to me to be so cruel and heartless, the ultimate in kicking someone when he or she is down.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 8:30 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

An employee who reported to me committed suicide recently. After reading through the 6 steps, I can say quite confidently that he met absolutely zero of them. None. Nada.

He was in chronic pain (and had been since he was young), but the pain got bad to the point where pain medication wouldn't take the edge off and he almost entirely from home. He wrote his note a month before hand, gave himself time to see if things would get better or worse or no change and when they got worse, it was game over.

This counterexample serves to illustrate that the 6 steps should be nothing more than a general outline.
posted by plinth at 8:57 PM on October 21, 2010

"Oh, I completely agree, amro. Calling someone who tried to (or did) commit suicide "selfish" has always seemed to me to be so cruel and heartless, the ultimate in kicking someone when he or she is down."

Right, like, "You're so selfish! Why weren't you thinking about how this would affect MEEEEE??!!!"
posted by Eideteker at 9:00 PM on October 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

"...a study on suicides in the U.S. military branches found that guns were most frequently associated with Army personnel suicides, hanging and knots for those in the Navy, and falling and heights were more common for those in the Air Force."

I find this fascinating. I wonder how other occupations may align with suicide methods?
posted by jet_manifesto at 9:47 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

plinth, as someone who has suffered from severe chronic pain and the kind of intense emotional pain described, they're very similar in the way that you look at the future and make a calculation about whether shit is likely to get better, or not.

With physical pain you're probably a lot better at making the decision, but the feeling--that by killing yourself you would be able to escape something unbearable--is very much the same.

I have to say god bless weed for saving my ass in both cases.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:06 PM on October 21, 2010

Can anyone tell us if Baumeister is well-regarded or if his theory is widely held or supported? I've known a handful of people who've committed suicide, and some of the things I knew about them (not that we can ever really know what's going on in someone's head) would mesh well with this theory.

But the irritating writing style and lack of references or supporting data makes me wonder if I should be looking to this article for an explanation. I don't know where to look for information on this, though.
posted by harriet vane at 11:01 PM on October 21, 2010

Oh, I completely agree, amro. Calling someone who tried to (or did) commit suicide "selfish" has always seemed to me to be so cruel and heartless, the ultimate in kicking someone when he or she is down.

My sister commited suicide years ago. I went through a short stage were I was angry with her - because of all the pain she caused me and the others who loved her. I guess I would have called her selfish at the time, but that was a visceral reaction due to my inner turmoil. As I later became able to think clearly again, I lost the anger. I don't call her selfish anymore.
posted by Harald74 at 12:09 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a perpetually suicidal person, I can say that the stages described here resonated with me and reminded me of my best friend, who killed himself a year and a half ago. I hesitate to write this comment, because I'm not terribly keen on drawing attention to myself, but I wanted to address some of the comments here.

For me, being suicidal is sort of like being an alcoholic. I didn't kill myself yesterday, I'm not going to kill myself today, I don't think I'll kill myself tomorrow. After that things get hazy. I read the article and recognized in myself five of those six phases, but they aren't an accelerating crescendo and they don't necessarily follow one after the other. It wouldn't surprise me, however, to observe the presence of all of them in some capacity within those who finally succumb.

But if you think that this article is written with too detached a voice to describe the desperate, you're wrong. That is the affect of a person who has either learned how to live with their illness or has been crushed by it. If you don't recognize the longing for a conscious experience of death in the first few paragraphs and instead assign it to irritating sensationalism, I'm glad for you.

Suicide is difficult in part because it's crazy, and so either one can't understand it or one is crazy and cannot be understood. I'm grateful for studies and articles like these, which may help to bridge the gap between the obsessed and the uncomprehending. Everyone could use a little more help.
posted by Errant at 12:27 AM on October 22, 2010 [21 favorites]

plinth: An employee who reported to me committed suicide recently. After reading through the 6 steps, I can say quite confidently that he met absolutely zero of them. None. Nada.
I was reading them myself and thinking the very same thing; apparently I don't actually feel the way I do, because at least according to these six steps I'm happy as a clam.

I think suicide is a very complex thing- after all, why shouldn't it be? The reasons can be diverse, and I think the only thing in common is that suicidal people find it baffling that other people don't feel this way, or don't see how and why they feel the way they do. I can speak only for myself, but I also feel that there is a "thing" that could make me un-sad, but it isn't attainable by me. Sad, like happy, either is or isn't. You can no more logic a sad person into being happy, content, and settled than you can explain how someone stays happy in the face of great loss, suffering, or pain.

I often find the tone of suicide-related articles or research to be a bit condescending, as if we're all just dunderheaded idiots who don't know how to be happy. People don't invest that energy or thought into why people are okay or content, and the tone comes across as "Look at these broken people and the simple ways they are broken", as if it were that simple, clean, and elegant. I sometimes find myself agreeing with the view of Camus, who apparently felt the point of philosophy was to answer the question "Why shouldn't we kill ourselves?", and I'd like to see the "Six steps of happy people who inexplicably don't feel every day like they wish they were dead". Which still wouldn't matter: saying something doesn't make it so, nor does reading it or cataloging it. It is, or it isn't. That's how the damn goose got in the bottle to begin with...
posted by hincandenza at 12:42 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

It hurts me when people say things like victims of suicide "took the easy way out" and don't deserve anyone's sympathy due to their selfish actions. Not just because it demonstrates such a lack of compassion (there is nothing easy about killing yourself.) but also because it re-iterates how misunderstood suicide (and depression) really is, despite its prevalence.

This article mentions that suicide is "relatively rare," but relative to what? This is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. we're talking about. I don't think that's rare. I think that's a serious health problem that isn't being properly addressed. And that scares and saddens me because people like SPrintF, Errant, NoraReed and, well, me, are at risk of dying because of it.

I felt like this article was maybe too dry/impersonal for some people to be able to relate to. I found that though many of the stages mentioned made some rational sense, they might not really get across what it really feels like to want to kill yourself. But I'm glad the conversation is being had and I hope others will learn from it.

I'm sure it's different for different people, and the reasons for being in that position are varied, but in my case I have found that it helps to think of my depression (chronic/lifelong, but occasionally lifting) as a separate entity from my suicidal ideation (periods of obsessive thoughts of suicide). The latter is a kind of separate illness that tries to get me to kill myself. Not everyone with depression has it, some people probably only get it once, and it tends to run in families.

For me these periods (unfortunately plural) can even be triggered just by hearing about suicides in the news and reading too many articles about them. Anything that gets me thinking about suicide for a long enough period of time can feed into my anxiety and soon I will feel hopeless and dejected about everything. Then I will think there is no escaping those feelings and they will get worse and worse until I can't breathe and I know death is the only way to kill the pain (though of course it doesn't in any relief-giving way. And the knowledge that you will also be creating pain in others just increases the anxiety). "Long enough" is kind of an unknown factor so I have to be pretty careful. Just writing this comment has made me nervous. I know it sounds ridiculous, but what if someone kills themselves tomorrow and I am not able to avoid the news? There is a reason why suicides are not publicized. "Copycats" can and will happen, so I know it's not just me. In New York, the MTA doesn't even reveal how many attempts are made in the subway.

Anyway, dealing with all this has gotten slightly easier with age. The depression doesn't necessarily get better, but experience helps. I have one suicide attempt behind me and I am glad I didn't die then. That knowledge has been enough to keep me going thus far, among other things. At the same time, I know a prior suicide attempt is a major risk factor for future attempts, and I am so used to using the promise of suicide as a coping mechanism that I have a very hard time picturing a future for myself, so making a future happen is that much harder.
posted by butterteeth at 1:00 AM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

The GQ article jabberjaw posted hit home--I had completely forgotten about the case involving Nadia Kajouji (discussed on page 4), but seeing the chat transcripts was all sorts of weird after seeing large segments of the university community here in Ottawa try to find Kajouji when she went missing. Deeply deeply saddening.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 1:18 AM on October 22, 2010

To everyone who has told their stories of being affected by suicide, or thoughts therein, thank you.
posted by cerulgalactus at 1:42 AM on October 22, 2010

Tangent: Just to clarify, I don't find the tone of the article too detached, I find the sentence structure convoluted and it made it hard to get the gist of sentence until I'd finished reading every word. Not sure if that's how other people felt. It shouldn't affect whether or not the article is accurate, though.

Positive psychology might be an area of interest for people who want an answer to "why are other people happier than I am?". It's trying to complement research on mental illness and maladaptive behaviours by looking at the tactics and habits of people who describe themselves as happy. The idea is to focus on what's needed for a good result, not just on preventing things from going wrong.

The current theory is that (depression-related illnesses aside, because they have a different cause) happiness is about 50% genetics, 10% circumstances (love life, money, etc), and about 40% good or bad mental habits. Research is ongoing, but so far a fair bit of peer reviewed research is already published.

But IANAD, and I've only read one book on it, so obviously don't take my word for it. I just think it's an interesting topic, and that pretty much everyone who's not an irritating chirpy Pollyanna could benefit from learning habits that help that 40%.
posted by harriet vane at 4:30 AM on October 22, 2010

Back to the article:
“Concluding simply that depression causes suicide and leaving it at that may be inadequate for several reasons,” he writes. “It is abundantly clear that most depressed people do not attempt suicide and that not all suicide attempters are clinically depressed.”
I don't think that escape theory is meant to account for all depressed people and all suicides. It seems that he sees it more as finding the commonly-experienced, empirically-determined symptoms to look for in possibly suicidal people, rather than relying on mainstream media ideas of how suicidal people act.
posted by harriet vane at 4:47 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Can anyone tell us if Baumeister is well-regarded or if his theory is widely held or supported?"

I don't know whether this particular theory is widely held or supported, but Baumeister is very well regarded in the field of social psychology.
posted by tdismukes at 5:21 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Recently in a gathering of artists and musicians, most of them Japanese, chatting around the dinner table into the small hours of the morning. A dignified older lady spoke up: "So... how many of you have tried to kill themselves? Let's see a show of hands." Most people raised their hands.

A close friend of mine tried it one time around Christmas a couple years ago and miraculously failed. I still refer to it as his second birthday. It really got me. I was already convinced I wouldn't kill myself, but the pain from that would have done it otherwise, I'm never gonna inflict that kind of suffering on my friends and family.
posted by yoHighness at 5:50 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Suicide rates are lowest on Fridays and highest on Mondays;

Oddly, the one person I know who committed suicide did so on a Friday night.

I just can't imagine being in that place where you don't want to know what happens on Saturday because for you, you're done. Saturday doesn't exist. I've tried to wrap my head around it, but ultimately, the best I can do is just feeling an infinite amount of compassion for someone in that situation because truly, I can't understand and more than anything wish that I could offer something to make Saturday worthwhile... but I know that it's not up to me. Even if it were my best friend, it's still out of my control and platitudes of "it gets better" don't do any good when you've hit the absolute wall where you're convinced your life has no more "it" to "get."

That's the best I can do in terms of understanding, and beyond that, I just hope that anyone in that situation can find some kind of help, whatever that means for them.
posted by sonika at 6:03 AM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Among people I've really had a chance to get to know (you know, talking until 2am or moving beyond pleasantries) they have all been personally affected by suicide. If a person didn't at some point arrive precipitously close to the edge, the memory of someone who stepped over that line has etched a deep memory scar.

The elephant in the room is that the pain of suicide is quite common to humanity. I'm not sure how we take it from a hushed topic (only contemplated in the retrospect) to a proactive discussion, but articles like this help my analytical-bent mind to get perspective.

FYI... not a call for help or anything here, just stating that it is common for normal healthy people to feel suicidal or experience teenage angst flashbacks. It isn't healthy, but it is normal. How strange.
posted by dgran at 6:05 AM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm likely going to ramble a bit, so please bear with me...

I've been chronically depressed for pretty much my entire life. I have very clear memories of it from as young as 6 or 7. The thing about it was, until I was roughly 24, I thought it was normal, that only a few lucky people actually got to be consistently happy or at least not depressed, and that the rest of us only experienced it in small bursts.

For me my suicidal thoughts manifested themselves through just wanting to rest. Depression kept me mentally and sometimes physically exhausted, and death seemed the only way to be released.

I remember working nights and sitting in the computer room at 4am staring at the pistol laying on the desk in front of me or pressing it against my temple and listening to my wife sleeping in the next room, thinking "my insurance pays out if I kill myself... she'd be better off with the money than with me. But I want to see her again. I'm stronger than this." and I would make it through another night.

Ultimately depression, both mine and hers, played a large factor in our divorce. But ultimately, even though it nearly killed me, losing her is what ultimately made me realize that what I felt WASN'T normal and it lead me to get help. I still have severe bouts of depression and the occasional suicidal thought, but it is much more under control on a conscious level because I am aware of it.

It CAN get better, but I will never presume to tell those suffering that it WILL, because everyone's suffering is different as is the path out.
posted by skrymir at 6:13 AM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


My night will never end. I understand that. And all of the articles explaining to me why I feel this way won't help. Bless your heart, Avenger, but for some of us, things will never get better.

I say this with all the compassion in the world, but what you're stating as a fact is not a fact but a prediction or a belief. It's a prediction or belief that is often a symptom of depression and is most likely not true.

It feels like you won't get better while you're depressed, but most people with depression do get better.

I have a friend who was positive he would never get better -- he'd tried therapy, he'd tried drugs, none of it worked. With great difficulty, some friends finally convinced him to try again, and he finally found a drug that worked. And now he is not depressed. Seriously. He got better. He's leading a "normal" and healthy life now. It really happens.

Please don't give up on the possibility of treatment.
posted by callmejay at 7:03 AM on October 22, 2010 [8 favorites]

Thank you to everyone who's shared their stories.

I've been suicidal, too. I'm not now; I'm terrified of death and hope to live as long as possible. But I have been. And I've learned that being suicidal can feel like a lot of different things.

There's the severely depressed, I'm a failure, I don't deserve to live, no one will miss me or come to my funeral feeling; this is the mindset that most people associate with suicide.

There's the more violent variation of this: not that you simply deserve to die, but that you deserve to be killed. That your existence is somehow wrong and you must be punished for it.

There's the swirl of sadness and horrible thoughts that pulls you under and pins you down. You don't think about whether you deserve to live or die, because you're in too much pain to think about yourself as a human with a life. You're just a cloud of miserable jetsam at the bottom of the sea. You want it to stop, but you can't think your way out of it. Death seems like the only way to get any relief.

There's the feeling that, though you're not exactly sad, nothing good is going to happen ever again and there's nothing you want to do. You've still got decades of nothing to trudge through and you don't feel up to the task. Might as well skip all that and get to the inevitable end.

And there's the little voice in your head that shows up one day out of nowhere and says "die!" Sometimes it seems like that voice is on to something, sometimes you genuinely don't want to die, but you're scared that voice will keep pestering you until you give in. You press yourself to the wall when the subway arrives, out of fear that your legs won't listen to your rational mind and take a running jump against your will. Or, if you're brave and reasonably healthy, you look out over the sixteenth-story balcony and think "brain, shut up. I don't want to die and you can't make me do it." And then you run back indoors and lay on the floor so you absolutely won't fall.

I'm sure there are many, many other ways to feel suicidal, which I have been fortunate enough not to experience.

To reiterate, I am not suicidal. I hope to never be suicidal again. I am in good mental shape, I enjoy my health, and I work to hang onto it when I feel it slipping. In my darkest times, I have been kept alive by the knowledge that my suicide would greatly hurt the people who love me, and the realization that death is forever.

But I think it's important for people who have experienced suicidal ideation, and come out of it, to share. Suicidal ideation is still viewed by most people as really fucking crazy. Depression is often misunderstood, but it's not hard to find people who know and empathize. Suicide? People are like, no way, that's really messed up, I can't even imagine. And because of that, people who have contemplated suicide at one point are reluctant to admit it, and because of that, people who are contemplating suicide feel even more alienated, more completely irreversibly broken and wrong and alone, and less likely to seek help.

I've known some wonderful, brilliant, kind people who have seriously considered suicide, and I am grateful that they've pulled through. And that's just the people who have been comfortable enough to tell me.

It is real, and it is more common than people think, and it doesn't mean you're damaged or irreversibly crazy or incapable of being understood, and once you learn that, you learn it doesn't mean you have to die.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:27 AM on October 22, 2010 [7 favorites]

Criminy. I just finished reading this article about a mysterious person that encourages suicidal people, met in chat rooms, to commit suicide. I'll have to take a breather before I get to this one.

posted by availablelight at 7:43 AM on October 22, 2010

One of the more annoying issues I've found with the current attention on teen suicide is a lot of very earnest people with all the best intentions giving arguments against suicide in terms of "rational(*)" thinking and long-term plans, while IME suicide comes out of such critical extremes of anxiety or depression that rational arguments are unpersuasive and long-term thinking can actually be dangerous. "It Gets Better," certainly helps but I'm not certain it's going to be enough kids who are in crisis right now. And then there was Elizabeth Moon's ramble about having a "Plan B." They're good messages, and well-intentioned, but I don't think they can really be understood when your thinking is extremely disordered.

I've never been able to deal with suicidal ideation in terms of long-term plans, only immediate ones: Put down that glass of alcohol. Eat a plate of comfort food. Spend an hour in the arms of a friend. Scream and rant at the wall. Call a support hotline. Cry yourself to sleep. The big scary can wait a few hours and you can endure.

So at a minimum, I have to give this model and article points for recognizing that at least some forms suicidal ideation needs to be understood in terms of disordered or bent cognition. Is it a universal model? There are certainly too many non-examples for it to be universal. But is it potentially a useful novel for describing a fairly large subset of suicides? Probably.

(*) For certain values of rationality. I've learned enough cognitive psychology to understand that even healthy and disciplined humans have cognitive kinks and biases.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:43 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

The article that jabberjaw linked to is indeed pretty good, and pretty horrifying to boot, but there's a crucial mistake on the first page: didn't begin as "a Google discussion group", it was originally a Usenet newsgroup that preceded the existence of Google by many years. I know this because someone crossposted something to another alt.* newsgroup that I frequented, and I got into a flame war with someone that seemed to be there just to egg others on.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:45 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

In analytic philosophy people sometimes talk about possibility in terms of 'possible worlds', which are something like parallel universes, worlds which branch off from ours at every point when something could have gone one of several ways. Possible worlds are generally qualified by 'closeness' - close worlds are those in which only a few of those decisive moments turned out just slightly differently. Sometimes I wonder aloud to a friend of mine how many close possible worlds I'm still alive in. Neither of us is sure.

In the year after I got my first laptop I spent hours every day 'researching', mostly on but also in a couple of other places. It was like a puzzle I needed to solve. I spent ages trying to find out if there was a legal way to buy cyanide in the UK (there wasn't) or whether drinking an infusion made of concentrated nicotine would be a good way to go (it wouldn't). Most of what I read was junk, but I learned some things I can't unknow. Now when I talk about this stuff I have to be careful, because I don't want to give the person I'm talking to too much information.

I've spent almost half my life struggling with this stuff, and I've got my own list of escalating stages. The first stage is when you want to make it painful and messy. You imagine opening veins and losing gallons of blood, or setting yourself on fire, or pouring bleach into your stomach with a funnel and a hose. Sometimes it's cartoonish and you're picturing being dropped into an industrial mincer, or sliced into little pieces with a band saw. You want to scratch yourself off the surface of the earth. This is uncomfortable, particularly if you can't keep the thoughts under control, if they keep you from reading or sleeping or functioning at all, but you can deal with it. You remind yourself that because you're imagining the pain, there's a sense in which you're not thinking about dying at all. You tell yourself this is just a metaphor for something else, and try to work out what your dumb mind is trying to tell you. You keep going.

The next stage comes when you stop thinking about the process. Instead, you wish it were already done. You wish you could fall asleep and never wake up. You wish everything were all over. But at this point, thinking about it seriously, you realise that you can't justify this to yourself, that whereas you might be able to forgive others for laying their burdens down, you can't give yourself that licence. You know perfectly well that you don't have to be valuable for people to be negatively affected by your death; all it requires is proximity. You're guilty of enough that you can't countenance causing deliberate additional harm, not of this magnitude. You start to feel trapped, carrying your life around like a stone. This is when you do most of your fantasising about methods. You let yourself spend your time trying to formulate the perfect plan, the plan without flaws. You're consciously playing for time. You spend most of the day trying frantically to distract yourself. The fact that you want so desperately to do something so unforgivable makes you hate yourself even more. You feel like you're strapped to a bomb, and you consciously try to isolate yourself so that you'd be as distant from anyone else as possible if it went off.

The third stage, when it gets really frightening, is when your previous objections start to reverse yourself. Maybe you just can't believe any more that you'll be able to hold this off forever, and you realise that this means you'll have to start thinking about damage limitation. Maybe you convince yourself that even the harm you'll do to others by ending this here is exceeded by the harm you'll do to the world by staying in it for decades more. At any rate your previous feelings of wanting to protect those around you start seeming actively harmful, a kind of weak-minded sentimentality you need to actively suppress. You feel cold, but your limbs feel strangely light, as if you no longer had to force them into action but instead were allowing them to glide along, following a path already laid out for you. You go about your business - testing things out, making sure they'll work the way they're meant to - efficiently and with an automatism that, after your long period of conflict and agony, you find deeply reassuring. You try to write a note because you've read somewhere that that's more considerate, but you struggle to find anything to say.

Thankfully, the few times I've got to the final stage, there's somehow been enough of me still there to fight against this, a little voice of doubt that got me through. Once I called a friend, and a couple of times I just lay myself on my bed and decided I wasn't going to move at all for the time being, not even allowing my arms to leave my sides.

And you know what? It really does get better, even after all that, even after years. Antidepressants - which I'd dismissed as a category mistake, something so different in kind to the despair I was feeling that it was conceptually impossible for them to alter it - fucking worked. I don't think this is ever going to depart completely and leave no trace, but I now have a life that's halfway bloody decent, which I never would have thought possible, and people I care about without feeling guilty, and a sense of the world being larger than I could have imagined. I've given the people who know me best my permission, should things ever get that bad again, to do everything they think they need to do to keep me alive. I know if I'm there again, I won't be able to believe it, but it'll still be true. It gets better.
posted by Acheman at 11:13 AM on October 22, 2010 [16 favorites]

I would like to second Vibrissae's book suggestion. I've recommended it a few times on Mefi myself. I am not one to be easily impressed my self help books, but I have always thought that anyone experiencing any mental health issues should read Feeling Good or his more recent When Panic Attacks. They contain amazing, and (for the skeptics) clinically proven tools.
posted by Defenestrator at 7:11 PM on October 22, 2010

>This is when you do most of your fantasising about methods. You let yourself spend your time trying to formulate the perfect plan, the plan without flaws. You're consciously playing for time. You spend most of the day trying frantically to distract yourself.
I had a plan to "accidentally" die while traveling. Before I left, my mother called me and said, "At least leave a body, or I will spend the rest of my life trying to find you." I had no idea she knew I was depressed.

There's rarely a single statement that changes your life, but in the context of my existence, that's probably the closest I'll ever get. And also one reason I'm still a weak atheist.
posted by notion at 9:48 AM on October 25, 2010

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