Suicide is not painless: Understanding the anguish behind it

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Dev Arul Jayakumar describes the agony felt by those going through difficult times. We can help them by listening, showing empathy and being less judgemental.

Bob, a thirty-something office worker, recently lost his wife in a car accident and is now unable to cope with her sudden death.

Already distraught, he also has to do deal with his teenage daughter, who is acting up and blaming him for her mother’s death. Worse was to come: he was recently fired from his job and no longer has a steady income to support his family.

Now, Bob finds solace in drinking, the frequency of which is increasing. An introvert since childhood, he lacks communications skills. In adultfood, he finds stable relationships with friends and siblings difficult to maintain. In despair over his situation, he often wants his situation to come to an end so he does not have to deal with it anymore.

The above anecdote is fictitious, but there are many out there in the real world who can relate to it.

Pain, whether physical or emotional, is something that we all feel in life at one point or another. Emotional pain is experienced by many people who battle with loneliness, despair, and emptiness in life. But there are some individuals who feel such pain more than others – and it can be intense for them. How do they cope with it? What is the duration of the feeling? A person in despair over a broken relationship may turn to alcohol for comfort, but ends up drowning his or her sorrows even more.

Suicide for some people is not so much about wanting death, but more about wanting to end or escape the pain they are unable to handle as it grows in intensity by the day. It is about breaking all ties that connect them to people they know, events in their lives, or burdens that they cannot cope with or just want to escape from. It is about letting go and forgetting what has happened.

Certain individuals may feel there is no hope left, and they feel they are unable to turn to others for help. Pain doesn’t have to be only based upon physical aspects, but it can be mental and emotional pain, which can be even more unbearable.

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Why do some of these individuals feel such pain and loneliness? Where does it come from and how does it grow to a point where it leads them to take their own life?

People commit suicide for different reasons. One reason could be the impact of psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression. Having generalised anxiety, social phobia, panic attacks, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can drive a person to severe hopelessness. If loneliness is thrown into the mix, the possibility of individuals contemplating suicide rises.

According to Mental Health Daily, depression may be one of the leading causes of suicide (Mental Health Daily, 2017). Some individuals who suffer from major depression are often genetically wired not to be able to feel happiness and pleasure throughout their life: 90 per cent of people who commit suicide suffer from untreated depression (Mental Health Daily, 2014)

Physical and sexual abuse can have a powerful negative impact on individuals. It may not be the act itself, but more the repercussions and emotions they feel after the initial abuse. Victims have to live with the abuse that has happened in their lives. At times, they may not be able to get the help they need. Often their emotional and mental health deteriorates gradually. The victims may then see suicide as an only option to escape their pain and sorrow.

Another cause of suicide might be bullying, which happens not only in schools and colleges. People bully for different reasons, whether it is to exert control and power to move up the social ladder or to feel a sense of security. Their victims tend to be individuals who sometimes see themselves as outcasts and socially weak.

The impact of social media and how it can lead to “cyber bullying” plays a powerful role as well. Using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social networking sites, bullies can ruin and humiliate their targets. These targets may then feel like the world is crumbling down on them and they are unable to change it. From here, the possibility of suicide increases.

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Another powerful factor that can lead to suicide is addiction. People take drugs to cope with life issues, such as when they want to escape from painful events or loneliness or when they want to forget issues they are afraid to confront.

It doesn’t help if alcohol or drugs are involved as well. An addiction to substance abuse can have a lethal effect by altering neurotransmitter levels and overall brain function. As time passes, addiction can have a greater control over the addicts’ lives. Such addiction is degrading as it takes control of lives.

Conversely, trying to get rid of the addiction to substance abuse can be unbearable. Victims may feel helpless in trying to overcome their addiction. Some may feel suicide is the only way to escape their addiction.

Nobody likes to feel alone. Yet, some find it difficult to form connections with others around them. It is a basic human need to feel needed and appreciated. Loneliness can often lead to depression and suicidal tendencies.

There can be different reasons for feeling isolated. Introverts find they are unable to be themselves around others. There are those who are fearful of rejection and scared that they might end up alone. There are also those who unable to cope with the death of a family member or friend.

Ardy Ayadali, the publicity director of Befrienders KL, was reported as saying, “Social media can lead to isolation, and teenagers tend to shut themselves off from the world.” Individuals can feel empty in life and look for connections in the wrong places, which can lead them down a path towards isolation.

Relationship problems can be another factor leading to suicide tendencies. No matter what type of relationship it might be, people struggle and cope with all kinds of relationship situations. These can include going through a break-up or falling for someone who is the opposite of them. They may be unable to be with someone due to circumstances. They may have their feelings being reciprocated. Or they might feel wanted or appreciated or able to tell someone how they feel.

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Sometimes people look for love in all the wrong places and get their heart broken. When this happens, they might not know how to handle the emotional pain and loss. Sometimes people stay in bad relationships because they do not want to be alone. There are those who do not want to let go of someone because they have known them for so long, and not having them in their lives can be emotionally painful. Regardless of the relationship, these people may see suicide as a solution when they reach a point where they are unable to cope with the pain and hurt.

How do we help people who are battling with suicidal tendencies? Is there a fixed answer? Everybody has their own life story and their own experiences of what they have gone through. In Malaysia, suicidal thoughts among the youths appear to be on the rise.

Research shows that suicide is the second leading cause of deaths among youth aged 15 to 29 in Malaysia (Ardy Ayadali, New Sunday Times, 2017). We need to bring more awareness to in the country and provide the help that people need to overcome suicidal tendencies.

Suicide should never be an option no matter how painful and difficult life is. Everyone matters – irrespective of where they come from and what their problems may be. We can start by listening and showing empathy to them and being less judgemental. It is not easy, and it can be complicated at times, but we must never give up on those needing help.

Dev Arul Jayakumar is a pyschology graduate currently doing an internship with Aliran. He recently participated in an Aliran Young Writers Workshop on Youth and Activism.

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Mariam Lim
7 Aug 2017 4.15pm

Whenever I hear about tragic suicide deaths, this thought always crosses my mind: How seemingly unbearable/insurmountable must be the victim’s “problem” for him/her to want to take his/her own life ?!?

Soakkoon Wong
7 Aug 2017 4.20pm
Reply to  Mariam Lim

I think sometimes logic no longer applies. Virginia Woolf was an extremely intelligent woman but the seeds of abuse were sown early when her stepbrother sexually abused her when she was not even a teenager yet. It wasn’t as if her life was horrible when she decided to walk into the river near Monk’s House. She was successful in a way ( many novels etc ) ; she had a caring husband in Leonard Woolf and together they ran that very interesting Hogarth Press right in their home and she helped published many very good writers. She also baked delicious bread; her nieces and nephews adored her so?

Soakkoon Wong
7 Aug 2017 4.07pm

It is very important for us all to be alert to changes in behaviour and mood among our family members and friends. Aging can also cause some to be depressed. I am not a trained pyschiatrist, etc. but Literature gives us so many deeply insightful examples of depression. Just read Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf ( and many male writers too ). Be kind, compassionate, listen with no quick judgement ( like “hi why can’t you just pick yourself up, get up and go huh? or worse “why you so weak one hah?”). One mustn’t be smug and feel that only others can get depression , never us. In fact every human being, without exception, will have small bouts of anxiety and depression.