Contemplating Suicide

When Did Nature Start Killing Itself?

By David Yanez

May 20, 2009

“Shall Nature, erring from her first command, self-preservation, fall by her own hand?”
George Granville, Lord Landsdowne

Of all the animals in the natural world, humans are the only animals that commit suicide. How did this come to be? When did nature start killing itself and why? Natural selection usually favors a behavior that is beneficial to an organism’s existence. Where did Nature go wrong? Why do humans commit suicide, and animals don’t? If evolution is correct and humans evolved from animals then shouldn’t we see similar behavior in animals? Is there a transitional point in human evolution when suicidal thoughts emerged? Were there pre-historic humans that did not commit suicide? If animals could talk, would they be begging for mercy killings when they get seriously injured or terminally ill? In order to understand why animals don’t commit suicide, and humans do we have to understand the degree to which animals and humans understand and cope with their emotions and the development of their respective cultures. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the world. It surpasses the amount of deaths worldwide due to wars and homicides. Over one million people die by suicide worldwide resulting in one suicide every 40 seconds. In the United States a person dies by suicide every 16 minutes and a suicide is attempted every minute. If we want to save those people who might otherwise have chosen to live we need to understand the origins of suicide. Sixty percent of all suicides are driven by depression. In many cases this depression can be triggered by faulty hardware resulting in chemical imbalances that may be prevented with medications. Social pressures, religious and existential views, and mental illness are among other reasons people commit suicide, which makes suicide an extremely complicated human behavior not readily diagnosed or prevented.

At some point in history humans made the transition from animal behavior to human behavior, but like so many of the traits that differentiate us from our animal ancestors finding one cause for any particular behavior seems very unlikely. Human behavior like animal behavior has been shaped by many contributing factors, some by chance others by natural and sexual selection all leading to psychological and cultural behaviors passed down through memes which are mostly beneficial to our survival, but sometimes some human cultural behaviors are life threatening and violent. Take religious fanaticism for example, this is a cultural behavior that is extremely violent, and isn’t necessarily good for all humanity. It is a by-product of a cultural and religious adaptation in the human psyche as may be suicide. Human behavior continues to be shaped by cultural evolution. Suicide, like religion, the arts, and language belongs to the age of culture and to understand it’s existence we have to go back in time to when humans made the cultural leap and began to understand who they were and where they lived, and what their role was within. Human awareness of life and death, along with a more sophisticated emotional and cognitive brain hardware took us on a different path from our animal ancestors, and lead us to develop this destructive behavior, which can only be interpreted as a by-product of all these contributing adaptations that made us human.

The Science of Suicide
Is there a Suicide gene?

The first scientific attempt to understand the rationale behind suicide started in 1763 with the work of Merian who emphasized that suicide was neither a sin nor a crime, but a disease. The first in-depth examination by Farlet in 1822 of suicide by Jean Jacques Rousseau concluded that the great writer had graphically and sequentially described the circumstances leading to his own death, thus enabling a broader understanding of suicide. In 1905, a famous psychiatrist, Dr R. Gaupp, indicated for the first time that there were some peculiar and unique personality traits among people committing suicide. Over the last 50 years, researchers have advanced this idea further to conclude that it is the state of mind, along with all external influences, which result in suicide.

The World Health Organization

Modern science has looked deep into much of the biological hardware that Humans possess, and has rigorously studied them in attempts to find biological adaptations that have made certain human behaviors possible. Having certain hardware makes certain behaviors possible. Animals with large cerebral cortexes are more likely to live in large social groups. Evolutionary psychology is a new scientific discipline that is looking into the biological origins of many human psychological behaviors which have contributed to cultural behaviors such as ‘Religion’, and ‘Morality’ in the hopes that evolutionary processes can explain why these behaviors evolved, and what benefit they may have had, or have for humans. In recent times science has made strides in the study, and understanding of the biological origins of religion, morality, and empathy. How did these religious and ethical characteristics evolve in pre-historic humans? Through studies in psychology, sociology, bio-chemistry, genetics, archeology, paleo-anthropology, and neurological studies, scientists have come closer to understanding the origins of these behaviors that make us human. Studies in ethology, comparative psychology, and animal cognition, are unlocking the inner workings of the animal mind, and bridging the emotional gap between humans and animals. Geneticist Dr. Dean Hamer even claims to have found the “God” gene. With all the evidence gathered for the origins of religion it becomes more evident that it cannot be traced back to a single gene or cause, and is more likely to be a result of multiple factors. With this in mind can suicide be traced back to a single gene or evolutionary adaptation?

Dr. David Bakish, and Dr. Pavel Hrdina of the Royal Ottawa Hospital led the study that found a gene mutation that more than doubles the risk of suicidal behavior. It regulates the brain's level of serotonin, one of the proteins that carry messages between cells. Individuals who carry this mutation are at double the risk of committing suicide when tendencies to commit suicide occur. Finding this mutation confirms the age-old belief that suicidal tendencies are inherited through families. The discovery of this genetic mutation makes it possible to develop a test for those people at risk. Having this gene doesn’t necessarily mean one will commit suicide like many illness you are only in a higher risk group, but being branded as a suicide risk is an ethical dilemma that will affect the privacy of those individuals that carry this gene and will certainly lead to issues of discrimination when applying for certain jobs, especially jobs that carry the responsibility of many lives like pilots. Psychologists agree that suicidal behaviors arise from a sense of hopelessness of ones life when levels of happiness are at there lowest. Economic and social stresses create a sense of hopelessness and will be amplified in individuals that are in high psychological risk groups such as bipolar disorder, depression or schizophrenia, but not having these conditions or not carrying the mutated suicide gene doesn’t mean that normal people in huge amounts of stress will not commit suicide. Actually committing suicide depends on too many factors and emotional triggers that humans have evolved and are currently subject to. The predominant view of suicide by the medical establishment is that it is a mental health concern associated with mental disorders and difficulties dealing with depression and or suffering and fear. Suicide is also influenced by cultural memes based on religion, honor, and the meaning of life. These ideas have evolved from the beginnings of human culture and contribute significantly to whether a person might or might not commit suicide. Trying to narrow down these factors will aid in being able to diagnose and help a person that is exhibiting signs of suicidal tendencies. There has long been a stigma associated with suicide and suicidal tendencies, if we are going to prevent our loved ones from ending their lives prematurely then we have to accept it as a medical and psychological condition influenced by social and economic stresses and at times romanticized by cultural, political, ethical and existential beliefs.

“Human life is not so simple as to exist solely for one area of science to explain. There are multiple scientific theories because the human mind is far too complex to be ruled by only one type of factor. Be they psychologically or biologically internal, or sociologically external, all factors that shape a human being’s “reality” must also shape the reasons for its destruction. Therefore, sociological, psychological, and biochemical aspects must be interrelated in the causation of suicide”.

Valerie Jupe

Do Animals Commit Suicide?
Understanding emotions in the animal world.

“Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve”
Erich Fromm

Most of us know that emotions can get the better of us and that our minds function as a balance between emotional feelings and rational thought. Suicide is the act of terminating one's own life voluntarily and intentionally, and for the most part it is the consequence of emotional distress, which leads to irrational behavior. Do animals act irrationally? Yes. Do animals feel emotional distress? Yes. How do we know that animals don’t commit suicide? Many people have claimed that their dogs or pets have committed suicide because they lost a mate or master. They claim that whales commit suicide because they are showing altruistic behavior for fellow beached whales and intentionally beach themselves. There are many theories as to why Whales beach themselves and the least likely of them to be correct is that they willingly beach themselves. The most likely reasons to be correct are bad weather, disease, disorientation due to boat sonar, fleeing from predators, changes in water pressure or magnetic fields, and shallow beaches. Exhibiting altruistic and empathetic behavior is a characteristic some higher animals posses, but can we truly be sure whether whales intentionally commit suicide or whether their act of compassion has gotten them stranded unwillingly? Contrary to popular myth Lemmings don’t jump off cliffs because life is not worth living, they experience seasonal population growths and during their search for vacant land occasionally have an accident or two. The 1958 Disney documentary called White Wilderness depicted lemmings jumping off cliffs giving further credence to the suicide myth, but in actuality the Lemmings in the documentary were intentionally herded off the cliffs by the film crew for added realism.

It’s easy to assign human behavioral characteristics to animals or put a human face on them when we observe animals exhibiting emotional distress. Animals do feel emotions that resemble human emotions like grief, depression and despair, but we have to distinguish the degrees that humans and animals feel these emotions and whether animals comprehend them the way humans do. Human emotions evolved from our animal ancestors, so it is logical to conclude that animals feel various levels of emotions. The study of animal emotions is a growing scientific field and one that will prove essential in understanding the foundations of human emotions. If you asked scientists thirty years ago whether animals had emotions that approached the level of human emotions they would have laughed. Anyone that has owned a pet knows that animals do feel emotions. The question of whether animals feel human like emotions should not be asked, but rather; when did animal emotions become human emotions? For animals to contemplate suicide they would have to have a good comprehension of death, which is only visible in Elephants, and chimpanzees. But these animals have never been observed to intentionally take their own lives. They have been observed to risk their lives in order to save their off spring or fellow clan members, but never have they been observed to take their own lives, as a result of their being in either physical or emotional pain. When animals risk their lives to save their offspring it is an instinctual evolved behavior that is beneficial to their survival. Is suicide beneficial to their survival?

Animals have been observed to become emotionally depressed and as a consequence of this grief have become lethargic, weak, and in some cases may refuse to eat. In this state of mind, animals can develop physical ailments as a result of this behavior. When observing such behavior it is easy to assume that these animals do not want to live any longer and willingly die by not eating. It’s impossible to ask these animals if they want to die, but it is easy enough to conclude that they became physically sick because their minds became sick with grief and emotion. This is were the human potential for suicide originated, but unlike humans, animals don’t willfully wish physical illness, or injury to themselves due to their grieving state. The closest example of an animal wanting to die is that of a chimpanzee named Flint observed by Jane Goodall after the death of its mother called Flo. Her young son Flint who was eight years old was so distraught by her death that he grew apathetic and lethargic. On one occasion he returned to the site of her nest, and starred were he and his mother once slept. Within a month Flint died. Jane Goodall’s scientific conclusion was: “It seems likely that psychological and physiological disturbances associated with loss made him more vulnerable to disease.” To sum up her conclusion Sy Montgomery says, “Flint died of grief”.

If every animal became mentally ill as a result of grief, causing it to become physically disabled, then nature would not exist, as we know it. Every higher animal capable of experiencing grief would die prematurely. Fail-safes must be inherent in nature for self-preservation. The animals that do get sick as a result of grief and die, fail to reproduce and pass on their genes. Nature is also inherently destructive and as we know more about genetics we have come to understand that genes will always get knocked around. Self Destructive behavior in animals as a result of genetic mutations will always happen, but self-preservation keeps those numbers down through natural selection.

Prehistory and the tolerance of pain
Why are we so much more depressed than animals?

“To be, or not to be,- that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,”

William Shakespeare

Emile Durkheim theorized that individuals composing society do not directly cause suicide: suicide exists independently in society regardless of whether an individual wants it or not. Durkheim argued that suicide is an act caused by the stresses of living in a social world. What about the social groups of chimpanzees or elephants? One can argue that a group is a form of social society. Elephants and Chimps live in groups, as did ancient humans. They have a social structure that is not based on suicide. In the Comprehensive textbook of Suicidology by Ronald W. Maris, Alan Lee Berman, Morton M. Silverman they name the Tiv of Nigeria, the Andaman Islanders, and the Yahgans of Tierra del Fuego, as peoples with virtually no suicidal incidences. By comparing the behaviors of modern primitive peoples we can infer as to how prehistoric peoples acted, but that is all we can due because modern primitive humans are fully modern whereas prehistoric peoples were on the verge of being modern. There must have been a time when humans did not commit suicide before human cultural influences, before biochemical genetic changes had time to propagate and establish hold on our psyches, when schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression were extremely rare in humans.

Have you ever seen an animal injured so badly that it is sure to die? Why aren’t these hurt animals trying to get run over by elephants or eaten by lions, or jumping into rivers to end the pain? They don’t. They bear the pain. That is the difference between animals and humans. Humans cannot tolerate pain as animals can. This wasn’t always the way it was for humans. At some point in our pre-history something happened that made pain intolerable for us to stand and intolerable for our clan members to watch. Have you ever heard an animal crying out to be killed because their injuries where just so painful? When you observe an animal caught by a lion you can most certainly see fear in its eyes and bodily gesture and at the moment they’re caught they do let out a painful cry, but then they succumb. Its as though they had a built in mechanism to turn off the pain, not intentionally but perhaps biologically their brains have evolved to release a numbing chemical at these moments of death. Animals instinctively know when they are close to death. Sickly animals have been observed to go off on their own and die quietly away from there group even pets as in the case of my rottweiller who’s stomach had twisted and could not eat or defecate and was in pain. But unlike us humans her crying didn’t last long. After a short while her crying stopped and she withdrew. She found a quiet niche in the garage were she resigned to go peacefully into the night. This is an instinct that animals have evolved perhaps to prevent danger to their group after their death. Predators and scavengers will surely find their bodies and bring danger to the rest of the group. Dying away from the group is an evolved trait and a natural failsafe to protect the healthy animals. To this degree animals have a basic concept of death, but it is unlikely that they understand why they are going off to die, it is more an instinctual behavior. There is no question that animals feel pain and do cry from the pain, but they won’t throw themselves off a cliff in order to end their pain, they will endure it until the moment of death comes and their relief will begin. There must have been a time when the same was true for humans.

Animal instincts are for self-preservation as were humans in prehistory as well. Suicide goes against the survival strategy in nature, similar to why incest is so rare in nature. If suicide goes against the survival strategy of nature then why do humans do it? As I discussed earlier animals do feel a certain amount of depression and at times that depression can manifest into a psychological disorder causing the animal to get physically sick. In the natural world most animals that do become psychologically incapacitated have little chance of survival and fail to pass on their genes. With humans, our close social structure and degree of empathetic behavior has enabled us to care for people that are psychologically handicapped. In doing so the number of psychologically handicapped people has grown. Humans that are depressed don’t succumb to nature’s predators or become lethargic and die as much as they used to. These psychological disorders have been passed down for thousands of years because we took care of these people enabling them to live long enough to pass on their genes. This is why we observe more psychological illness in humans than in animals.

Why can’t humans take the pain? Well, thousands of years ago we could. Neanderthals studies have confirmed that these humans were built for pain. They even possessed a variant of the red haired gene MC1R. Studies have also shown that modern red headed humans have more tolerance for pain than do humans with other colored hair. Neanderthal bones have been found that suggest these humans were living with severe injuries due to their up and close hunting techniques. It was with Neanderthals that the first ceremonial burials occurred giving credence to their developing spiritual state of mind. They also took care of their sick as we do today. Did Neanderthals commit suicide? It is possible being that their understanding of life and death has become much more advanced than previous humans and animals, but their harsh lifestyle suggests that like our animal ancestors they took the pain until the end. Cro-Magnon man was also better built for pain. They are our immediate ancestors and created art and culture, but their bodies were more robust and stronger than modern day humans although not as strong as Neanderthals. Cro-Magnons are considered fully modern and even had a slightly larger brain size than modern humans. Like Neanderthals their larger brain size could be due to their larger physiques. Prevalent psychological problems in humans may be a by-product of our close empathetic social group structure. These were a time when humans were becoming aware of their role within nature and had a good concept of what was considered an ideal life. Combined with a better understanding of life and the concept of an ideal life as well as more prevalent cases of psychological disorders, combined with a lesser tolerance of pain, humans were on the verge of transcending being subject to natures laws and taking their fate into their own hands. The development of spiritual and religious concepts of life after death was the nail in the coffin and in my opinion plays a huge role in the human act of suicide combined with all the other reasons.

In The Beginning
What were the initial contributing conditions?

Death is before me today, Like the recovery of a sick man... Like the longing of a man to see his home again, After many years of captivity...

(Egypt, ca. 2100 bc) The oldest known reference to suicide

We are in duty bound to take care of our life; but in this connection it must be remarked that life, in and of itself, is not the greatest of the gifts entrusted to our keeping and of which we must take care, There are duties which are far greater than life and which can often be fulfilled only by sacrificing life.

Immanuel Kant

There is no way of knowing who the first people were that committed suicide. We can only guess as to why our ancestors started this behavior. One possible scenario would be. Imagine one of our ancestors had just lost their mate and children to a flash flood. Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals were perfectly capable of feeling love, anguish, and depression. Their brain size was already hard wired for belief in the super natural, unseen entities, imaginary humans and animals. Imagine this person’s grief was so intolerable that they became apathetic, lethargic and weak and mentally unstable due to this grief. We know that depression can affect our judgment and ability to think rationally. Perhaps when this person went to sleep they dreamt about their mate and children. We all know how real dreams can seem; so real that many people confuse them for reality. Now imagine this person has recurring dreams about their dead family. In these dreams they realize that when they touch their family they cannot feel them, as though they were not made of flesh but air. We all know that we can’t feel in our dreams because we are not actually touching anything. Our hands are by our sides and inactive when we are asleep. This person may have come to the conclusion that their family is still alive, but in a spiritual form that our senses cannot see or touch. Imagine that this person was so eager to see their family again that they convinced themselves that the only way to get to this realm was by dying. So this person committed suicide because the pain was just too unbearable, and they couldn’t wait any longer to see their family. Perhaps this is how the concept of life after death came to be.

Another scenario could be. Ancient humans also warred with one another. Animals don’t war except for chimps. Perhaps war lead to suicide being more accepted in these extreme cases defending our loved ones. Humans unlike animals would have to understand that self-sacrifice would ensure that their children would survive. An animal will fight to the death protecting their offspring whereas humans would also fight but will also willingly give their life’s to save their loved ones. Defending your loved ones from another human or predator is an evolved trait, self-sacrifice may also be an evolved behavior that stems from our ability to imagine possible scenarios that could happen and is due to our ability to project intention from others. This may be the only tolerated form of suicide in any culture and may be one of the earliest forms of suicide.

The following are the many reasons people may commit suicide, which makes it exceedingly difficult to come up with one theory as to why we humans have evolved this behavior, but 90% of all suicide cases are associated with mental disorders according to the World Health Organization.

-Mental disorders
-Unrequited love
-Stress-Grief-Withdrawal or discontinuation of psychoactive substances
-As philosophically or ideologically motivated move
-Political and Social Protest
-To escape punishment or an abusive environment
-Guilt or shame
-Catastrophic injury
-Financial loss
-Self sacrifice
-As part of a military or social strategy (e.g. suicide attacks)
-Belief that life has no inherent value (e.g. absurdism, pessimism, nihilism)
-As part of a religious or cult doctrine
-Spiritually motivated
-To restore honor (e.g. seppuku)
-Curiosity for post-life occurrences
-Fear of aging
-Unresolved sexual issues
-Substance abuse.

If we group these together we come up with three initial contributing conditions that can all be traced back to the time when human brain size peaked, when we came together in societies and invented culture, and when empathetic behavior resulted in an increased population.

a. Increased brain size resulting in Religious, Existential, Philosophical, Political, Social, and Economic Idealism. Also resulting in ideology regarding purpose in life and a concept of what a good life entails, which may result in feelings of Hopelessness and violation of individual freedoms. Increased brain size also enabled us to discover and produce alcohol and drugs.

b. More prevalent Mental disorders in our genetic pool due to empathetic behavior resulting in longer lives and reaching reproduction age, resulting in biochemical imbalances and brain hardware disorders that contribute to people not being able to cope with their emotions.

c. Reduced tolerance for pain resulting in increased fear and a need to escape from unwanted pain and suffering.

Taboos, Shame and a little History
Who so ever attempts suicide is condemned to death.

“The law, rightly interpreted, even prohibits suicide, where it says ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ This is proved especially by the omission of the word ‘thy neighbor’, which are inserted when false witness is forbidden in the commandment there is no limitation added nor exception made in favor of any one, and least of all in favor of him on whom the command is laid!”

St. Augustine, book I, chapter 20

“It is altogether unlawful to kill onesself, for three reasons. First because everything naturally loves itself, the result being thateverything naturally keeps itself being, and resists corruption as far as it can. Wherefore suicide is contrary to the inclination of nature, and to charity whereby every man should love himself. Hence suicide is always a mortal sin, as being contrary to the natural law and to charity.”

St Thomas Aquinas

Have you ever wondered why so many cultures regard suicide as a taboo? In general it’s frowned upon by the masses, after all no one really wants their children to kill themselves. Society has stigmatized anything associated with suicidal behavior, except for those cases having to do with honor, philosophical, religious, and political ideology. For the most part suicides having to do with mental disorders and depression resulting in a failure to cope with the stresses of life have been stigmatized. Imagine ancient Cro-Magnons living in small group societies, being fully modern perhaps they experienced the first suicides resulting from a person’s inability to cope with the loss of a love one. These were small groups compared to modern towns and cities. Each individual was invaluable in order to survive. Losing any capable individual due to suicide must have been a tragic and unnecessary loss for the group, weakening their chances of hunting and foraging for food. Less people means working twice as hard to survive. The Elders and Shamans of the time must have frowned on this behavior not only because they lost a valuable member of the tribe, but also because someone lost their son or daughter. Putting taboos on suicide must have made people think twice about doing it. Not only will you lose your chances of an afterlife but you will also condemn your soul and shame your family. This must have been a very strong deterrent to people who wanted to join their loved ones in the afterlife.

Although in classical times certain instances of suicide were tolerated and even glorified. For the most part they were not tolerated. The exception were the Stoics who believed that suicide was justified if the means to live a naturally flourishing life was not available and did not see it as morally apprehensible but as a wise choice in those circumstances. Plato believed that suicide was disgraceful and those that committed suicide should be placed in unmarked graves. Even though suicide was criminalized in ancient times, there were always the exceptions. Most religions don’t tolerate suicide except for certain circumstances. The early Christians condoned suicide in cases of martyrdom and certain sects like the Donatists and the Circumcellions were known to commit suicide in large numbers by jumping off cliffs in order to hasten the rewards of a glorious afterlife. St Augustine is credited for the Christian prohibition of suicide and later was defended by St Thomas Aquinas arguing that suicide was contrary to Gods right to determine our fate and was contrary to natural self-love, which aims to preserve us. In early Christianity elaborate rituals were constructed to deal with victims of suicide all designed to scare the hell out of anyone thinking about it. Suicide attempts became illegal and were ironically given the death sentence. Suicides were not given Christian burials and their bodies were desecrated with stakes through their bodies, they’re families persecuted, their properties confiscated, and their memories defamed. In the Bible there are no specific texts concerning the prohibition of suicide other than “Thou Shalt Not Kill”.

The Koran on the other hand has text that is more specific to the condemnation of suicide. The suicides that we are witnessing today on behalf of Islam are not the accepted stance of Islam, but grossly idealistic manipulations of desperate people by politically motivated extreme idealists. Suicide in Islam is viewed as a disbelief in God.

"You shall spend in the cause of GOD; do not throw yourselves with your own hands into destruction."
The Koran (2:195)

"O you who believe, do not consume each others' properties illicitly - only mutually acceptable transactions are permitted. You shall not kill yourselves."
The Koran (4:29)

"Anyone who commits these transgressions, maliciously and deliberately, we will condemn him to Hell."
The Koran (4:30)

In Buddhism suicide has it’s exceptions as in cases of euthanasia and incurable illness. Suicide is tolerated when Monks, Noble ones or enlightened people do it, but for the layperson it would be viewed as a selfish act and an error in judgment. In the cases of Samurais who practiced Zen Buddhism Seppuku was practiced to avoid dishonor or capture, show loyalty, or political protest, and to atone for ones failure. Although there are a lack of statements by Buddha regarding suicide, Buddhism believes that suicide does not solve the problem of suffering and only postpones it to be faced at a later time.

In Hinduism suicide is also frowned upon and is considered equally as sinful as murdering another. For the person who commits suicide they neither go to hell nor to heaven but roam aimlessly on earth as bad conscious spirits until they complete their actual life spans. Then they go to hell for punishment and once again return to earth to complete their Karma.

In Judaism suicides in the past have been considered self-murder and a person who did so was denied important afterlife privileges. They were also denied burial in the main section of Jewish cemeteries. The cases of Martyrdom in Judaism are controversial as in Masada, but like in most cultures some cases are tolerated.

It is only until recently that attempted suicide is no longer considered a crime, but you can be institutionalized against your will for attempting it. In England attempted suicide remained a felony until 1961. The first reasons for frowning upon suicide were noble attempts to address the problem, but only served to push it into the closet and prevent people from seeing it as an illness like any other. Learning to recognize signs that may lead to suicidal behavior is instrumental if we want to save our loved ones from actually following through. Educating ourselves about suicide is the first step. Getting rid of the stigma associated with depression and mental illness is the first step in upgrading suicidal behavior into a curable medical condition. Through out human history as mental illness became more prevalent suicides were associated with mental illness, nobody wanted their children to be remembered as crazy or psychotic. Only 10% of all suicidal people are psychotic or have delusional beliefs about reality. You don’t have to be crazy to be a suicide risk. The majority results from people being overwhelmed by the stresses of life and the inability to deal with the stress resulting in depression and hopelessness, which in many cases can be managed through professional medical help.

Personal Experience
Avoiding regrets leads to unrequited love.

“Do not go gentle into that good night... rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
-Dylan Thomas

“Tis more brave to live than to die.”
-Owen Meredith

"A mighty pain to love it is,
And 'tis a pain that pain to miss;
But of all pains, the greatest pain
It is to love, but love in vain."
-Abraham Cowley

When I told people that I was writing about suicide they frowned and said how morbid. This is the typical reaction when suicide is the subject. If the people we love who are at risk of committing suicide are discouraged from talking about their inner most feelings, fears, and desires, then we risk the chance of losing them without even knowing that we could have helped them. The signs are usually there. Most of them are crying out for help. Most of them want to live, but just don’t know how to deal. They wish that someone could help them through it, by offering a hand to hold or a shoulder to lean on, or someone to speak some wisdom to them, and give them hope. We all wrestle with feelings of despair and inabilities to cope with certain stressful situations. Some of us are stronger, while some of us are weaker. What inspired me to write this essay were all the times I’ve been in an unrequited love situation and the depression that followed. My last unrequited love episode happened just recently while I was writing this essay and rather than succumb to feelings of hopeless insecurities I chose to channel these emotions into this essay.

The object of unrequited love is often a friend or acquaintance, someone regularly encountered in the course of work or other activities. This creates an awkward situation in which the admirer has difficulty in expressing his/her feelings, as a romantic relationship may be inconsistent with the existing association; revelation of the lover's feelings might invite rejection, or might end all access to the beloved.

Wikipedia-Unrequited Love

When I was seventeen I almost let my emotions get the better of me. My mind was weakened from overwhelming feelings of regret, despair and self-hatred. My ability to think rationally was severely compromised. I started drinking heavily, which only weakened me more. I would cry myself to sleep and wish for death to take me in the night. I would hold a razor blade to my alcohol filled veins and picture my death, my funeral, my family weeping and Marguerite, the love of my life, my biggest regret. I was unable to tell her how much I loved her. My self esteem was at its lowest and my reasons to live were few. I blamed and hated myself for being such a coward. After a few months of this depression I somehow found the inner strength to choose life instead of death, I chose to have hope rather than to succumb to my inabilities to cope with my feelings. I did it on my own, because I didn’t want anyone to know what I was going through I was afraid to be labeled crazy. I found this strength as I had found it earlier in my childhood, by using my pain to remind me that I was still alive. I used it to give me hope that maybe someday the pain would end. I used my pain and channeled it into will, the will to live. I chose to abandon my faith and the belief in the afterlife and embraced the concept that we only have one life to live. Since then I’ve made it a point to let woman know how I feel about them rather than risk the possibility of my emotions overwhelming me with regret.

Compared to other depressed people I would have to consider myself stronger in the sense that I had more tolerance to the pain of depression. I grew up with a lot of pain being in many emotionally scarring situations as a child and living with the pain of Crohns disease for twenty years. You could say that I became more tolerant to pain like our Neanderthal ancestors. In animals pain is there to warn us that something is terribly wrong and unless we do something to stop or escape the pain then our lives will be in serious peril. I’m not saying that we should all be in pain, but rather have more tolerance to it. As a child I wish I had someone like my parents or teachers tell me that life is hard. Life is a struggle against that, which will destroy us. Life is full of pain, and if we want to enjoy the good aspects of life then we have to avoid or adapt to life’s hardships, and endure the pain. My being an artist enabled me to channel my feelings into artwork and writing. These forms of creative expression helped me unburden myself from unwanted feelings and pain.

Don’t write off depressed people. It’s not there fault that they are the way they are. Have tolerance for their condition and offer your help. You may need someones help as well someday. Show compassion rather than distain. As I pointed out you can be perfectly normal and still consider committing suicide. If you love your children, family, and friends then don’t be afraid to educate yourself about suicide and the many symptoms that foreshadow them. Suicide is a major health problem in the world and is the ninth leading cause of death in the United States. There is a suicide attempt every three seconds around the world, the next one could be you or your loved one.

To all the people out there that are overwhelmed by their feelings and who feel a sense of hopelessness; it is not your fault! Suicidal behavior has evolved in humans due to many contributing factors. It is all right to talk about suicide, as it is to talk about cancer. You don’t have to be labeled crazy just because you have such feelings. Don’t let your religious or spiritual beliefs re-enforce your desire to end your life and embrace the afterlife because you may be wrong. There may not be an afterlife and you wont get a second chance. Don’t play dice with your life it is too valuable. Life is worth living even if it’s just for those short few moments that we did experience happiness. Those short few moments of joy make all the pain in your life worth enduring. “Nobody loves you when you’re down and out” goes the popular blues song. Nothing could be truer. Nobody likes to be around depressed people, because it makes them feel depressed. If we want people to like us then we have to find a way to overcome this depression and feel good about ourselves. We have to learn to love ourselves before we can love others. Don’t be afraid to feel the pains of life, take them, absorb them, deal with them, and overcome them. Channel your pain into creative outlets and don’t be afraid to talk about them. Never give up hope that someday things will get better if you try really hard to make it happen.

No amount of pain
No amount of loss
Not one failed love
Not one dear friend
Will take control of my life
Which I hold sacred
Be it by ignorance
Self-loathing and despair
Be it by the hands of vicious minds
Or the agony of unrequited desire
I will not, I must not, surrender my life
Neither by my own hands
Nor by the loss of my mind
But will always without question
Hand over this life
That you may live

The paragraphs below where added on 10-24-15

Consider a wildebeest trying to escape the jaws of a lion. Built into almost every animal, is a survival instinct. It is an innate instinct that is turned on when necessary. It's like a survival switch. Most of the time it is off, but at the moment of distress or danger it is automatically switched on. The wildebeest will do just about anything, and endure excruciating pain in order to escape the lion. Not once will it give up, until it is physically incapable of escape. This survival instinct or switch exists in nature, and is why animals in the wild do not commit suicide intentionally. They do not get fed up with life or have an ideal concept of what the good life should be. They just live it the best way they can. 

At some time during the evolution of modern humans, we started to commit suicide.
Most humans never even entertain the notion of suicide, but for some, just in the United States alone, a suicide is attempted every minute. Worldwide a person commits suicide every 40 seconds.

There is a popular and incorrect notion out there, that people who attempt suicide or commit it are selfish or cowards. This is far from the truth. They are desperate and not in control of there survival instinct. For those of us to even have considered it, is because at moments of distress, our survival switch does not turn on. We desperately want to live, but this switch, our survival instinct is impaired. We lose hope, which is crucial to survival. We reach out for help in our own different ways. Some write poetry, or music, some make art. There are signs shared by these people if we pay careful attention. If they seem needy or selfish it's because they truly need your help, because they have lost control or hope. If they ask you for help, you can bet that they truly mean it. Their survival switch is off, and you have to help them turn it back on. Before its too late.  

There are exceptions, when suicides are tolerated or even necessary, but for the most part these people have impaired survival instincts. They have lost the will to survive. Their survival switch's are broken and need to be fixed and regularly maintained. If you have a lonely and needy friend, and you push them away, you have to ask yourself: Who is the selfish one? 

Copyright 2009-2015 David Yanez. All Rights Reserved.

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Suicide Hotlines

~United States~
1-800-273-TALK (8255)
24 hours a day, 7 days a week
National Youth Crisis & Suicide Hotline 1-800-621-4000