Understanding Suicide, Mental Health & Emotional Distress

It is safe to say that we have all felt depth of emotional despair in our lives. Some more than others, and sometimes for extended periods of time, in some cases it is cyclical which can be frustrating. And it often leads us to feeling helpless.

While it does occur in varying degrees in each individual, the feeling of helplessness may manifest itself in stronger ways in some people. These could be emotional dysregulation, mental health disturbances, addictions and other similar behaviours.

This disrupts the course of life. We go around in circles searching for answers. “What is wrong with me? Why me? Why can’t I be happy?” We often ask ourselves.

The answer lies within the question itself. The “What is wrong with me?” queIt assumes there is something wrong with us. And if indeed there is something wrong, then what does one do? We end up feeling isolated, and like a burden on society, and this cycle leads to mental health disturbances.

Does it sound familiar?

Dr. Edwin Schneidman (Suicidologist) , and Dr. Henry Murry talked about these “Frustrated Needs” as the cause of deep human pain resulting in suiciding behaviors. These needs were identified as 

  1. Need for love, acceptance & understanding

  2. Need for appreciation/accomplishment/self image

  3. Need for control and certainty 

  4. Need for nuturance

  5. Need for achievement and dominance

Where do we learn this behaviour? The work of Robert Firestone (psychiatrist and author) suggests that as infants we pick up a belief, such as we need to be someone else in order to be loved (i.e. we are not ok the way we are). The feeling of “not being good enough” plagues us and we are then on a quest to be someone else that people will like. We end up living in the defeating cycle of “people pleasing”.

We lose ourselves, we forget our needs and live without self-love in our lives. This may be further burdened with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) also known as trauma (such as loss of parent, addiction in the family, sexual, emotional or physical abuse, parental divorce, emotional neglect), leaving the child (us) with unmet needs.

When these needs are unfulfilled, we live in deep emotional pain or psychache. Dr. Dan Seigel says: “This pain of not being enough is all encompassing, or, that one is not loveable, it results in shame, deep shame.” This shame becomes the voice in the head, which is destructive.

Further, Dr. Robert Firestone, suggests that people are divided into 

  • True self: goal directed and motivated ( self compassionate)

  • Anti Self: Self destructive and  self punitive (self punishing) 

But according to Dr. Firestone, Thoughts lead to Feelings lead to Behavior. If we look at someones behaviour closely enough, we might understand how they see themselves. 

We need to focus on the thoughts, is it our self compassionate voice, or the self punishing voice. But if we grow up believing we are not good enough, the self punishing voice might be more active and we play out isolation and lashing back resulting in the break down of relationships and further believing something that may not be true. The cycle leads to mental health disruptions and self destructive behaviour.

Robert Firestone’s work suggests that this pain, leads to self destructive behaviors which emerge on a spectrum from self admonishing to self harming behaviour. 

Helping ourselves or others thus requires us to be fully aware of what we are thinking, feeling, saying and doing. And we if we want to support someone else, we need to able to see these signs of distress in them, understand, listen and get them or ourselves the help we need.