May 8, 2003
by Riggs Bailey Roberts, MD
No life lost in vain.
Our hearts ache. How sadly suicide results from tortuous mental states.
Most often the suffering has been too long and too lonely, a silent, secret
darkness, creeping. More sadly, the recent rash of youths deciding for death
is a warning not too late, awakening our hope that others can be saved when
we are willing to see beyond our personal pain. Moved by the tragic loss
of those we hold so dear, through rivers of sadness, together we will speak
of what we have learned, no life lost in vain.
Depression and all its confusing cousins can be treated. These monsters
of consuming confusion thrive upon our silence. We all need your courageous
voice to join in our confidence and hope that understanding can be shared
with others. More and more, survivors are speaking up. They are teaching
their ways discovered out from the pit of despair. A careful description
of warning signs starts the hello of love while there is still time to get
Medications can modify the intensity of despair, enough for life saving
talks to begin. When kept secret and left untreated these complicated problems
can overwhelm a person in waves of depressing chemicals and feelings of
despair. End the stigma, change the attitudes. Our willingness makes the
difference. Our connections are essential. You may be the only person available
to reach out to another who is already being consumed. Our talk helps others
talk more comfortably.
Survivors are returning with powerful insight into their war. As though
they are special forces returning from behind enemy lines, we are benefiting
from their missions. We would not have as accurate descriptions penetrating
the depths of darkness and despair had they not returned with understanding.
Their words offer help to others where once there was only hell. We are
making headway in recognizing guerrilla mind warfare. This word picture
contemplates the slow and steady invasion of thoughts, feelings, images,
ideas, impulses, attitudes and behaviors in the tug of war between stories
for life and death.
Every day in our country more than 80 people die by suicide while 1,500
people attempt. In 1995, suicide accounted for 1.3 percent of all U.S. deaths,
our 9th leading cause. Reported in the U.S. as 11.1 per 100,000 population
overall, China leads the world in deaths by suicide with a rate of 25.8
per 100,000. It seems Chinese rural women are at highest risk. Of interest,
Nevada leads our nation at 23.93 per 100,000 citizens. It is estimated that
over 90 percent of people who commit suicide suffer from a mental disorder
and/or a substance abuse disorder.
There are warning signs. Between 20 to 50 percent of those who die have
attempted suicide in the past. Depression, mood swings, substance abuse
disorders, schizophrenia, personality disorders, a family history of suicide,
impulsivity, a precipitating event, all increase the odds of a suicidal
More immediately, rage, anxiety, guilt, hopelessness, intensity, an
acute sense of abandonment, anguish and an urgency for relief with abrupt
changes in behavior and speech suggesting suicide are warnings demanding
attention and screaming for help. Be alert to indirect statements such as
"My family would be better off without me." Or talk as if the
person were going away or saying goodbye. The confusion that leads to suicide
is always complex. There is never a simple explanation that answers, "Why?"
Other warnings can come in many forms, in a sudden deterioration in
functioning, in school work, in job performance, socially, withdrawal, silence,
loss of control, self-destructive behavior, increasing use of drugs or alcohol,
a paradoxical calm before the storm, including actions which range from
buying a gun to suddenly putting one's affairs in order.
It helps to recognize depression. Although most depressed people are
not suicidal, most suicidal people are depressed. By definition, depression
is present if at least five of the following symptoms have been present
nearly every day for at least two weeks: depressed mood, obvious sadness,
a loss of pleasure or withdrawal from activities that had been enjoyable,
a change in appetite or weight, a change in sleeping patterns, speaking
and /or moving with unusual speed or slowness, decrease in sexual drive,
fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness, self-reproach or guilt,
diminished ability to think or concentrate, slowed thinking or indecisiveness,
thoughts of death, suicide or wishes to be dead.
It appears the best approach for prevention will be improving our treatments
for mental health and substance abuse disorders. Medications do help. While
some suicides occur without any outward warning, most do not. The most effective
way to prevent suicide among loved ones is to learn how to recognize the
signs of someone at risk, take those signs seriously and get involved, fight
for life. Because your family and friends may not understand, teach them
to fight for life too. Life is precious, freedom is precious and worth fighting
for, the freedom to live. We are rebuilding America. We are sharing our
discovery of value in free and open discussions with the world. What gets
in the way?
Healthy thinking is built upon personal significance, meaning and purpose.
Each and every person is precious and unique, of core value. This is the
message people of freedom are privileged to share. No two people experience
the pit of despair in exactly the same way. It is life saving to understand
that solving the riddle of your own suicidal depression becomes a gift to
others who may one day fall into the pit of despair with you. Survivors
are teaching us how their discovery of meaning and purpose in their own
struggle for life helps us all develop our reasons to live. The more accurately
they describe how they themselves were trapped, unable to free themselves
from the dooms day voices, the more rewarded they feel, giving back to others.
One person, still alive, as though surrounded by a pack of wolves, in
the pit of despair, describes thoughts and feelings inside that for her,
make no sense at all. As a survivor she says that normal people cannot possibly
understand. "The torture which is the reality of the pit, you can't
explain it, you cannot express it. It just grabs hold of you when you least
expect it. You can't fight it. It attacks you. You get sucked in too quickly.
It's just so strange. It talks to you, the part that pulls me back in, the
guerrilla voices keeps saying, 'Don't get up, you can't fight back, don't
do this or that, don't take a shower, so what if you smell, why go to work
anyway, you don't need the money, you won't be here long, don't take care
of your business, you'll be dead soon.' I don't allow anyone to see me down
in the pit. I don't tell anyone about the dooms day voices."
Shifting moods, the guerrilla mind warfare uses conspiracies of embarrassment,
harassments of shame, distractions of blame, obstinate denial, impossible
isolation, anguished privacy, a straight jacket of guilt, it hurts too much
to care, the voices keep whispering "nothing matters any more"
and it feels better for a moment when "I just don't care." Then,
remembering what I have done, persuaded by my self -destructive night mare,
the pit grows deeper, the pain shuts my heart, the voices persuade me to
There is a strange relief discovered by survivors when they break free
from the conspiracy of silence. No more secrets, come out of the darkness,
we are strengthening each others effort to end the isolation. This is our
national movement. This is freedom's gift to the world. Suicide prevention
is life saving, it is free speech, it is our mainstream challenge in this
country. This is war and these are our friends. It is time to talk to each
other in ways we have never talked before. Personal significance, meaning
and purpose form the foundation stones for the healthy free human mind.
It is time for people of freedom to accept responsibility for this message.
Reach out. No life lost in vain.
Riggs Bailey Roberts, MD
published LTE: Maui News 5/08/2003
Prefrontal Plasticity meets Emotional
New Modern Repair of Post Modern Chaos
Guerrilla Mind Warfare
The Structure and Dynamics of Emotional Anatomy
first posted on the web May 9, 2003
©copyright 1991-2003 Gilgamesh Productions, all rights reserved
Riggs Bailey Roberts, MD
"Gratitude reboots the machine."
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