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Coping with Suicide

by Dr. Sidney W. Langston

Every year millions of suicide contemplators, attempters and survivors have their lives torn apart by this self-destructive terror. Few things in life touch us with such horror. If the act is completed, those left behind feel rejected, thinking the victim chose to die rather than stay with them. Even a suicide attempt severely wounds significant others. It leaves them feeling confused, angry, guilty, fearful, guarded, disbelieving and filled with despair.


The first question survivors ask is, “Why did this happen?” In their eagerness for answers they may grasp for simplistic ones. They might speculate that it is due to an annual rise in the suicide rate in May and June or blame the fact that the suicide rate among college students has tripled. There are no easy answers.


It is doubly difficult to answer the question “Why?” if one does not understand the victim’s inner struggles. A person’s determination to cope with and survive their pain can weaken, despite valiant efforts to resist.


In reality, attempted and completed suicides are caused by a variety of factors that have accumulated over a period of years.  Individuals turn to suicide because they believe they have lost their power to choose. They feel they must do something to change their situation, but see no other viable alternatives.


Dr. Edwin Schneidman, UCLA professor of thanatology, one of America’s leading authorities on suicide, believes a primary cause of suicide may be unresolved childhood trauma. While the past cannot explain all of life’s problems, the following difficulties are often cited as creating a predisposition to suicide: poor relationships; seething hostility or aggression; long-term unresolved psychological wounds; physical handicaps; traumas of war; accidents; natural disasters; addiction to substances; and depression.


Dr. Schneidman states that every completed or attempted suicide is a cry for help. Research demonstrates that most people who attempt suicide do so in a setting where they might be found and rescued. If a person contemplating suicide becomes unable to eat or sleep, their condition worsens and they are more vulnerable to act on suicidal ideation or impulses.


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