by Dorothy Paugh
"We’re a gregarious species, but also a gallant one, so fond of playing the saviour that we’d rather die than switch roles with the saved. In this way suicide isn’t the ultimate act of selfishness or a bid for revenge…It’s closer to mistaken heroism." Tony Dokoupil
Survivors and scientists alike wrestle the dark force of suicide, squeezing until it gives up its formula, in the hope that we can derive an antidote. High unemployment is a known ingredient. It is estimated the current global economic downturn contributed to an additional 5,000 lives self-taken, especially by a group normally less prone to do so: the middle-aged.
But can one theory of suicide dig past the layers of culture, economics, and epochs to get at the roots of this poison plant? Thomas Joiner took the experience of his own father’s suicide and after years of study and reflection, gave us the “first comprehensive theory” to explain all suicides. The Suicide Epidemic examines the growing scourge of suicide.
The three conditions that occurring together may precipitate suicide are feelings of loneliness, uselessness, and the capability to squelch fear. To reverse this trend, we need to talk about and accept mental issues as real and natural. A sense of shared struggles, belonging and contributing to a group, and a belief in something bigger than oneself--these have protective powers against suicide.
In Joiner’s theory, mental illness is not a necessary precondition to taking one’s own life. Many of us step into and out of one or more of these conditions from day to day throughout our lives. It’s only when the three conditions converge--when desire meets ability-- that suicide happens. This convergence doesn’t make it a foregone conclusion; rather it becomes a distinct possibility.
What this means is that those who take their lives are not so very different from the rest of us.