Categorized | In The News, Suicide

The Edge of Suicide

“Suicide is the worst possible death on friends and family.” It leaves everything unanswered and there’s no closure. Suicide has an edge that other forms of death don’t.” Steve Fugate, NBC, Bay Area.

Steve Fugate, a 65-year-old Florida man, made walking his passion after his son committed suicide in 1999. Since then, Fugate has walked all over the United States, tallying up 30,000 miles, over the course of 12 years. “At each stop, he tells people to love life and to reject suicide.”

Mr. Fugate’s campaign for life touches all of us deeply. I love his message and his resilient nature. His walk was also a fight for his life, to stay hopeful despite his suffering.

But, how do we help suicidal people fight against the despair and hopelessness that make them want to reject life? We have to understand their pain and what ending their life means to them, in order to help. If we rush to tell them how wonderful life is when all they know is deep despair, we may add to their feeling that no one understands the depth of their pain. This is a risk that we don’t want to take.

Most of us are afraid of opening up the topic of suicide with depressed people, because we think that if we entertain the topic we are giving them permission to take their life. We also don’t want to shame and embarrass them. Even therapists often feel this, even though it’s our job to bring up this difficult subject matter with our patients.

Whether you are a therapist, a friend, or a loved one of someone who may be contemplating suicide, we all have to appreciate the meaning of the suicidal act in order to understand it, so that we are not afraid to have such discussions. I open up this difficult subject matter with you today, so that you understand what suicide is really all about and how you may help a loved one who is contemplating suicide. Understanding is the best way to reach a suicidal person and help him or her to continue living.

What is Suicide?

An Attempt To Solve A Problem

Suicide is a senseless act to those who wish to live. But, death as an option to one’s problems makes sense to the suicidal person. The thought of suicide occurs most often when a person feels they have run out of solutions to problems that seem inescapable, intolerably painful, and never-ending (Chiles & Strosahl, 2005). It may be a physical or mental illness that deteriorates the body or mind, as in Lou Gehrig’s disease or Bipolar disorder. Or, it may result from the death or suicide of a loved one. Perhaps, it’s a downward spiral from money woes and a devastating change in lifestyle. For some, public disgrace or humiliation makes it intolerable to go on living; while, for others, the intolerable condition may result from the post-traumatic stress of military combat, homicide, rape, or imprisonment.

No matter the situation that brings a person to contemplate death, there’s one thing that suicidal people share in common; they cannot love life, right now. They have experienced a basic and comprehensive breakdown in their values, way of living, self-esteem, and ability to make sense of life and to give it meaning that restores their hope and the will to live.

We are hard-wired to survive, to fight in times of stress and threat, so suicide feels so wrong to us. The suicidal person has fallen to the other side of this evolutionary fight for survival. They have chosen to flee, through death.

It doesn’t matter how we’d respond, or how severe the circumstances seem to us, suicidal people cannot love life or find meaning in it, in their deteriorated mental state. Nonetheless, it’s important for us to know that they do not really want to die; they just want a way out from their suffering. Suicide seems like the only way out.

Suicide is a breakdown in our meaning system that leads to a profound state of negativism, pessimism, nothingness and emptiness. The will to live has become a will to die. The existentialists call this a state of nihilism. Some people fight this condition, (like Steve Fugate) but others give in to it.  To better understand the differences between people here, we have to appreciate better what the act of suicide expresses.

An Assertion of Freedom

The act of suicide expresses a willful choice of death over life. As strange as it sounds, suicide is one way to reassert a sense of freedom over the limitations that people feel. Whatever has shut down their living possibilities, suicidal people  are essentially saying, “Choosing when I die is the one possibility that is still within my control.”

Their choice to die, however, stems from what the existentialists call bad faith; distrusting  that one still possesses the ability to give meaning to circumstance that liberates them from their suffering. The 1999 Academy Award film, Life is Beautiful stirred our emotions and soul because it speaks to the best of human nature. Even in the most heinous, restrictive of circumstances, human beings still have the ability to exercise freedom, in giving meaningful rather than nihilistic understandings to the things that happen to them.This is the good faith approach to living and how the hero of Life is Beautiful, Guido Orifice, found a way to survive.

In a concentration camp, Guido hides his son from Nazi guards, with the hope to keep him alive. He sneaks him food and tries to humor him by convincing his son that the camp is just a game, in which the first person to get 1,000 points wins a tank.  He tells him that if he cries, complains that he wants his mother, or says that he is hungry, he will lose points, while quiet boys who hide from the camp guards earn points. Guido is aware that he and his son will most likely die; but he still has a choice as to how he will cope with this dire circumstance. He chooses life, by exercising the human capacity to create meaning in the most restrictive of situations. Life is truly beautiful; no matter how tough it becomes, we can still find something meaningful in it. This is what Steve Fugate has done by walking 30,000 miles over 12 years. We love Steve because he’s a modern day Guido Orifice.


How Can We Help?

A person considering suicide needs professional help. But, we have to know that they are considering death, open up the painful topic, and get them to consider another way out of their problems than suicide, before we can get them to the professional help that they need.

Suicide and depression go hand-in-hand. The American Psychological Association has listed the behavior of depressed person who is contemplating ending his or her life. These include:

  • Talks about committing suicide,
  • has trouble eating or sleeping,
  • exhibits drastic changes in behavior,
  • withdraws from friends or social activities,
  • loses interest in school, work or hobbies,
  • prepares for death by writing a will and making final arrangements,
  • gives away prized possessions, as attempted suicide before,
  • takes unnecessary risks,
  • has recently experienced serious losses,
  • seems preoccupied with death and dying,
  • loses interest in his or her personal appearance, and
  • increases alcohol or drug use.

If you sense, in even the slightest way, that a depressed loved one, friend, or coworker is considering taking their lives, you need to open up the topic. Believe me, they will be relieved that someone has noticed and is giving them permission to talk about these painful, lonely feelings. Even if they need drawing out, don’t give up. You can start simply by letting them talk about what has happened and how they feel. This may be about the tough, debilitating nature of a person’s mental or physical illness that has taken away his/her will to live. Or, it may be a military veteran who has a deep sense of meaninglessness since returning home from combat. Perhaps, it’s a teenager who has been bullied, or romantically rejected, or experiences some other situation that makes him/her depressed and suicidal. Whatever the situation is, let them share what they feel.

If you can tolerate their pain, they will be more able to manage these feelings themselves. Simply be present to their pain. Remember, this does not say that you agree with suicide as a option to their problems. You may open up the subject of suicide by sharing a time when you have felt so badly that you thought about ending your life. And, if you have never felt this way, just let them know how natural it is to have these feelings and that it doesn’t really mean that they wish to die. They just want a way out of their problems.

Thus, do not rush in to tell a suicidal person how wonderful life is. Let them know that they have it within them to find another way to solve their problems, to find meaning that gives them the will to live once again, as in the examples of Guido Orifice and Steve Fugate.

Where to get Help

If you or a loved one is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please get help from your doctor or local emergency room, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). It is available 24/7.

If you like my post today, please say so by selecting the Like Icon that immediately follows. I welcome your comments and reflections. Take good care of yourself and loved ones. Warm regards, Deborah.

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8 Responses to “The Edge of Suicide”

  1. avatar Trish says:

    This topic is dear to my heart. As a young adult and with a single hollow-point bullet to her head, my best friend took her life, and abandoned me, when we were all that each other had. I literally came from her funeral straight to my abnormal psych class that night, when Dr. Green approached me, and asked how my day was. I told him what happened, and we changed topic of discussion that night was to be “suicide.” Enduring that betrayal was one of the most difficult times in my life. He gave me some sound advice, as I contemplated everything I could have done to prevent it. He said “If somebody wants to take their life…they will. If they are set on it, you can’t stop it.”

    I had an impression right before to go see her, which was 75 miles away, and thankfully I followed it. As I randomly knocked on her door at 11:30 pm, she was how I imagined her to be, studying for her oral boards for the L.A. Fire Academy the next day. To her surprise I was on her doorstep with a ‘dorky’ song I wrote her about how much I believed in her, and what a great fire-fighter she would be. After laughing at my song, her countenance changed, and she went to tears (and mine followed) She hugged me tighter than she ever had in 15 years. She kissed me on the cheek, she told me she loved me and she thanked me for being her best friend. The look in her eyes was heart-felt. I thought it was because I drove out there with a song to cheer her on.

    When I found out two days later, she had taken her life, in hysterics not fit to be behind a wheel, I made it to a friend’s house, and cried to her father. I told him what happened, and that I didn’t understand. He pointed out…that she probably knew at that point, she was going to take her life. That loving look in her eyes was saying, “Trish, my mind’s made up. And I realized that tight embrace, she was saying good-bye. She let me know I never could have stopped her”

    It’s tough to live with, the choices people make. Later as I worked in the child abuse registry, pieces of her family puzzle fit together that I was too innocent to connect. She was running from a sick predatory father, who inflicted a lot of pain and damage. After hundreds of pages of journaling, I was able to come to terms with it, and forgive her.

    I appreciate your comments, and thoughts about listening and supporting. Suicide is a selfish thing to do. There are signs, and sometimes those signs aren’t directed at people who would recognize them. Hopefully we can reach out to those as they are feeling vulnerable and alone, before it gets too deep. Listening, will go very, very far. I think one of the worst feelings in the world is to feel alone. Thanks for pointing out some of the resources.

    It’s a beautiful article.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Trish, thank you so much for sharing this painful story. The loss of a loved one through suicide. How sad that this was her only option at this young point in her life; sexual abuse robs people of their souls, their will to live. I’m glad you were able to forgive her, so that you could heal too, and yet, I know you must still wonder what your friendship would look like today, as adults.

      You also mention here something very important about a person who is about to take their lives. I often hear people say in news reports when speculating if a death was a suicide or a murder; They just bought a home, or like your friend, was about to become a firefighter, or about to get married. they didn’t want to take their lives. It’s not always easy to tell if a person is about to commit suicide, because they often make daily decisions that affirm rather than deny life. So, it’s not easy to tell. It’s so common for people to wonder, how did I miss the signs, why didn’t I know. We often miss the signs because the person who is seriously contemplating death wants us to miss the signs. As you said about your friend, her mind was made up.

      Your remembrance of your friendship, her smile and loving ways honors her daily. But, most importantly, who you are, you decision daily to live life fully honors hers, as you know. thank you again Trish, for taking a moment to share with me. Warmly, Deborah! Look forward to talking with you again.

  2. avatar Frankie P says:

    When I went into ministry and took my first charge (churches hooked together) the former pastor’s son seemed to gravitate toward us and our young kids. His was a simple mind in some respects as a very big young man who had many failures and struggles. He seemed to enjoy playing with out 3 little boys. One day he asked me if I thought suicides went to hell. Being newly trained and full of myself I thought he wanted a theological answer and gave him my best one of how God understands people are in deep pain who are considering suicide and like we don’t hold a child accountable for things beyond them, so too God understands that this person is in a situation beyond them to handle and cope with … bottom like I told him NO suicides don’t go to Hell. Well what I didn’t understand was his pain … I didn’t understand he was asking permission to get out of his situation and use suicide as the solution to his problems. A week later we found him in a rock quarry with his brains blown out. I have lived with this for over 20 years and promised myself that I would learn how to detect those who are contemplating suicide and ask the right questions of them if they ask me again such a thing. Questions like … “What makes you ask that? Are you contemplating suicide? What problems are going on in your life and do they seem unsolvable? Have you ever thought of a plan to take your life? Have you thought of other ways you might cope and find other kinds of solutions? Tell me what’s going on and will you allow me to listen and help? Anyway what made my story even more difficult and heart breaking is that I had to go and tell his mom and dad (the pastor emeritus of my first appointment) what had happened, knowing full well that my answer to their now dead son may have given him the permission needed. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them that part. While I know his suicide wasn’t my doing, and that he may have done it anyway, it made me keenly aware and sensitive to this whole topic. Thank you for a great article … wish i’d had something like this then. Rev. Dr. Frankie L. Perdue

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Reverand Perdue, thank you for sharing this very personal and painful story with us. I know the deep struggle that you must have gone through. You poignantly point out to all of us that no matter what profession that we are in, even in the religious and helping professions, we can miss subtle, but oh so important signs that someone is thinking about taking his or her life. In my early days as a therapist, a patient left a message on my voice mail and signed off saying, “see you later Dr. Khoshaba. take care.” I went off to see a client and registered in the back of my mind that there was something a little odd in her voice. Then, I got a call later that day that he had tried to take his life. He lived. But, like you, I used this experience to never miss a subtlety that suggested that a person may be thinking about taking his or her life.

      There are so many people out there too who have missed the sign, the change in the person’s voice, the message that a parishioner, patient, friend, coworker, or loved one is about to take his or her life. Just to know that it can happen to professionals, like us will do much to heal their pain. Thank you again Reverand Perdue, I value your friendship. Warmly, Deborah.

  3. avatar ayesha says:

    hello debroh hope your fine. i read the article and i feel all this is within me i attempt to end my life. now how should i come back to life as even now i dont want to live want to end my life.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Ayesha, you need to see a professional therapist immediately Ayesha. Life is worth living, even though you cannot find anything within you dear right now. Please, you must see someone immediately. You can trust me to tell you that many people have felt similar to you and now lead very fulfilling lives. Ayesha, if you need a referral, please let me know. I will try to find a therapist for you. Write me at: You take good care now Warmly deborah.

  4. avatar ayesha says:

    i sent you messgae from my Gmail account. hope you got it.Ayesha


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