Re-Thinking Suicide

by Dr. Suah Kim
Adapted from Smith, S.T. (2011) Why people commit suicide. Psychology Today.

Suicide has come into the spotlight with the recent deaths of fashion designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. Many misconceptions, fear, and stigma are associated with suicide and may keep people from fully understanding it. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students. Although completed suicides are tragic, they remain infrequent. More common is suicidal thinking such as not wanting to live or simply wishing to stop existing and sleep but not wake up. People considering suicide may also think about ways to end their lives and prepare for it by giving away their possessions or writing letters.

Suicide can be confusing and uncomfortable. It makes us question, why would someone no longer have the will to live? Why can’t they be hopeful for better things? Can’t they see the good in their lives? Don’t they understand that they are good people? For those who have considered suicide, they may wonder why they can’t get over or move on from sadness and despair. It can be easy to label a person with suicidal thoughts as being “depressed,” “crazy,” or “manipulative,” and “selfish.” These labels don’t give clarity to the actual problem. Someone who considers suicide may think that it is a quick way to end the pain they are feeling. Suicidal thoughts occur when a person believes they have run out of solutions, that their problems are unavoidable, never-ending, and excruciatingly painful. As uncomfortable as it is, suicide can be seen as a problem-solving behavior. This perspective does not mean that suicide is a solution to be supported, but it helps to understand why people resort to it. Rather than trying to convince someone with suicidal thoughts that ending their life won’t fix anything, it is helpful to empathize with their pain and understand the intensity of their feelings. Focusing on identifying and understanding the source of that pain could also help people discuss other solutions to resolve it. Just talking about the overwhelming feelings can help someone think more clearly and be willing to explore other options of working through them.

It can be difficult to seek help when in despair, but talking to a competent professional is an important step. If you are thinking about suicide, please visit the Counseling Center at Blumenthal Hall, Room 101, or call one of these hotlines: The New Jersey Suicide Prevention Hopeline 1-855-NJ-HOPELINE (654-6735) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

If you’d like to gain more training on how to see signs of distress and help someone considering suicide, contact the Counseling Center at (973) 353-5805 to request a Campus Connect workshop.