The true crisis moment happens when the sufferer realizes he or she can’t digest or handle an event in life that involves personal loss of some sort. The sufferer is drowning in despair. Hopelessness builds. Suicidal thoughts sit at the end of a road, be it short or long. Compulsive behavior takes over.
The sufferer will often choose to try to drown despair in drink, or smoke it out with drugs. Or compulsive beha- vior may come in the form of compulsive sex, or compulsive gambling, or compulsive criminal behavior… But it soon becomes clear that drugs, alcohol or whatever compulsive behavior is being engaged in won’t do the trick. The angst remains, embedded deep within the soul, cutting through the person’s psyche like a knife.
The loss still nags; the issues are unresolved. Drugs, alcohol, sex, crime… nothing seems adequate to alleviate the pain. Boredom, a vicious cycle of world-weariness, sets in. Everything seems gray, and not worth it. The sufferer feels compelled to break the vicious circle. Things can de- teriorate quickly.
The suicidal crisis can be compared to a chain of events involving a pressure cooker:
The Pressure Cooker
Stage 1: The cooker, at fi rst, easily handles pressure from external events. Blowing off steam isn’t a problem. The safety valve, representing the mechanisms we have to blow off steam, is in perfect working order. Our internal resources are enough for now. A rigid worldview, acquired from a nar- row education and upbringing, can affect our valve’s capacity to let off steam. For example: in a difficult marriage, one solution may be to divorce. But if I come from a rigid upbrin- ging that doesn’t allow for this way out of a bad marriage, I may become trapped for life…
Stage 2: When life brings us stress, I can let off steam, or I can let it build up inside my pressure cooker. Keeping everything within becomes dangerous over the long term. It reduces the space available for storing life’s frus- trations and worries. A sort of doldrums, an emotional dead zone, is created within my heart. I lose my capacity to feel.
Stage 3: A series of emotional shocks, or one trau- matic event, leaves very little room for other emotional shocks to be digested. The emotional dead zone takes up almost the entire space reserved by my brain for dealing with difficulties. A tiny reversal, one small negative event, can touch off a crisis. My pressure cooker is taxed to the limit: I could blow up at any moment…
Book excerpt from Quebec Suicide Prevention Handbook (2014), Éditions TNT
Suicide Prevention Hotlines:
Québec: 1-866-APPELLE (277-3553). CLSCs can also help you.
Canada: Canada Suicide Prevention Service 833-456-4566
U.S.: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255).