Suicide=Mental Illness?

I unfortunately was absent from a speaking engagement where a member of the audience asked a good although a tad offensive question to one of the presenters. My colleague was there (we both do the education program and peer support group for a youth mental health organization) and she filled me in….

A woman from another mental health organization was sharing her story and said that she attempted suicide when she was 18 years to escape her home life but that she did not have a mental illness at the point (she was eventually diagnosed at age 35). During question period an audience member raised their hand and asked this woman how could she say she didn’t want have mental illness when she was 18 despite having attempted suicide? The woman did not really answer the question and my colleague attempted to do so.

What do you think?

Does attempting suicide mean that you have a mental illness?

I say that it does not. I feel like it goes back to the whole idea our society has about how different thoughts, emotions and behaviours means ill. This woman wanted to escape something painful and didn’t know what else to do. Isn’t that more proof of a lack of resources than of a mental health issue?

I’m interested to hear what you all have to say!


18 thoughts on “Suicide=Mental Illness?

  1. I would say definitely more a lack of resources. Once can reach despair without depression. Once can reach the breaking point without having a diagnosable mental illness. One can lose all hope without something being chemically wrong in their brain. That’s just my take. Great post! Best always, Rose

  2. There have been cases of suicide, where the person did not appear to have mental health illness before the actual suicide. Gary Speed was one of those people, and it’s been well publicised here, you can google him.
    If he did have mental health issues, he was super high functioning.
    I think that every human has moments of “madness”, how often have people stood on the edge of a cliff and had the urge to jump off? Or stood next to a busy road and had the urge to jump into it? This happens for no clear reason, their lives might be fine, and their mental state might be healthy. It’s a lot of people that have these sudden urges, probably everyone at some point. Fortunately a lot of people don’t act on it. We are never ever going to know why some people do what they do, or for what reason, and I don’t think that should be our focus because we are never going to gain answers. Suicide is a very serious issue no matter how it was carried out, or why.

    One of the biggest symptoms I struggled with growing up was denial that my mental health was so bad. I constantly thought about suicide from when I was 14 until I started taking my meds last year, and now I’m 30. My mental health was obviously not right to other people, they assumed it was drugs, the people I was hanging out with, or just plain old teenage angst. It was a lot more serious than that, I have PTSD, bipolar, and an eating disorder, I was only diagnosed last year.

    So, to sum up my answer is no, you dont need to have a mental illness to commit suicide, but we should be raising more awareness of the symptoms of mental health, especially to teachers, employers and parents, so we can help the quiet ones that seem to be doing awesome at school, in work, and home, but underneath feel like they don’t want to live anymore. When I look back at my life, it was obvious that I had a mental health problem, but no one picked up on it, and I even fooled my doctors with my super low weight by saying I had chronic stomach aches.

  3. I believe that attempts to take one’s own life are a very complex issue and cannot be pigeonholed into either column a or b. While the original woman being spoken of used it as an escape from a horrible situation can mean for her specifically it was not a mental illness but a lack of resources that caused her to feel powerless and hopeless in the face of her own personal tragedy. For another, the reasons and possibilities are vast that their attempt at suicide is a part of a specific mental illness.

      • I agree completely that it’s because it’s such a complex issue that it can be difficult to come up with solutions prevention wise. Personally I feel that people like you are the biggest assistance towards prevention because you are taking the taboo-ness out of the subject with your openness. I feel that if society were more accepting of different mental states of mind (either temporary or permanent) when a person did feel suicidal there would be a better chance they would seek out whatever type of help they needed. But there is such a stigma attached to even the idea of suicide that people suffer in a silence society currently demands as it doesn’t want to acknowledge such a “dark” side of our nature. Thank-you for being open about many different aspects of mental health and different mental states. You are de-mystifying them, and that is such a huge help for so many!

  4. I’m torn. In the woman’s situation, there’s probably a lot more behind it than was shared. I think each situation is different and needs to be viewed as such. In any case, a “decision” can only be made on the evidence presented. In her case, there may have been resources that she knew of, but was unable to, or afraid to utilize. Is that part of the problem as well?

    • This is a complex situation, for sure. From what I know of her story (as I have heard it many times) she had been purposely isolated so it makes sense how she felt like she had nothing and wouldn’t know where to go.

  5. I agree, I don’t think to consider suicide a person would necessarily have to be mentally ill. Although I feel a little uncertain about this. Because to contemplate suicide you have to be extremely unhappy, and this is the main symptom of depression. I guess it really depends on the circumstances, but I think it’s likely that a lot of the time the suicidal person does have a mental illness, but just not ALL the time, as we might assume.

    But either way, that person needed support, and I agree with you 100 percent that lack of resources would have been the biggest issue. Maybe in some ways it doesn’t matter whether she did or didn’t have a mental illness. The biggest issue was that she came so close to suicide and didn’t have the right support network to turn to. The label doesn’t change that.

  6. for me, i have only been truly dangerously suicidal when severely mentally ill. though suicide has occurred to me at other times, having better mental health has not allowed the thought to go any further than fleeting consideration. i can’t speak for others, but for me alone, the degree of suicidality is directly linked to my degree of illness. though honestly, lack of resources and impending homelessness or other fears have always amped up the symptoms of my mental illness so maybe it’s entwined.

  7. I agree that one does not need to have a mental illness to commit suicide. They might be overwhelmed, frightened, or feel hopeless. Suicide can be planned or it can be a snap decision in a moment of intense stress. It really depends on each situation.

    • You mentioned that suicide can be a snap decision and I totally agree. I’ve always been bothered by the idea of “signs of suicide”. Maybe some people follow a pattern but I know for myself I never followed a pattern. My attempt(s) were always in the moment.

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