by Sylvain Comeau
Suicide is a devastating horror for families left behind, but a tempting
quick fix for people deep in the throes of depression.
Martha Manning spoke on The Lure of Suicide: When Wanting Out Wins
Out. The clinical psychologist, author and mental health advocate
from Arlington, Va., included facts and figures about suicide with harrowing
tales from her own struggle with depression, described in her 1994 book
People who commit suicide believe that life is too painful to continue
living, that things will never change, and that the only solution is to
end life. Those are three thought patterns coming together at the same
time, and all are distorted.
Even a trained psychologist like Manning found herself falling victim
to increasingly grim and distorted thinking when she fell into the pit
of depression in 1990 and 1991.
There is a cognitive twist in suicidal people. Thoughts of death
become more comforting than thoughts of living. I would imagine the bubonic
plague coming and only killing me, or getting hit by a truck, and be a
little alarmed that these thoughts did not scare me.
She became listless, unable to concentrate or show interest in anything,
unable to eat, and a chronic insomniac. I would sleep two hours
a night and then wait for the sunrise but when it finally came, I would
say to myself, What was the point of waiting for that? Now I would have
to get through another day.
In one incident of distorted thinking, she decided that her husband would
be okay if she committed suicide I had decided to buy a gun
in a pawn shop and go to a hotel room with it, but one morning I got the
closest thing I would ever get to a Fed Ex from God.
Manning had fallen into the habit of listening to her 10-year-old daughter
sing in the shower every morning, which gave her a reason to drag herself
through another day. That morning, she had an epiphany. While listening
to her sing, I thought, If you kill yourself, youll silence that
voice you love so much forever.
Manning checked into a psychiatric hospital to save her life. Gradually,
she started to regain her sleeping habits and appetite, and knew she was
getting better when I had a Big Mac attack in the hospital.
Today she takes a battery of pills to stave off depression.
Despite the insight she gained from her experience with depression, she
later admitted to her daughter that it is essentially unknowable why some
people are struck by the devastating illness. My daughter asked
me, Why do these things happen? I said, I dont
know. I used to think I knew, but I dont.
While there are mysteries surrounding depression, it is well known as
one of the most dangerous risk factors for suicide. Others include prior
suicide attempts, a family history of depression and suicides or attempted
suicides, isolation, life stressors, a history of sexual abuse, a struggle
with sexual orientation, and being male, especially a young male.
Manning noted that while women attempt suicide more often, men more often
succeed in taking their own lives, probably because they use more lethal
means, particularly guns. However, women are increasingly using guns,
the method which Manning had contemplated using.
factors against suicide include social support networks, financial security
and the prescence of children in the house, which is what saved Mannings
My daughter asked me, I think Im much more on Dads
side of the family, dont you? Yes, I answered,
youre much more on Dads side and I utter
a private prayer that shes right.
Martha Mannings lecture, the 2001 John Hans Low-Beer Memorial
Lecture, was co-sponsored by AMI Quebec (Alliance for the Mentally Ill)
and the Concordia Psychology Department.