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October 11, 2001 Suicide alluring to the depressed: psychologist



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 Undercurrents.

“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, you’ll 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 don’t know. I used to think I knew, but I don’t.’”

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.

Protective factors against suicide include social support networks, financial security and the prescence of children in the house, which is what saved Manning’s life.

“My daughter asked me, ‘I think I’m much more on Dad’s side of the family, don’t you?’ ‘Yes’, I answered, ‘you’re much more on Dad’s side’ — and I utter a private prayer that she’s right.”

Martha Manning’s 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.