Learning From Someone Who Tried To Commit Suicide

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The other day I was speaking with a man in his early twenties who had nearly died from a suicide attempt. I mean, he was on the brink of death, unconscious and had to be resuscitated.  I had spoken with him a couple of hours before the incident and what I saw was a young man going through a rough patch in his life, not someone who would hours later decide to end it all.

After he was saved from death, I spoke with him again because I wanted to understand what had driven him to that point. I wanted to know if there was anything I had missed earlier and I wanted to learn from what could have easily turned out to be a tragedy.

Several factors played a role in why this man felt his life was a failure and no longer worth living. I’m sure there are more, but this is what I gathered our conversation.

Egoic Mindset

Talking to this man what I learned was, that besides his pending and ongoing legal issues, he was trapped in his “egoic mind”. In our egoic mind, our thoughts are in control, not us. As many of use know, our thoughts, when left unchecked can cause us to suffer in many ways.

Our minds are extremely powerful. They can catapult us into greatness or they can hold us hostage in a hell we create.

If we do not control our thoughts and believe our thoughts that tell us we aren’t good enough, that this person must do this for us or that this must happen in order for us to be happy, then we will live a live full of anguish.

This young man’s thoughts had not only created his depressive state, but also had driven him to attempt to take his own life. They had convinced him that he was such a screw up that his life was not worth living.

Society

Society tries to force us down similar paths, even when most of us are meant to go down very different paths. When we resist that push by society or simply don’t fit in, many of us start to feel abnormal, different or even broken. The harder we try to fit in, the more insecure, uncomfortable and unbalanced we feel. The more we resist society’s pull, the more we may feel ostracized, rejected or even unsafe.

We start to compare ourselves with other people. Our peers, our siblings and even people we don’t know. We start thinking that we are not as happy as our friends appear on social media, not as successful as our brother who went to law school. In comparison, we start to feel like failures.

As people we always seem to look up, meaning we always compare ourselves to those who are in higher positions.  The person with the masters degree compares himself to the person with the doctorates.  The person making $75,000 compares himself to the one making $100,000. The person living in an apartment compares himself to someone living in a small house and the person in the small house compares himself to someone living in a larger house.

There’s nothing wrong with striving to improve yourself, but when we get locked into this type of thinking we tend to not appreciate where we are right now which keeps us from being genuinely happy. We start to think that we will not be happy until we reach the next level, and then the next level and so on. What this does is keeps us from enjoying life right now for what it is, as it is.

This is the kind of thinking that caused this young man to suffer. His internal thoughts told him that despite what I saw as his successes and strengths, he saw himself as a failure. He wasn’t even close to 30 and had already given up on life, assuming that he was so off track in comparison to other people his age that he could never get back on.

If we compared down sometimes, then maybe he wouldn’t feel so bad about himself. Maybe he didn’t have a house, but he had a place to stay, he wasn’t homeless. Maybe he had dropped out of college, again, but at lease he had some college under his belt. And yes, maybe he was in jail, but it was for a misdemeanor and not a felony and he was facing months, not years.

Not Taking Responsibility

Another thing that helped create the situation was that he didn’t take total responsibility for his life. As an adult, he had created nearly all the obstacles in his life, yet he wanted someone else to magically make them go away.

He was hoping that his girlfriend would do certain things, that his parents rescue him. This caused him to live in a state of helplessness because he allowed other people to control the way his life was going and it wasn’t going in the direction he wanted it.

Once you realize that you are 100% responsible for your life, including your mistakes, your happiness, your future and your present, you’ll realize how much power and freedom you really have. You realize that once you learn how to control your thoughts, that yes life will happen, certain events will happen, but it’s our thoughts that determine how we feel about them and our actions or inaction that will determine how we experience life.

This young man is in jail. He can blame his girlfriend for his current situation, his parents, his up bringing or whatever. He can stay in jail depressed because his girlfriend isn’t answering his phone calls or waiting for his parents to stop showing tough love and come bail him out. He can be waiting forever on all of that, but the moment he starts taking responsibility and control of his thoughts and feelings, his life can change in an instant.

He can say, yes I am in jail and it’s my fault. I did something stupid, how can I avoid doing that again? How can I use this time to improve myself? What lesson am I meant to learn from this?

Or he can continue to blame his girlfriend and his parents, be miserable in jail and come out the same person or worse than he was before going to jail.

Not taking responsibility for creating the life you want will leave you in a perpetual state of uneasiness which will keep you from ever reaching your full potential.

Attachment To Rigid Expectations

This man, like a lot of us, has high and rigid expectations. What I mean is that he expected by his age (although he is still very young) that he would have to accomplish several things in order to be happy or successful and when that didn’t happen, he deemed himself a total failure and didn’t know how to cope with that.

Suppose for example that you expected to be married by 25, have 2 kids and be living joyfully in a house on the beach. Yet, here you are at 35, divorced with no kids and living in a small apartment.

You can reflect on life and feel like you’ve failed and of course you’ll become unhappy and maybe even depressed. You can blame life and the things that happened in your life for keeping you from meeting those expectations and again, you’ll be miserable. Or you can take control of your thoughts, take responsibility and learn to flow with life and say “I would have preferred not to be divorced, have 2 kids by now and living on the beach, but that didn’t happen, what do I do now? What can I do with what I have to create the life I want?”

If however you are attached to rigid expectations, you’ll create misery for yourself. There’s nothing wrong with having expectations, but don’t be so attached to them that when life happens and things don’t go as planned, you fall apart. There are no guarantees in life.

Tony Robbins says that it’s our expectations that make us unhappy and to trade your expectations for appreciation. This is something I have been working on hard over the last several months.

Trying to control or change things that are out of our control will always cause us pain. That’s part of the egoic mind. Instead, we need to learn to accept what is, embrace reality and adjust to life as it happens.

When we can’t do that, we may find ourselves in some degree, like this young man and millions of others who suffer needlessly in life. For most of us, life really isn’t all that bad, but we create our own suffering. By taking control of our thoughts we can end that.

If you are anyone you know are struggling with suicide please call The National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

 

 

13 Reasons Why: A Brief Review By A Mental Health Professional

13-reasons-whyI recently finished watching the Netflix original series 13 Reasons Why. I have to say that it is definitely worth watching, especially for those of us who are parents, work with teenagers or are in any helping profession.

Last night I was talking with one of my interns who said she recommended that her class watch 13 Reasons Why, but that her professor felt like the show idolizes and romanticizes suicide, so her request was rejected.  I think most people who believe this haven’t watched all 13 episodes of the show.

13 Reasons Why isn’t just about a teenage girl committing suicide, it’s about her life. It deals more with the way she lived and what she experienced than it does with her death. It’s  also about the lives that teenagers today live in with the age of social media, sexting and where embarrassing pictures and videos can be shared with a single tap of the share button.

The show deals with drinking, drugs, bullying and other uncomfortable issues such as rape and yes, suicide.

Some critics believe that 13 Reasons Why is a dangerous show that may actually encourage teenage suicide. They fear what is called a suicide contagious effect where publicized suicides have a tendency to increase suicides and suicide attempts among the general population.

While there has been shown a correlation in publicized celebrity suicides on an increase in suicides and suicide attempts in the general population, there isn’t any evidence of fictional portrayals of suicide in television or literature having an impact on actual suicides.

13 Reasons Why explores the lives of modern teenagers in a sort of reverse murder mystery where we already know who killed Hannah, the character who’s life the show is mostly focused on, but through the eyes of Clay, the other main character. We get to reconstruct the pieces to why this happened.

In the show, the parents appear mostly clueless about what’s going on in their kids lives. The bullying, the drugs, the alcohol, the suicidal tendencies. It highlights how so many parents today are so focused on their own careers, relationships and even images of the family being perfect that they can’t see the self destruction going on right under their noses.

I spent five years working in a high school as a mental health counselor, and many of the issues those kids were facing and the things they were doing, their parents had no clue about. Not just including the drugs, alcohol and sex, but also the anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Most felt like they couldn’t talk to their parents, that their parents didn’t care or that their parents were already too overworked and over stressed to be “bothered” with their problems.

In 13 Reasons Why, there were many opportunities and people in Hannah’s life who could have possibly intervened before she got to the point of taking her life, but none of them did.

Her parents were too busy trying to keep their business afloat, her friends were busy being teenagers and not necessarily friends and the teachers and counselor all seemed rather clueless or even uncomfortable when it came to dealing with topics such as sexual assault and suicide.

Much like in real life, there wasn’t one single reason Hannah decided to kill herself. There were at least 13 as the title hints.

Many times when someone commits suicide, even with a suicide note left behind, loved ones are at a loss trying to figure out why the person did it. They may focus on one single event or reason such as depression or a break up, but usually it is more complicated than that.

In the show, much like in real life, Hannah talks about the many reasons that have led her to the point of taking her life. It doesn’t appear as if Hannah had been struggling with depression until the end, but that she lived a rather melodramatic life that was complicated by many different issues.

The show never really talks about mental illness or depression. Realistically, most teenagers who become depressed and suicidal don’t necessarily realize that they are suffering from a mental illness so it’s realistic for the show to never really talk about it using those clinical words.

The suicidal mind doesn’t think that way. It doesn’t think that “I feel really horrible about my life, but I know it’s just the depression talking”.  Instead it makes the person feel hopeless, that things will never get better and that no one cares for them; even if they say it or show it, the suicidal mind will tell the person that they are just lying to spare their feelings.

Most people think that suicidal people are weak or just aren’t trying to cope. The suicidal mind is exhausted from trying to cope, of caring, of being hurt and in pain. It’s a dangerous place to be and it’s where suicidal people spend most of their time, in their mind.

In the end, Hannah felt as if she had no other choice, but to kill herself. She was never offered an alternative to the despair, agony and loneliness she felt other than to turn to drugs and alcohol like many of the other students in the series.

“We all let her down… She took her own life. That was her choice. You, me, everyone on these tapes, we all let her down. We didn’t let her know that she had another choice. Maybe we could’ve saved her life, maybe not.”, says Tony, one of the characters on the show and Clay’s friend.

The suicidal mind believes that it has a choice; to live or to die. Only the suicidal mind doesn’t fight fair because it is overly emotional, irrational, unrealistic and incredibly persuasive.

For those, who are afraid that the show will increase the likelihood of suicide or suicide attempts in teenagers, I suggest watching the entire season before coming to a conclusion.

The show deals with the uncomfortable issues facing teenagers in our society and in the least it’s gotten more people talking about those issues which in itself makes it a show worth watching and I’m glad it got renewed for a second season because I hope it can further this much needed discussion.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text “help me” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

 

Those Left Behind: The Aftermath of Suicide

young-women-comfortingEarly yesterday morning I got a call from the Health Services Administrator (HSA) at the jail informing me that a nurse had committed suicide overnight.
It was a shock because I knew this nurse and had just saw her two days earlier. The HSA wanted me to come in and help break the news to the other medical staff and offer support to those who needed it.
I prepared myself for that, but what I wasn’t prepared for was getting a call from her grieving fiancé who of course was having a very difficult time dealing with the tragedy.
He had spoken to her before she committed suicide, through text messaging. She had texted him a picture of a bunch of pills, but she had done that before and he thought it was an attention seeking, manipulation game and so he ignored it.
Now that she is gone he is blaming himself.
The night shift nurses, the ones that worked closes with her took it the hardest. Especially one young nurse who had grown attached to her. She broke down and sobbed continuously. She kept talking about how strange it was going to be to come to work and not see her there.
This woman also left behind two young children.
It is estimated that each suicide affects at least six people, including family, close friends, co-workers and neighbors.
After a loved one has committed suicide, it’s not uncommon for those affected by their death to start falling apart from the intense grief and the fruitless search for the answer “why?”.
The people left behind to deal with the impact of suicide often find themselves so emotionally devastated that it’s hard to move forward.
This feelings often include:
  • Shock– most people experience shock or a sense of emotional and physical numbness as the first reaction to learning someone they care about has committed suicide. It’s the mind and bodies natural way of trying to slow things down until it can try to make sense of what happened.
  • Anger– people often feel anger, either directly or indirectly. They may be angry at the person who committed suicide, angry at themselves for not being able to prevent it, or angry at the persons therapist for not being able to “cure” the person.
  • Guilt– Loved ones, in an attempt to find answers to why a person killed themselves often ruminate on signs they may have missed. They may blame themselves for not expressing love, for being too distant, for not believing the person when they said they were depressed for the 1ooth time. The “what ifs” can go on and on.
  • Fear– Once someone has committed suicide, it’s not uncommon for family members to become afraid that they will lose someone else to suicide or that even they themselves could possibly commit suicide.
  • Relief– It’s also not uncommon for family and friends to feel a sense of relief, especially if the individual suffered from chronic mental or physical illness (i.e, intense pain) or even if they person had been on a long, steady decline of self-destructive behaviors such as drug addiction.
  • Depression– While it’s natural to go through grief when you’ve lost someone close to you, it’s not uncommon for grief to turn into depression if that loved one took their own life. The person may experience sleep disturbance, lose of appetite and loss of energy.  This can translate into feelings of life being worthless and losing joy in things one once found enjoyable.
In normal grief, all of these feelings will start to ease up overtime, it only becomes concerning when they remain very intense and do not seem to improve with time.
For people affected by an individuals suicide, it’s important that they:
  • Stay Close to family and friends– having a good support system is important to keep an individual from isolating themselves and ruminating on the suicide, especially in the first 6 months. The person may not feel like being around others and may not be ready to talk about their feelings, but they still need to have supportive contact.
  • Give children special attention– Children especially may have a hard time coping with a loved ones suicide. They need special attention so that they can express their emotions and talk them out. They need to know that grief is a normal process and need the adults in their lives to model healthy grieving for them, including open communication, sharing feelings and reminding them that they are loved and supported.
  • Be aware of special occasions– holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc., can all be very stressful times.People may need extra support or checking up on.
It takes time to heal from the loss of a loved one, especially when that person has committed suicide. While the pain may feel like it’s never going to go away, it will get better. Having the support of loved ones will help with that process.
Remember to express love for the person that was lost, love for the family and friends that are still here and and love for yourself.

One Day At A Time: Dealing With A Highly Suicidal Person:

So this is a delicate post to write about so I will try to do it without giving too much detail. This week I came face to face with a highly suicidal person in possession of a firearm.

As the Director of Mental Health at a county jail I deal with suicidal inmates everyday, but they of course are never in the position of anything as lethal as a firearm.

This individual was very distraught, hopeless, felt worthless, overwhelmed and had a history of  mental illness. It was an intense situation because of the firearm and the fact that this person repeatedly said that they wanted to die and had nothing to live for.

What made it more intense is that there were officers near by waiting to see if I could diffuse the situation. The number of officers quickly grew from two to at one point as many as six before I was able to get them to give us some space, yet at least two officers remained nearby at all times.

The funny part is that I was never scared. I think I was shocked when I saw the firearm and at times afraid that I was going to witness someone kill themselves. I was more afraid that this person was going to get shot by the officers either accidentally (by the way they were handling the firearm) or on purpose (suicide by cop).

It definitely was a stressful situation that played out over the course of over an hour in the Florida heat. It was a situation that tried my patience, skills and instincts as a therapist.

I was appreciative that the officers on the scene were also patient and allowed me to pretty much take control of the situation. I knew that I was the only one there who could get that close to the person without feeling threatened myself or causing them to feel threatened.

During this “standoff” of sorts, we talked about everything from this persons depressing home life, dysfunctional childhood, isolation from family and friends, and frustrations at work.

We talked, but mostly what I did was listen and attempt to encourage this person to live just one more day. I said, “If you are convinced you want to kill yourself then no one can really stop you, but don’t kill yourself today.”

One day at a time.

After sometime I convinced this person to contact someone in her family over the telephone, something they had been unwilling to do because they were convinced that they were going to kill themselves that day.

Eventually this person agreed to relinquish position of the firearm and was willingly taken into custody where they were transferred to a mental health hospital for evaluation. The situation ended peacefully. That was all I could ask for.

I received several “thank yous” from the officers involved who were also happy that the situation ended peacefully. They didn’t have to shoot anyone. They weren’t shot at. They didn’t have to notify a family member of this persons death.They told me multiple times that they were worried about my safety, but I never was. I never felt threatened or in danger.

I don’t feel like a hero and I don’t feel like I was brave.

What I saw was someone in emotional pain who needed someone with a level head to guide them and that’s what I did. It almost came natural. It’s something I do at work nearly everyday. The only thing that was different was the firearm and the fact that his person was out in the community and not in jail.

I don’t know what happened to this person after they were taken away. I may never know. What I do know is that at least for that day, they chose to live.

One day at a time.

 

Helping Someone Who Has Lost Someone To Suicide

Helping Someone Who Has Lost Someone To Suicide

Earlier this week I was called to talk to a juvenile who had witnessed her boyfriend shoot himself the night before. He didn’t make it. She was obviously upset and making her way through the various stages of grief, but what was most pronounced were denial and anger. She is only 15 and he was 18. His life already over. Her life changed forever. As I listened to her talk, first with disbelief, then with anger at herself for not stopping him, then anger at him for leaving her, until she finally broke down in uncontrollable sobbing before returning back to anger and guilt directed towards herself.

Sadly, during my career I have dealt with a lot of death, but suicides always present their own unique set of challenges. People who have lost someone to suicide often not only feel the grief and tremendous loss that comes along with death in general, but they often also feel guilty that someone they knew decided that whatever they were going through was too much to bear.

A couple of years ago in an auditorium filled with crying high school students, teachers, and parents, after a popular student athlete killed himself, what I heard most was people blaming themselves for not recognizing signs that weren’t there. While sometimes suicides come with warnings, often they are very abrupt.

The irrevocable pain the loved ones of someone who committed suicide feel can cause them to become an emotional and mental wreck. Those of us looking in from the outside often want to help, but are unsure how.

You don’t have to be trained as a mental health professional (trust me, often times all the training in the world doesn’t make it easier), but here are some ways you help someone you know who has lost someone to suicide.

Let them come to you.

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As part of the Crisis team I had to go to several schools over the course of five years after a student had committed suicide. I would walk into a school I didn’t know and come face to face with distraught students, teachers, and parents I didn’t know. It is scary. The best thing I did was to be there and let those who wanted to talk come to me. If I saw that someone was obviously very upset I would go to them, hand them a tissue, sit next to them, and wait for them to open up to me. It always worked.

As a friend, try to normalize things. Let the moment be as natural as possible. When they are ready, they will talk as long as you are there.

Remember the good times.

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This is a lesson I learned from watching other, more seasoned mental health professionals during those crisis moments. While acknowledging the tragedy of what happened is important, it can be just as important and powerful to help them remember the good times they had with the person they lost. While this may seem counter-intuitive, I’ve seen it work miracles in helping someone stop reflecting on death and to start celebrating someone’s life. I’ve seen people go from sobbing to laughing and from being unable to process the tragedy to opening up completely. So, when they are ready, encourage them remember and talk about happy memories about the person.

Ask good questions.

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The young lady I spoke to earlier this week said what most people who lost someone to suicide say at some point; “I don’t understand why he did this.” Naturally I wanted to help her process that, but I knew it was more important that I resist that urge and get her to talk about herself.

It’s important to avoid statements like, “I’m sure you did everything you could”, but instead ask questions like, “Tell me what have you been thinking?”, “What was it like the last few times you were together?”, “What did you see?” These questions allow the person to open up as slowly and as much as they want to.

In the case of the young girl I spoke with earlier in the week, the last question was a big one because she had witnessed the suicide and it allowed us to process that entire scene at her own pace.

Be there, be mindful.

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When someone experiences such a tragedy, often they are inconsolable. That is one of the few things that bothers me about getting sudden calls to talk to someone when they have just lost a loved one. I know that generally, with everything so raw, there’s not much I can say that is going to make them feel better in that moment.

What I do, and what you can do as well, is just be there. I sit with them and make myself available. I allow them to cry or to say nothing if they don’t want to. As a friend, you can do the same. You can put your arm around them, hug them, or just be there as a source of comfort. That can be more powerful than trying to find the right words to say.

Find the balance between intrusion and distance.

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It is common after someone has lost someone that they will want to be alone so that they can figure out their own emotions and thoughts. You can give someone mental space while still remaining physically present.

What that means is, you can be in the same room with the person, but allow them silence if that is what they want. Allow them some space if that is what they need. You can even be in another room and remind them that you are there for them if they need you.

Offer practical help.

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After an incredible loss, the person suffering will need help if they realize it or not. After my father died I spent countless days not eating, not showering, and only wanting to sleep. I didn’t even realize I was doing those things, I just remember that my life felt upside down.

Allow the person to go through the natural grief and mourning process, but also offer to help do things to make this time in their lives a little more manageable.

For instance, go grocery shopping for them, pick up the kids, and remind them to eat, to shower, or even ask them how you can be helpful. They may not know that they need help or even have the awareness to be thankful for the help you give them, but trust me, it will help them make it through the darkness.

Allow them to problem solve on their own.

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Eventually, the person will ask more of the tough questions about why the person did what they did and what they could have or should have done. Try not to get caught up in problem solving for them, but allow them to work through that themselves. You can be there for them by asking intelligent questions like; “What thoughts did you have when the suicide first happened?” What thoughts do you have now?” But allow them to reflect and figure that out on their own so that they can put it in perspective for themselves.

Suicide is a tragedy and people who have suffered such an extreme lost need good friends to help see them through it.

123 Mentally Ill People Killed By Police So Far This Year

In the first six months of the year, nationwide police have shot and killed 462 people. Out of those 462 people, 123 of them were in the midst of a mental or emotional crisis according to a Washington post analysis. c07_jd_02jul_shootinggraphic-640x230

To be fair, most of these individuals were armed, but mostly with weapons less lethal than a firearm such as toy guns, knives or a machete. Only 3 officers have been killed by a knife or machete in the past decade according to the FBI.

Below I have included a video of a mentally ill man shot and killed by police only seconds after they arrive on the scene. The mans mother called because her mentally ill son was acting erratic. He was armed with a screw driver. You can watch the video with caution and judge for yourself.

The police who responded weren’t usually called to respond to a crime, but were called by concerned family members, bystanders and neighbors because a person was acting erratically. 50 of them were outright threatening suicide.

In more than half of those killings, the officers who responded did not have adequate training in dealing with persons with a mental illness. Most of them actually responded with tactics that escalated the already volatile situation.

Yelling and pointing guns at a person with a mental illness is like pouring gasoline on a fire. A person in the middle of a mental crisis is not going to respond like someone else would, they have too much going on in their heads.

Almost a dozen of these individuals killed by the police were military veterans, many who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One was even a former California Highway patrolman who was forced into retirement after a severe beating during a traffic stop lift him suffering from depression and PTSD.

Forty five of these cases involved someone who was seeking medical treatment or had been turned away from medical treatment.

John Guillory, a 32 year old father of two had worked as a contractor in Afghanistan. He was having what his wife called a mental health emergency. He went to the Veterans Affairs hospital in Arizona, but was turned away because they were too busy. He went home and called 911 twice, hanging up both times. When the police showed up to his house he pulled a gun out of his waistband saying, “I bet I can outdraw you”. The police shot him six times killing him.

Suicide by cop is real thing and accounts for a number of these killings.

One individual in San Francisco who pulled a BB gun out on a group of officers and was shot and killed, had left a message on his phone telling the officers “You did nothing wrong. You ended the life of a man who was too much of a coward to do it himself.”

On average, police have killed someone who was mentally ill every 36 hours so far this year. Police are starting to acknowledge the lack of effective tools and trainings they have in dealing with this population. Without large-scale retraining and a nationwide increase in mental health services, these deadly encounters will continue.

While officers on average spend 60 hours in firearm training, they only spend 8 hours on learning to de-escalate a tense situation and 8 hours on handling mentally ill individuals. Otherwise they use tactics that are counterproductive and increase the risk of violence when they encounter these individuals. Most of these individuals end up dead within minutes of encountering the police.

Some of these killings probably couldn’t have been avoided. In some of the situations the individuals had guns pointed at the police. However, a large number of these individuals could still be alive if the officers had proper crisis intervention training.

Andreas Lubitz; The Plane Crash And Mental Illness

Andreas Lubitz; The Plane Crash And Mental Illness

Andreas-Lubitz-Germanwings-PilotThere’s been a lot of talk about the mental health of Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot that crashed the Germanwings plane into the French Alps.

As more details come out, it appears obvious that he was suffering from some type of depression, psychosis and/or personality disorder. Without having examined him myself, I can only speculate by the information covered by the news outlets, but I do know that there are certain forms of mental illness that make a person more likely to not only kill themselves, but to take the lives of other people with them.

Sometimes severe depression can include psychotic features that come and go. This is often missed when the person sees a clinician because the psychosis may not be present during the examination, only the depression, therefore the person is treated only for depression.

If a person has psychotic depression combined with grandiosity, egocentricity and lack of morals/conscience, that can lead to a person who almost has a god like complex where they believe that not only is their lives in their own hands, but so are the lives of other people. Thank goodness that this type of condition coupled with violence is rare.

Usually people who are depressed and/or have suicidal tendencies are only focused on harming themselves. They would never take the lives of another person, much less that of a stranger. Depressed people and people who suffer from a mental illness in general are not dangerous, it’s only when these mental illnesses are combined with other conditions such as psychosis and/or a personality disorder that they can become disastrous.

For example, as we stated above, some forms of depression can have short episodes of psychosis . Conditions such as bipolar disorder sometimes may also include psychotic features, where the person may be depressed and hallucinating or manic, grandiose and delusional. The contents of the psychosis may or may not be aggressive.

Because people with bipolar disorder often only go see a doctor when they are deeply depressed, they are often misdiagnosed with depression and given antidepressants which can then send that person into a manic episode. I’m not saying that is what happened to this pilot, but his girlfriend reported that he made statements such as “One day I will do something that will change the whole system, and then all will know my name and remember it.” This is a very grandiose statement.

There’s even some reports that his vision problems he was so afraid would cost him his career may have been psychosomatic, meaning that they weren’t organic kn nature but psychological. His mental illness could have been causing him to believe he was losing his vision.

On top of that, perhaps the thoughts he shared with his girlfriend only alluded to even more grandiose and obsessive thoughts. Some people with mental disorders suffer from painful,  oppressive, relentless, intrusive thoughts that may be scary and constant.

For example, a person with Obessive-Compulsive Disorder may know that they turned off the oven before they left the house because they checked 10 times, yet they can’t get the thought out of their head that they may have left it on and it will burn down their house so they recheck it again and again causing them to be late for work every day. Or the husband who has the obsessive thought that his wife is cheating, although he knows she’s not, yet he can’t get the thoughts out of his head so he is constantly accusing her, checking her phone, going through her things and driving her crazy.

Also, in some personality disorders and psychosis, there can be very grandiose ideas where the person thinks they are better than everyone else and that no ones life really matters. This could have played a role in the airplane crash and would help explain the selfishness and egocentricity of killing oneself with no regard for the lives of the other 150 people and their families.

For the most part, people with mental illnesses can maintain very successful lives and careers, such as being an airplane pilot, but only if they are diagnosed and treated properly. Often people with mental illness are misdiagnosed or don’t ever get treated because they don’t believe they need help or because of stigma.

People who suffer from bipolar disorder often like the high of the mania therefore they don’t get treated or take their medication accordingly. People suffering from psychosis often don’t realize that they are psychotic and therefore decline treatment.

I once spent several weeks trying to convince a successful business man suffering from bipolar disorder that he was not only bipolar, but needed medication to help control himself. At the time he was manic, had been arrested 3 times in 2 months for various reckless behaviors and was on the brink of losing everything. It was only after he had a long time to think in solitary confinement did he start to have some insight and agreed to treatment.

This pilot, suffering from real or psychosomatic vision problems he believed would end his career, seized the opportunity to not only end his suffering, but to live out his grandiose fantasy of going down in history, once he was alone in the cockpit. In his right mind this pilot wouldn’t have did what he did, but his mental illness made him impulsive and in that moment he did something that could never be undone.

Often times suicide is an impulsive act. A person may have the thought, but without adequate means they won’t harm themselves. However, if the impulse is strong enough and a weapon of destruction is within reach, the urge to kill themselves may win out over any desire to live.

Once again, at this point it is pure speculation as to what was actually going on inside of Andreas Lubitz mind at the time he made that fatal decision. However, this gives us a great opportunity to have an open discussion about mental illness no matter if it’s our own or others.