Childhood trauma, suicide, and FREEDOM!
I recently read something very encouraging by a professor who was the world's top expert in suicide. He wondered, as I often have, why one person can be depressed and hopeless, but never think of suicide, but another person thinks of suicide. He notes that the difference he sees is not the psychological pain experienced in adulthood, but the effects of childhood psychological trauma on the person's perspective on suffering in adulthood. Why is that encouraging? Because childhood trauma can be healed in therapy. I will reprint an except from his book later in this post.
First, it is important to note that since this professor's book being published in 1996, the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, published in 1997, confirmed the professor's opinion with scientific fact. The ACE study examined the effects traumatic experiences in childhood have on adult life, and one of the things examined was suicide. To be clear, the study defined 10 ACE's in childhood:
-Seeing the mother physically abused
-Substance abuse in the home
-Untreated mental illness in the home
-Divorce or separation of parents
-A household member being in prison
Concerning suicide, what was found was that ANY of these events leads to 2-5 times the risk of suicide! That means that parents' divorce had the same effect as sex abuse on a child's risk of suicide, and that increase was as much as 500%. After six of these events, suicide risk is increased nearly 25 times, 2500%. These results are staggering. Nothing could be more clear than that the professor is correct in saying that while it is not always the case, the vast majority of suicides can be traced to childhood trauma--that is, the way it affects the ability to handle psychological stress as an adult. This information is available in more detail at www.samhsa.gov. [click link]
If you are unsure that effective trauma therapy can heal trauma, please read some of my other posts on EMDR trauma therapy. There is hope. Here is an except, edited by me for length, from the professor's book I mentioned:
Quote from E. S. Shneidman, The Suicidal Mind (1996):
I am totally willing to believe that suicide can occur in adults who could not stand the immediate pain of grief or loss that faced them, independent of a good or bad childhood or good or bad parental care and love. But I am somewhat more inclined to hold the view that the subsoil, the root causes of being able to withstand those adult assaults lie in the deepest recesses of personality that are laid down in early childhood.
Those are two key words in any life: unhappy and childhood. Suicide never stems from happiness--it happens because of the stark absence of it. Unhappiness reflects the lost joys of an unrealized childhood.
It is not possible to be robbed totally of one's childhood, but what does happen can seem to be just as bad. One can have one's childhood vandalized. Perhaps--I do not know--every person who commits suicide, at any age, has been a victim of a vandalized childhood, in which that child has been psychologically mugged, and has had psychological needs trampled on and frustrated by malicious, preoccupied, or obtuse adults. I tend to believe that, at rock bottom, the pains that drive suicide relate primarily not to the absence of happiness in adulthood, but to the haunting losses of childhood's special joys.
The role of parents, relatives, friends, doctors, therapists, and good Samaritans, is clear to everyone. We could not get through life without the help of others. But after infancy, a vast part of life is a do-it-yourself proposition. There are times in life when we cannot do some vital things for ourselves, and it is prudent on those occasions to seek the help of others. A big part of what we can do for ourselves is to get appropriate professional help when we need it--to recognize that certain crises we cannot effectively handle alone.
The happy fact is that there are thousands of people who have been helped, their lives saved, by the intervention of therapists, doctors, and other helpers. Suicide is prevented by changing our perception of the situation, and by redefining what is unbearable. Perceiving that there are other possible ways of seeing things, redefining the impossible,, bearing the unbearable, swallowing the undigestible mass of shame and guilt.
In every case of suicide, the person is getting bad advice from a part of their mind, which is temporarily in a panicked state and in no position to serve the person's long-range interests. The it is time to reach outside your own head and seek more qualified and measured advice from other voices who, out of loyalty to your larger self, will throw in on the side of life, and--to use a Japanese image--will urge the flower, not the sword.