Suicide is commonly referred to as an illness of the heart. But that “illness” aspect may be more true than you think.
Suicidal behavior, in most cases, isn’t voluntary. This, on the outset, seems rather counterintuitive and confusing. But let’s take some time to consider this, and make an analogy to a disease we can all agree on: the immune system attack of HIV.
HIV, in its simplest terms, attacks the immune cells in the body. These compromised immune cells then attack the immune system, and the deactivated immune system leads to even the most common and simplest diseases being life-threatening.
Now, let’s compare this to something like depression. In depression, a chemical imbalance attacks the neurons in the brain. These compromised neurons then attack the value-of-life system, and the deactivated value-of-life system leads to even the most common and simplest depressed thoughts being life-threatening.
See the connection?
The value-of-life system is the evolutionary process that makes sure we survive and don’t do anything too stupid. It makes sure that we care about ourselves, stay healthy, reproduce, etc. etc. If this system is attacked, we suddenly begin to care about ourselves less and less, to the point of suicide.
There is, of course, the point that people who don’t have depression still occasionally commit suicide. But just as people in certain circumstances can become more susceptive to disease (undergoing chemo, having hypothermia, being wounded), people in certain circumstances can become susceptible to suicidal thoughts. Take kamikaze pilots, for example – their value-of-life system is, in essence, deteriorated via patriotism and honor. Value-of-life can also be injured in the case of a particularly bad series of events, or if someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Of course the helpful lesson here is that, if suicide is a disease, there could be a cure for it, just like all the other diseases we know about. Like many things in mental health, we don’t know the cure quite just yet – but we may one day come to it.