Commentary – The Suicidal Brain Analogy

The medical community has proof that suicide is the end result of a brain disease.  Today, we have more than enough imaging evidence to show that the brain is not working properly in the suicidal victim.  There are structural and functional changes taking place.  I call this a disease of the brain.  And when a certain area of the brain is diseased, it can destroy human survival.  If we treated the diseased limbic system as we do other diseases, we would recognize the symptoms of pain, depression, breaks from reality, and suicidal thoughts as symptoms of a limbic brain disease.  Suicide is the end result of an untreated diseased limbic system.

There are many problems associated with this truth.  It’s too involved to examine in detail but there are insurance, legal, medical, and societal ramifications…. If the medical community, the media, and our educational institutions could present this truth to the general public, we could reduce the number of deaths by suicide.  However, there is another hurdle that must be confronted if this truth is presented.  This hurdle is called the stigma associated with suicide.  I know there would be opposition from parents of young people objecting to any educational conversation about suicide.  I share their concern in the fact that the limbic system does not fully develop until a person is in their early twenties.  When you hear of suicide contagion, it is scary.  Young people make a lot of decisions from emotions rather than logic.  They have not been told that suicide is the end result of a brain disorder, and if they are contemplating ending their life they should tell someone and get professional help.  Keeping the general public in the dark is proving to be deadly.

I would like to have a level playing field as we discuss this topic.  As humans, we often display symptoms of a disease.  For example, chest pains, fatigue, dizziness, or heart palpations usually indicate a heart disease.  Of course, there are always exceptions.  Of all the heart attack deaths, one in four die with an ischemic (silent) heart attack.  This death provides little or no symptoms before one dies.  If a person has colon cancer, there are no symptoms at all in the early stages; however, changes in bowel habits, constipation, diarrhea, and blood in the stools become apparent symptoms as the disease progresses.  Next, if we addressed the limbic disease as other human diseases, then we would recognize the symptoms:  reoccurring thoughts of suicide, depressed mood for two weeks or more, manic/highs, breaks from reality, hallucinations, pain, and sleeplessness.  As with other diseases there are always exceptions, and some people suffering from a limbic disorder do not display any overt symptoms.

When it comes to suicide, it isn’t treated like the above mentioned diseases.  Suicide is often described with these clichés:  he snapped, he made a choice, he was crazy, he was a loser, or his suicide was a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  Not so.