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What is Suicide?

People talk about suicide like it’s a secret that you can’t share with anyone. Suicide is whispered amongst friends and family members, and when someone engages in a suicidal act, the only question on everyone’s lips is, “Why?”

The answer is well-understood by mental health professionals — the answer is depression.

Depression is a serious mood disorder that affects the way a person thinks, feels and acts. It is not just feeling “blue” for no reason for a day or two. It is a lengthy pit of despair where hope is just a memory and suicide appears to be a reasonable, real choice. Suicide will end a person’s emotional suffering instantly, and it makes the person feel like they are removing one of the causes of pain and suffering for others in their lives as well.

Suicide Appears Like an Answer

Even though we may rationally believe that suicide fixes nothing, to someone who is suicidal, it appears like a real answer to all or most of their problems. No money, no job? End my life and stop being a burden on society. The cause of pain to someone you love? End my life and stop being a source of pain to that person. Feelings of depression that seem not only to never end, but get worse with every passing day? End my life and stop feeling so much emotional pain.

What a lot of people who have never experienced a serious depression or suicidal thoughts don’t understand is how could someone feel so hopeless and depressed to consider ending their entire life? The answer is often rooted in how hopeless and endless the depression seems to be. People who are suicidal are usually in the grips of a serious and untreated (or undertreated) depressive episode. Many people can hide such emotional pain very well, and pretend to be okay. But underneath, they may be in extreme agony and in need of help.

A big part of depression is thinking irrationally. This means a person is putting together the pieces of their life in a way that wouldn’t make sense to most others. There is an overemphasis on some pieces or some feelings that others would think are being blown out of proportion. But someone who is depressed often can’t think any differently — the depression is causing them to emphasize or focus on things that only contribute to the depression. This creates a snowball effect that often lands someone who is seriously depressed at the door of considering suicide.

The key to stopping the snowball effect before it’s too late is to acknowledge the pain and agony, and get help.

Getting Help Before it’s Too Late

The challenge with getting help, though, is acknowledging the need for help not only to yourself, but to others in your life. People often feel ashamed or that there’s something wrong with them if they need to go see a therapist or psychiatrist. These are simply old stigmas that have hung around, even as our understanding of mental health issues and treatments has increased for the better in the past decades.

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The other thought that often goes through someone’s mind who is depressed is they cannot be helped. That their depression is so out of control and serious (or that their life is so seriously messed up), that there is no helping them. That is the depression talking. Help is available and for the vast majority of people who seek it, they feel better — some within days, and nearly all within weeks. Whether it be psychotherapy, medication or a combination of the two, most people get relief from those overwhelming feelings of depression and hopelessness.

Once the relief sets in, the suicidal thoughts and urges begin to fade. A person regains some small inkling of hope, which gradually builds and blooms over time. The idea of suicide, a year later, seems like a remote act of desperation to cry out, to stop the pain and suffering, to let others know how much you hurt.

Get Help Now

If you’re feeling suicidal right now, please check out our suicidal resources. Anonymous help is available to you right now.

What is Suicide?

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is an author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2020). What is Suicide?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 29 Jul 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 29 Jul 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.