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Daily Connect: Does Being Happy Increase The Risk Of Suicide

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From the counterintuitive-to-Buddhist-psychology-department, according to Gothamist, and a new study from University of Warwick, certain happy states carry with them a higher rate of suicide.


As someone with suicide in my family history, this makes no sense to me.

"Their study ranked Utah as the No. 1 state for residents' sense of well-being, but it also scored a high No. 9 in suicide rate. By contrast New York State ranked a low 45th in well-being, but an even lower 50th in suicides."

The study hypothesizes that if you are surrounded by depressed people, you might not feel so bad about yourself. Odd. I'm not sure if these so-called "happy states" are drug-induced or not, but this seems a bit ironic from the point of view of meditation. Skepticism has a great place in creating contentment, and pessimism has it's place, but it's hard to imagine that if you are a big old crankypants all the time that you are in a better place.

Thoughts? Help me understand this one.

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The likelihood of suicide

The likelihood of suicide actually can increase when someone's depression reduces and their mood improves. People who are extremely depressed and lack energy and are extremely lethargic may lack the motivation to commit suicide. A boost in mood can actually elevate the person just enough that they have the energy to follow through and commit suicide. This is why certain psychotropic medications can have warnings accompanying them regarding increased suicide risk. It's always important as a clinician if a suicidal person's mood increases to check on the suicidal thoughts that they are experiencing and determine if intent has increased as well. Also, suicide does not have to necessarily be linked with clinical depression. A lot of times people who have high emotional intensity coupled with uncontrollable impulsive urges will be more inclined to commit suicide because they have minimal reaction times between their urges to get rid of their intense momentary pain and the actual suicidal behavior that seems to be a solution while in that state. Lot's of times people who's mood changes frequently can report feeling extremely happy one day and than depressed another day. While that person is in that mood their brain can forget how they felt when in the previous mood. Not sure how this connects to the entire state of Utah. There is some power to the idea in urban compared to rural areas that despite the fact that people may be unhappy, at least they aren't alone,


Religious States?

Religious states are more likely to produce subjective reports of wellbeing. I'd bet that many of those high on the list in this study are in the bible belt.

Have there been any studies linking religion (or, alternatively, "losing the faith," being homosexual, or "being at odds" in a religious community) to suicide?

-- Kevin

Measuring happiness?

How did the study referred to measure and compare happiness levels? I've always wondered about that with these reports. I can imagine it'd be very easy for one to reply that they are quite well satisfied with how their life is moving along, while at the same time concealing deeper levels of angst, alienation and sadness. This and other obvious variables it'd be impossible to correct for - cultural and community attitudes towards suicide vary all over, e.g. - should help us not take these reports too seriously.


Well, that's an odd study, tho they're sampling lots of people (350,000 a year??). Too many unknowns! Are the people reporting that they're "happy" the ones committing suicide? I doubt that. And I do get what they are saying that feeling depressed around alot of reportedly happy people can cause people to feel worse about themselves...

Happiness is such a slippery concept. I think what people need is to feel:  loved, connected (yay interdependence), and that their life and what they do is purposeful or meaningful.  With those things, sadness and happiness are like interchangeable waves on the larger ocean of basic well-being. Without them, or even without one of them, a person can feel a disconnect, isolation or worthlessness that is a more profound and dangerous state than sadness or crankiness, which are both totally normal, reasonable responses to this wild and chaotic universe and its sometimes tragic realities.

In fact, being open to the sadness of this life when it arises is important. it is the doorway to vulnerability, openness, and thus compassion which connects us to each other, and brings a more essential understanding of the joy that exists in being alive with all its ups and downs.

But conversely, its important not to become identified with sadness, as i've seen in some groups of people... because i think this, too, cuts you off from the openness that connects, and  can become a narrative that makes it difficult to be open to the experience of joy (or happiness).

As I understand Buddhist teaching... emotions are not "real." They, along with thoughts, are simply tools that the human animal has at their disposal as survival mechanisms. The emotions, kept in perspective, are a tremendous connecting and protective tool: love, sadness, fear, desire. When we identify with them, though, we become lost from our more essential self, which is deeper than those, and hummingly alive, a fundamental "yes" to all experience.

*[on a more practical sidenote - when my life totally fell apart at one point, and i felt completely depressed, i spent as much time as possible in NYC, staying with a friend (and brought my kids with when i could) - i just had to get out of suburban virginia which felt like cotton candy land to me then.  this blogpost makes me laugh to realize that it was very therapeutic to be immersed in that tough-talking, hard-edged crankiness! :) I'm totally down with the misery loves company concept. but it was life-saving, not depressing. i needed my outer world to match the storms in my heart at the time to know i wasn't insane. There is a joy to being expressively Real about the "life is suffering" concept, and New Yorkers are pretty dialed into that. ]

Big old Crankypants here

Dark humor is a soul savior, morbid meditation liberates me from the cruel reality of it. I associate with a bunch of cold empty meatheads, and it literally just warms my heart. rather than sit on some high horse of delusion induced good vibes, I like to spread them amongst those that need them most.

it puts me in a good place, I know everyone and their mother is on this buddhist bandwagon now, and hey, working on yourself works, for YOUR depression. but what about those caught in their reality of bleak and brutal suffering? at that, you can only fire a humorists arrow, a hearty chuckle in the face of the suicidal could change everything.

If you're bent on destroying yourself, it takes a lot more than a dry joke about how you're not the "self" in order to see the beauty in everything, especially people's misery.

cranky is not the same as suicidal

speaking purely from my own experience and with no scientific knowledge to back me up ... wanting to end your life has more to do with perceived defects in yourself, not your surroundings. so you could be in shangri-la, and if you feel like you don't deserve it or aren't worthy, it doesn't make you feel any better.

The AP story says:

The idea is, "If you're unhappy there, you conclude, 'something must be really wrong with me,' or 'nothing will make me happy,' so you're more likely to get depressed and take your life," said Lyubomirsky, who researches happiness and well-being.

I'd say that's pretty accurate.

I think if you're cranky (again speaking only from experience) you see things outside yourself as the problem. if those things could be fixed, could be the way you want them, you could be happy. if, say, you had chocolate, then everything would be better. : )

my experience with buddhism is that seeing the suicidal thoughts as thoughts, not destiny, cutting off the hook of impulsive action, and having a depply felt sense of inherent worth, and hours upon hours of metta practice counter suicidal tendencies.

accepting the crankiness, knowing that you are not your crankiness, that there are causes and conditions that lead to crankiness, and that chocolate can bring only temporary relief -- but really satisfying temporary happiness -- helps you stop beating yourself up about that.

other people's crankiness -- detach with love. feel compassion for their suffering. don't poke the bear.

I'd be curious to know how the rates of gun ownership correlate with the suicide rates. impulse plus guns leads to successful attempts.

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