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What Is The Point Of Life?

Question:

I’ve tried mental help for my depression. I’m even on anti-depressants and i feel even worse than i did before. Counseling does not help me. i have lost the will to live and now I’m thinking about doing it. whenever i talk about my depression and how i get picked on in school and how almost nobody cares what happens to me, i feel even worse afterwards. some people can be saved, but others like me will not. If someone wants to die, just let them. Death isn’t a bad thing, it’s a relief from pain and suffering.

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  • Dr. Dombeck responds to questions about psychotherapy and mental health problems, from the perspective of his training in clinical psychology.
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Answer:

Editor’s Note: This was posted as a comment to another advice entry, but I thought that it made sense to treat it as it’s own question/comment. The assertions made here are too important (and too mistaken) to let go unchallenged.

You don’t come out and say it, but you’ve written a suicidal comment here. You talk about dying in the end as though it is something that happens when people want it to happen, but what you don’t come quite out and say directly is that you are thinking about helping that process of dying along in some active way. I know you know this, but maybe not all the readers do, so let’s make it clear.

Feeling suicidal is a pretty common thing to feel when you’re moderately or seriously depressed. In addition to all the physical sort of depression symptoms (such as a reduction or gain in appetite, sleep needs, etc.) and either agitation or retardation of your activity level, there are also a characteristic set of psychological/mental symptoms of depression. It is common that things that used to motivate will lose their motivating capability. It is common to feel worthless and helpless. It is common to begin making a variety of thinking errors. For example, you may take responsibility for all the negative things that have happened to you, while discounting your role in creating the positive things. You may rewrite history such that it seems to you that things have always been terrible/horrible/awful when this isn’t really entirely the case. In general, the brain starts doing a sort of attentional narrowing and filtering such that everything is seen through the lens of depression. Your perspective narrows, essentially until everything looks depressed and there is no apparent way out. When these sorts of things are happening, it is rather easy to look to suicide as a “way out” and as an appropriate fate.

I’m tempted to say (and I will say) that the situation is complicated by your stage in life. You’re apparently in your teens, and either at junior high school or high school. I say this because your comments are too mature to be the work of an elementary school student, and because in college it is very unlikely that people would tease you (things aren’t cohesive enough for that). High school can seem like it will last forever, but it doesn’t. In reality, it is a short four years (short in comparison to the rest of your life which will unfold if you let it). Life opportunities typically open up after high school. You break with the people who’ve known (and teased) you all your life and make a new start working or going to college, or whatever. The new people don’t know to tease you, and many of them were teased too and aren’t interested in teasing someone else. From my perspective of 20+ years post high school graduation, and speaking as someone who used to be teased and beaten up regularly in grade school, things get better as everyone gets more mature and responsible. In fact, many of the most successful and well adjusted adults I interacted with at my 20th high school reunion were not popular kids in high school. I say this to give you the benefit of another human being’s perspective, realizing that you’ll probably discount it and say it won’t apply to you. Maybe so, maybe not, but please do recognize that you don’t yet have the benefit of adult perspective and freedom at this teenage time of your life. If you off yourself now, you won’t ever know how things might actually turn out.

Still, here you are today – suicidal – and no amount of “it will likely get better” is going to help right now. You say you’ve tried “mental help” (whatever that is – therapy? self-help?) and anti-depressants that nothing makes you feel better. In fact, talking about how pathetic things seem – how indifferent people appear to be towards you – actually makes you hurt worse. I’m not surprised that talking about painful experiences is painful, and you shouldn’t be either. It is important to distinguish between two kinds of pain, however. There is the pain of damage such as occurs when you are being injured, and then there is the pain of growth and adaptation such as occurs when you are stretching your legs or lifting weights and it hurts. There is no injury occurring in the latter situation. Stretching hurts because you are tight and you are stretching yourself to be looser. Stretching makes you healthier, but there is some pain involved. Therapy can be the same way.

There are a couple reasons why you may not have experienced therapy as helpful. You may have had a not-very-skillful therapist, for one thing. Or perhaps, you simply didn’t feel like talking and did not engage the therapy situation? It can feel humiliating to have to go sit with a therapist. Maybe you didn’t want to participate? While such a position would be understandable, you must understand that therapy cannot be helpful if you don’t engage it. If you have the opportunity to try therapy again, please choose to do it (rather than just go along with someone else’s idea), and get yourself a therapist who understands how to skillfully treat depression. The best protocols for treating depression seem to be “cognitive-behavioral” at this point in time, so ask for a therapist who can offer you that sort of therapy.

There are several things that can go wrong with medication treatment as well. First of all, your doctor could have you at the wrong dosage. You might not have taken the medication regularly (easy to do when you’re depressed). You might be taking or eating something that interferes with proper absorption of the medicine. You might not have given the medicine enough time to work its effect on your brain. Bottom line: If you think the medicine isn’t working, go complain to the doctor and ask for him or her to adjust the dose, try something different, etc. Getting medication to work properly is trickier than it appears. It would be irresponsible and inaccurate of you to assume that since your first medication experience didn’t work out that no medication treatment will help you.

It is likely that you have really good reason to be depressed. You don’t say what these reasons are except that you’re an outcast and picked on, but I’m sure you have your reasons. Therapy is not miracle work; no amount of it in any form will address environmental situations that lead you to be in pain. So keep this in mind too. Sometimes you have to alter your environment before you’re going to feel better. If you are being bullied and teased, you perhaps have the option of avoiding the worst bullies, or seeking the protection of school authorities or even the police. You might ask to be transfered to a new school. You might work on your ability to physically protect yourself, through martial arts training. You might work on ways to verbally protect yourself too – some of the best current comedians developed their stand up routines in part as a reaction to being teased and needing ways to defend themselves (with humor). I’m not at all sure if any of these suggestions will be helpful, but the point is that there are options you may not have thought of or may have discarded in your depressive pessimism that would actually help you out. None of these things will make life a paradise, but some combination of them might help you feel better.

The big illusion of suicide is that it is the only solution to an otherwise unsolvable and terribly painful problem. This is how it seems to the typical suicidal person, anyway. Suicide is not really the solution it appears to be, however.

First of all, the problem that suicide is intended to solve really can be treated or lessened in intensity by other means (e.g., changing the environment, psychotherapy (to change your mental attitude and behavior), and medication to change your brain).

Second, suicide is too permanent of a solution to be workable, given the very changeable nature of your complaint. You’re in a private state of hell now, but it is not one that will be permanent. Your mental state will change with time, continued pursuit of treatment, and an active approach to altering your environment. If you kill yourself, you will have confused the temporary with the permanent.

Third, suicide may seem like it would only affect yourself, but that is not at all true. Suicide would affect your entire family – parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents, etc. All of the people who are close to you will become very wounded in one form or another, and the ones who care about you the most will be most wounded. You may want to punish your family (or members of your family) for all I know, but consider that if there is even one person in your family that you care about, your suicide will carve a permanent hole into that person’s heart that will never repair. Life will go on, of course, but living with permanent grief is never a good state of affairs.

The fourth illusion that makes suicide appear attractive is that it seems like you might be able to “show them all” by killing yourself. Like you’ll prove something – get them to listen to you for once, take you seriously. This is fantasy. No one really cares about your life but your family and yourself, and a few friends you might make. To the rest of the people you might matter as an abstraction, but you aren’t quite real to them, and they won’t mourn long if you pass. Your decision to suicide won’t make people care about you more or less, and the crueler of them will make jokes about you winning the “Darwin Awards”. You killing yourself won’t prove anything, is my point. There is nothing you can do, ultimately, to force other people to care about you. If you can learn to care about yourself, however, you will find that various people notice that, and will start to care about you. It’s not a paradox, but it may seem like one at first.

In sum – Please don’t kill yourself. Your situation is unlikely to be as grim as you may think it is. You are very likely to outgrow it. There are better solutions (changing the environment, working hard at real psychotherapy, working with the doctor on a useful medication regime) available to you. I recommend postponing the thoughts of suicide for now (they’ll always be available to pick up on again if you need them), and trying again to make a better life for yourself with the help of professional assistance if necessary. Give yourself some time, and work hard on solutions that may be helpful before discarding them. See if you can’t make a difference.

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