What Are The Social Causes of Suicide? – Pt. 3

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

People who commit suicide often do so as an act of anger, and with a specific target to cause hurt and pain in mind. Therefore, it’s hard to truly evaluate depression and suicidal thoughts without taking social circumstances into consideration. In part three of “Suicide Awareness Week,” Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen discuss the relationship factors that can drive people to commit suicide.


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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD and addictions.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit amenclinics.com.

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit brainmdhealth.com. Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We're talking about Suicide Awareness Week and we've talked about the biological factors, the psychological factors, now we're gonna talk about the social factors, who kills themselves. More common people who are isolated, people who are-

Tana Amen: That makes sense.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Not connected-

Tana Amen: That makes sense.

Dr. Daniel Amen: To a group. Social isolation is bad for your brain. There's actually a higher incidence of Alzheimer's disease, clearly a higher incidence of depression in people who are lonely.

Tana Amen: So interesting, people who are isolated, that completely makes sense. Haven't they done studies on if you are isolated, it's good to have a pet even? I know that sounds crazy, but when people know that their pets are counting on them, it makes a difference for them, does it not?

Dr. Daniel Amen: It gives them purpose.

Tana Amen: Right?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right. I mean [crosstalk 00:01:43]-

Tana Amen: 'Cause they don't want-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Taking him for a walk in the morning, that gives him purpose.

Tana Amen: And like the cat, like I know like what would happen to him, right? You think about these things. So it's like having a baby.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So-

Tana Amen: They're dependent.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So being connected really helps. So when I was a medical student, I took a month elective called emergency psychiatry. So we handled all the cases in the emergency room and suicide is the most common reason that a psychiatrist is called into the emergency room, and we had to learn how to evaluate people quickly. And one of my professors had what he called the target theory of suicide. And what that is is when you evaluate someone who suicidal, you wanna go what's the goal of the behavior. Is at that they want to change someone else or you can't find the reason for the behavior? So the target theory is who's the target. Is-

Tana Amen: They wanna hurt someone.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Somebody broke up with them?

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And they claim ... You don't do well with this. They claim-

Tana Amen: I don't.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That if they don't come back, that they're gonna kill themselves. And so you wanna go who's the target to their behavior, and if it's another person and the person gives in to the behavior ... So they go, "Okay. I'm coming back to you so you don't kill yourself." That person is acutely safe. You can send them home, but they're chronically dangerous because someone has taught them that they can manipulate others with suicidal behavior.

Tana Amen: So I'm not a bad person after all.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You want to explain that to our group?

Tana Amen: I had someone do that very thing. So I wasn't just evil. I didn't just say, "Well go ahead." I didn't do that. I basically said, "I'm not ..." I basically said, "As a nurse, I have to report you. So this is not something that I am qualified to handle. I'm going to call someone to handle it and one of two things is happening. You're either manipulating me or you're serious. If you're manipulating me, I definitely don't want you in my life. And if you're not manipulating me, you need to be seen by someone who's professional and can handle this." So.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Wow.

Tana Amen: Yeah, it didn't go over very well.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That's perfect. Your answer to that situation was perfect and as soon as you said that to him, what did he say?

Tana Amen: Snapped right out of it, got really upset. "No, no, no. Don't call anybody!" Bye.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So that's a perfect way to handle it. Too often people give in 'cause they don't want the guilt associated with it, but you actually offered help but you didn't give into the behavior. People who don't give into the behavior, that person's at risk if they're not gonna give up the idea. He gave up the idea-

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Of it 'cause he was clearly manipulating you. But if they don't give up the idea, you need to hospitalize them-

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Because they're dangerous.

Tana Amen: And I basically said, "I'm hanging up and calling 911." So-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Now when you cannot find a target to the behavior, those people are dangerous. They have had a head injury, they have low thyroid, they have a major depression or they're bipolar depression and they're dangerous and you have to be very protective of them. So you see you can find the target, you ... they ... you give into the target so safe now, but chronically dangerous. You don't give in and they don't give up the idea of killing themselves-

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: They're dangerous, you need to protect them-

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Or you can't find the target, you need to figure out why.

Tana Amen: So this is sort of a bizarre question, maybe. When someone is ... If you determine as a professional that someone is truly suicidal, you can't find this target. How dangerous are they to others?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, that's a different discussion.

Tana Amen: I mean if someone is dangerous to themselves, are they potentially dangerous to others?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Potentially, and we've all heard cases in the news repeatedly over the years of people who've killed other people and then killed themselves. So one of the theories about the school shooters is they are in fact suicidal and they're gonna take a lot of people with them. So they are devoid of a spiritual anchor, which we're gonna talk about in the next podcast.

Tana Amen: 'Cause my thought is if you're getting to the place where you're willing to take your own life, other people's lives really don't mean that much to you.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, not necessarily 'cause there are many people who are ... who killed themselves who are highly moral people. They never would hurt anyone.

Tana Amen: Okay.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And then there are people either because they have damage to their frontal lobes or they're morally bankrupt that, "I'm gonna kill myself and I'm gonna take as many people with me.", and that's not uncommon. And one of the risk factors for suicide is a relational breakup.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So I mean talking about this social-

Tana Amen: I mean custody battles and-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Circle, not only custody battles but divorce-

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Break ups. I often say people are never as crazy as the first six months when they're getting divorced.

Tana Amen: Oh, no those ... And domestic violence calls or what police officers are most afraid of.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right. Because when our relationships break apart, that's when people tend to be more vulnerable.

Tana Amen: Yeah.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And that's why getting your relationships right in my new book 'Feel Better Fast and Make It Last', there's a whole chapter on attachments and how important they are because if your relationships aren't right, you're not right. There's actually a treatment for depression called interpersonal psychotherapy. Teaching people to get along better with others, actually treats depression and in some studies as effectively is anti depressant medication. And when we get along, I'm happy as can be and if for whatever reason we're fighting, that makes me miserable. Now I tend to be more homicidal than suicidal. Right? F you is always better than F me. I always say, "That's always healthier." But ...

Tana Amen: I'm glad you said that and not me. Finally it's not me.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So getting your relationships right is critical and when you see people that have problems with suicidal thoughts, surrounding them with other people ... I think one of the most effective things we do for people here at Amen Clinics, is not only do we evaluate you. We sort of want to evaluate your system and how can we get you more connected to other healthy people because that just helps you so much.

Tana Amen: Right. I like it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So if we wanna talk quickly, if you want to improve your relationships, ask yourself today, what is it I can do to make my relationships better. Have empathy for other people, be a good listener, be assertive, but the words I always say for assertiveness is firm-

Tana Amen: And kind.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And kind. Also learn to have grace and be forgiving. It's so powerful. Forgiveness is just so powerful. Notice what you like about other people more than what you don't. I mean that's really some of the simple ways to begin to improve your relationship.

Tana Amen: I think sometimes if you're in a really bad place, just doing one small nice thing for someone else can turn it around. You know?

Dr. Daniel Amen: So there's excess study from Baltimore, the Baltimore Longevity study. So it's a fairly famous study, where they got people to volunteer and over the next year compared to the people who didn't volunteer, their hippocampus, that area in your brain we've talked about ... the hippocampus is Greek for seahorse that's involved with mood and memory, actually grew-

Tana Amen: Interesting.

Dr. Daniel Amen: In the volunteer. So get outside of your head and I'm Barbara Bush actually wrote about this when her husband was head of the CIA. He stopped talking to her-

Tana Amen: Oh.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Because he couldn't talk to her-

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Because all the things were classified-

Tana Amen: That would be terrible.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And she got very depressed. It was around the time she went into menopause. So there were hormonal issues, so biological issues, but the social issues were really important because she felt-

Tana Amen: She felt excluded.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Very connected to him and now she's very lonely. And what she found that really helped her a lot was she volunteered. So she got outside of her head into the head of other people and it just made a huge positive difference.

Tana Amen: So I just had an experience really quickly with one of my nieces who she's been doing really well. She went to church camp recently and had this amazing experience, but came home and it's hard to keep up that high when you come home. She comes home and she kinda got back into the whole teenage thing of like bashing yourself. And so she felt really bad about herself one day and she was beating herself up and just had a full blown meltdown of just like how much she doesn't like herself and she was just going crazy. And so went and picked her up and I said, "So what's different this week than last week? You were so high last week. What changed this week?" And I wanted her to identify it. So I kept asking her questions to get her to identify it. And so basically we got ... I kept doing this until she finally got to what I was trying to get her to get to.

"So basically what it was is last week you were around a whole bunch of people who were thinking about something bigger than themselves. Right? They were focusing on amazing projects and togetherness and just really focusing on something much bigger than yourself. You had no social media and you had no mirrors. You had no makeup on and you had no mirrors and you did not feel bad about yourself, not even once. But you came home, nose back in the mirror, nose back in social media, your back thinking about the same things. You're not focused on that thing that's bigger than yourself or with your same group and what happened? You spiraled, went right down the drain, went right back into a depression. And isn't that interesting?" She goes, "Well what can I do?" I go, "Well you tell me what you can do?" So we went back and forth for awhile and she goes, "Well I guess I could start thinking about something bigger than myself." Wow.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And that will lead us into the spiritual component of preventing suicide. Stay with us.

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