A Real Housewives Tragedy: The Suicide of Russell Armstrong

21 Aug

With the media attention given to Russell Armstrong’s recent tragic suicide, I figured there may be an opportunity for the public to understand suicide a little bit better.  Russell, the husband of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Taylor Armtrong, was reportedly suffering from major financial strain and he and his wife were in the process of divorce.  Instead of speculate as to why he did what he did, I intend to help readers understand suicide from a psychologist who has often worked intimately with it (me).

For many of us, we are mystified by such a horrific act and may struggle to comprehend how someone could make a decision to end their life- especially when there are children involved.  I have seen firsthand the devastating consequences suicide can have on the surviving family members, friends and loved ones.  I hope by debunking some common myths about suicide I can give readers an opportunity to understand suicide better and hopefully taken action if to prevent it, if needed.

Myth 1:  Everyone who commits suicide suffers from clinical depression.

Although depression is one of the most common reasons a person may have thoughts of suicide, not everyone who suicides has clinical depression.  People with Bipolar illness and Schizophrenia are at a particularly high risk of suicide.  Individuals with a substance abuse issues or addiction are also at an increased risk.  We also know that recent losses- such as a major financial loss or the death of a loved one or divorce can trigger thoughts of suicide even when the person does not meet criteria for Major Depression.

One thought pattern that is common among people who suicide is a sense of hopelessness.  The recent financial crisis in theU.S.affects people on a macro and micro level.  We may feel hopeless about the economy in general and if one has serious financial stress on top of that, they may feel even more hopeless and fearful.  The relationship between financial crisis is not just an American phenomenon.  Research found inEuropethat the number of suicides in European countries increased during their recent financial crisis.

Myth 2:  More women commit suicide than men.

In theUnited Statesresearch has found that actually more men than women commit suicide.  However, almost twice as many women attempt suicide than men.  It is believed that the reason for this is that men tend to use more lethal means.

Myth 3:  It is a bad idea to ask someone if they feel suicidal, because it might give them ideas, or somehow encourage them to do it.

Clinicians know that this is not true because it is our duty to make sure we ask if people feel suicidal and assess for risk when we see clients in therapy.  However, many people may hold onto the unfounded belief that asking someone if they are feeling suicidal may somehow push them over the edge to do it.  Due to this unfounded fear loved ones may avoid talking about suicide with the person they are worried about.  It is often difficult for individuals contemplating suicide to talk about it with others, asking them directly about it may open the door for them to share.  It is very important to realize that just asking someone if they are thinking of suicide will not make them do it.  Think of it this way- if you yourself are not feeling suicidal and someone asked you about it- would you suddenly think to yourself “Hmmmm…. That sounds like a good idea.”  Suicidal thoughts and actions are a very personal choice.  If you are concerned about someone, the best thing you can do is ask them in a very matter-of-fact and non-accusatory way.  Try to be gentle and straightforward.  They may be relieved someone has asked and may want help but not be sure how to ask for it.

Myth 4:  We can always see if coming.  Who is going to suicide and when is predictable.

Even clinicians who are trained to assess a risk of suicide in others may not know who and when someone will suicide.  Many people who do suicide don’t seek psychological help beforehand.  If someone suffers from depression, they may actually seem better in the days and weeks leading up to their suicide.  This is thought to be because they feel relief in having come to the decision to end their life and escape their emotional pain.  Also, when someone is starting to come out of a depression but is still feeling sad they may still have the depressed mood, but they may have the energy to carry out their plans.  It is important to know the warning signs of suicide and take them seriously!  But we must also acknowledge that we can not predict human behavior with 100% accuracy.  This is very important for the loved ones of suicide victims to understand since there is often strong feelings of guilt among the loved ones who are left behind.  (See below for some common warning signs of suicide).

The Serious Consequences of Suicide

Suicide is a selfish act.  It has a tremendous effect on those left behind- often creating scars that will last a lifetime.  When I have clients who are having thoughts of suicide I often remind them very bluntly about the impact that decision could have on their loved ones and children.  Sometimes people get so locked into their own pain, they find it hard to look outside themselves, and they may have a distorted view that somehow ending their life will be better for others.  This distorted view must be challenged and any mention of suicide or indication of suicide be taken very seriously.  If you are a survivor of suicide (meaning someone you loved has committed suicide), there are resources available to help you.  Check out the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at http://www.afsp.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.viewPage&page_id=1

Warning Signs:

-          person starts talking about death or suicide

-          the person begins to give away their belongings

-          the person is suffering from serious depression

-          the person has access to firearms or other lethal means

-          there has experienced a recent personal loss- or serious financial loss

-          the person is intoxicated or abusing substances

If you have more questions or would like assistance for yourself or someone you know, more information is available at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

2 Responses to “A Real Housewives Tragedy: The Suicide of Russell Armstrong”

  1. christine August 22, 2011 at 7:01 pm #

    My aunt committed suicide. I observed how difficult it was for my father and her other relatives.

  2. harryleemartin August 21, 2011 at 11:24 pm #

    I was always a little confounded when I read that people contemplating suicide will sometimes appear happier before hand. But now from the class, I realize they “got off the fence” and planned action, albeit one with horribly negative and tragic consequences. Great post!

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