For Suicidal Thoughts
Suicide Awareness & Prevention Month: Understanding a Brain in Crisis
In this psychoeducation video, Dr. Kate Truitt helps us to understand a brain in crisis and learn how to act if it happens to us or a loved one.
An Introduction to the Havening Touch
Dr. Kate Truitt introduces us to the havening touch in this psychoeducational video. We have the ability to actually shift the electrochemical experience of our brain. This simple touch doesn’t require a lot of executive function or attention while we do it. Our brain can be engaged in other cognitive exercises at the same time, which empowers the Havening Techniques.
Understanding the Impact of Stress & Trauma: The Window of Tolerance
In this psychoeducation video, Dr. Kate Truitt walks us through the window of tolerance and the impact of long-term stress and trauma on the mind and body. Our mind and body are a closed loop system, what impacts one impacts the other. The window of tolerance is the body in its optimal state, where it can access both reason and emotion.
Neuroscience of Traumatic Grief & Loss: Separation Anxiety & Suicidal Thoughts
Optimize your mental health with Dr. Kate Truitt as she delves into the neuroscience of grief and suicidal thoughts during Suicide Awareness Month. Learn why grief can profoundly alter your brain’s neurobiology, impacting serotonin and dopamine levels, as well as your emotional connection to the world.
Brain in Crisis: The Neuroscience Perspective on Suicidal Thoughts
By Dr. Kate Truitt
“We are superbly designed to deal with anything life throws at us, but our anti-suicide defenses are not fail-safe either.”
— Clifford Soper
Intricate Processes and Pathways at Play in Suicidal Thoughts
Within our brain, there are intricate processes and pathways at play when it comes to suicidal thoughts. By understanding these processes, we can gain valuable insights into prevention and treatment strategies. This is especially important considering that approximately 1 million people worldwide lose their lives to suicide each year. Suicidal thoughts are often linked to mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), highlighting the multidimensional nature of this complex issue. The urgency to deepen our understanding of the underlying mechanisms is evident.
When we experience distressing or overwhelming emotions, it’s not uncommon for suicidal thoughts to arise. This may seem counterintuitive, but in a way, our brain is trying to protect us. As biological beings, our primary instinct is survival. But when we face immense emotional pain or trauma, it can sometimes feel like there’s no way out. And our brain may interpret suicide as a final solution that will alleviate our suffering. It’s almost as if our brain says, “If this is so painful that I can’t bear it anymore, then the only way to survive is to escape it altogether.”
Understanding Suicidal Thoughts: Why Our Brain May See It as a Final Solution
This can be a difficult concept to grasp, especially when we consider the tremendous loss and grief that suicide can bring. But it’s important to understand that the origin of suicidal thoughts is not necessarily a desire to die but rather a desire to escape unbearable pain.
Our amygdala, which I fondly call Amy, is a part of the brain responsible for processing emotions, plays a significant role in suicidal thoughts and feelings. It’s always working hard to keep us alive, to protect us from danger, and to help us survive. But when we’re experiencing emotional distress, the amygdala can sometimes become overwhelmed and hijack our thought processes. It can cause us to see suicide as the only escape hatch, the only way to survive.
The Brain in Emotional Pain
Within the depths of your nervous system, there’s a bustling network of brain regions hard at work. Among them, we find the Amy the amygdala, responsible for emotional reactions; the hippocampus, which handles our memory; and the prefrontal cortex, involved in decision-making. These brain regions team up to create the fascinating dance between our emotional and physical pain experiences.
When we encounter emotional distress, such as heartache or sadness, those brain regions within the limbic system become hyperactive. Think of it like turning up the volume on a radio. This hyperactivity intensifies our negative feelings and amplifies our experience of emotional pain.
For example, Amy the amygdala, the emotional powerhouse of our brain, plays a significant role in our emotional reactions. This part of the brain can become particularly active when emotions run high, leading to heightened emotional responses. It’s like your inner emotional alarm system getting louder and stronger.
Meanwhile, the hippocampus, responsible for processing memories, also plays its part in the midst of emotional distress. It forms connections between the emotional pain we feel and the memories associated with it. Just like a skilled archivist, the hippocampus helps create a link between our emotions and the experiences that triggered them, leaving a lasting impact on our memory.
During emotional distress, the prefrontal cortex, our brains’ decision-making headquarters, can be affected, making it harder for us to think clearly and make rational choices. It’s like having a foggy windshield that makes navigating through the storm of negative thoughts and emotions challenging.
By understanding the connections between emotional and physical pain within our brain, we gain valuable insights into our own experiences. It reminds us that emotional pain is not just an abstract concept; it has a tangible presence within our neural pathways. Acknowledging this can help us approach our emotional well-being with a renewed understanding and compassion for ourselves.
If you want to learn more about the Brain in Crisis and what to do if it happens to you or a loved one, I invite you to watch this video, Suicide Awareness & Prevention Month: Understanding a Brain in Crisis w/ Dr. Kate Truitt, which is also linked in the sidebar of this article.
Neurotransmitters & Suicidal Thoughts
Our brain uses a complex system of chemicals called neurotransmitters to communicate with different parts of our body. These little messengers play a vital role in regulating so many physiological functions, including our moods and emotions.
But here’s the thing – when there’s an imbalance in these neurotransmitter levels, it can have a significant impact on our mental health. Imbalances in neurotransmitters can lead to a range of mental health issues, from those minor mood disturbances we all experience from time to time to more severe states of depression, even the emergence of suicidal thoughts.
Serotonin – More than Just a “Feel-Good” Chemical
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a pivotal role in modulating mood, emotions, and sleep. Produced in the brain and the intestines, it helps regulate the body’s internal clock, appetite, and even our experience of pain.
Though often called the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, serotonin’s function is far more complex. Reduced levels of serotonin are directly associated with feelings of depression. There is a well-documented link between serotonin deficiency and suicidal ideation.
Dopamine & Norepinephrine – The Dynamic Duo of Reward and Alertness
Dopamine is intricately linked with the brain’s pleasure and reward system, promoting feelings of satisfaction and motivation. On the other hand, norepinephrine, a close relative of dopamine, primarily focuses on attentiveness, emotions, and the body’s “fight or flight” stress response.
A deficiency in dopamine can manifest as feelings of apathy, anhedonia (lack of pleasure in usually enjoyable activities), and a lack of motivation, all of which are common symptoms in depression. Norepinephrine imbalances, on the other hand, can result in decreased alertness and energy. When either or both are out of balance, it can pave the way to feelings of hopelessness and despair, potentially elevating the risk of suicidal ideation.
GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) – Keeping Brain Activity in Check
GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It acts as a counterbalance to excitatory neurotransmitters, ensuring that the brain does not become overactive. In essence, GABA helps maintain equilibrium in our neural activities.
Low levels of GABA can result in an overactive brain, much like a car engine that’s perpetually revving without a break. This overactivity can manifest as anxiety, restlessness, and constant worrying. Chronic feelings of anxiety and unrest can further deepen depressive states and amplify suicidal thoughts.
It’s important to understand that many factors influence our mental health, and neurotransmitters are just one piece of the puzzle. But they play a significant role in regulating our mood and emotions, so it’s crucial to pay attention to them.
In this psychoeducational video about the Neuroscience of Traumatic Grief & Loss: Separation Anxiety & Suicidal Thoughts, learn why grief can profoundly alter our brain’s neurobiology, impacting serotonin and dopamine levels, as well as our emotional connection to the world.
The Impact of Trauma
One of the most significant influences on brain structure and function is trauma. And trauma has been recognized as a significant influencing factor in developing suicidal thoughts and ideation. And in Dear Live Podcast with Dr. Kathryn Hamel, we delved into the Neurobiology of Trauma.
Studies have shown that traumatic events can lead to a decrease in the size of the prefrontal cortex, and when the prefrontal cortex is reduced, its capacity for self-regulation diminishes. This means that an individual may struggle with impulsive behaviors, difficulty in making rational decisions, and heightened emotional reactions. These factors can create a fertile ground for developing suicidal ideation, as the person might act on negative thoughts without the usual checks and balances provided by a fully functional prefrontal cortex.
Exposure to traumatic events has been found to increase the size and reactivity of Amy. An enlarged amygdala can lead to heightened emotional responses, making individuals more sensitive to potential threats, even if they are only perceived threats. This hypersensitivity can manifest as anxiety, mood disorders, or PTSD. When daily experiences constantly trigger strong emotional reactions, the individual can become mentally exhausted and overwhelmed, which can heighten feelings of hopelessness and thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
The combined effects of a reduced prefrontal cortex and an amplified amygdala can be particularly detrimental to one’s mental health. A person might get trapped in a cycle of heightened emotional responses without the neural tools to effectively regulate or understand them. This can create feelings of helplessness and an inability to foresee a positive or neutral future, making individuals more susceptible to suicidal ideation.
You can learn more about the impact of stress and trauma on the mind and body in this YouTube video, Understanding the Impact of Stress & Trauma: The Window of Tolerance with Dr. Kate Truitt.
The Brain’s Capacity for Resilience and Recovery
While the brain can be deeply affected by trauma, stress, and various life events that may lead to suicidal thoughts and ideations, it also has the capacity for resilience and recovery through neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. It signifies that the current state of one’s brain and the patterns of thinking that lead to suicidal ideation are not fixed. With the right interventions and practices, one can reshape these patterns, leading to more positive and adaptive thoughts and behaviors.
The mind’s inherent capacity to adapt, combined with the power of therapeutic techniques, offers promising avenues for those struggling with intense psychological pain, including suicidal thoughts.
For those dealing with trauma, stress, and intense life events that may contribute to suicidal thoughts and ideations, neurofeedback can provide a glimmer of hope. It’s a technique that harnesses the brain’s ability to reorganize itself through neuroplasticity facilitating the brain’s recovery and promoting resilience. This blog article about Neurofeedback: Training for Your Brain discusses how it can be used to create a resilient brain and heal through difficulties brought by challenges.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Rewiring Thought Patterns
For individuals grappling with suicidal thoughts, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be instrumental in overcoming and changing harmful thought patterns. It’s based on the premise that our thoughts, feelings, and actions are interconnected, and by changing negative thoughts, we can lead to positive behavioral changes.
By identifying cognitive distortions like catastrophizing, black-and-white thinking, etc., that may be fueling feelings of hopelessness, mental healthcare providers can guide individuals to cultivate more balanced and constructive ways of thinking. Over time, this can reduce the intensity and frequency of suicidal ideations.
Mindfulness Practices: Anchoring in the Present
Mindfulness can be a powerful tool for those dealing with suicidal ideations. By grounding oneself in the present moment, it helps to distance from overwhelming negative thoughts and emotions. Regular mindfulness practice can lead to structural changes in the brain, particularly in areas linked to self-awareness, empathy, and stress. Moreover, mindfulness can help individuals recognize the transient nature of their thoughts and emotions, understanding that they come and go, and they don’t define one’s entire reality.
The Benefits of the Havening Technique and Neuroplasticity in Overcoming Suicidal Thoughts
Another helpful tool which can be helpful for those going through suicidal thoughts is the Havening Technique. It is a psycho-sensory therapy that employs sensory input in through touch to produce therapeutic results. It typically involves touch-based actions, like hugging oneself or rubbing one’s hands together. If you’re new to the Havening Techniques, you can learn more about it through this YouTube video, An Introduction to the Havening Touch with Dr. Kate Truitt, which is also linked on the side of this article.
In times of extreme psychological pain, such as suicidal thoughts and ideations, it can feel overwhelming to navigate the complex workings of the human brain. That’s why equipping ourselves with knowledge and understanding of how our brains function can pave a path towards healing and resilience.
And if you’re looking for a roadmap towards healing and empowerment, my book, Healing in Your Hands: Self-Havening Practices to Harness Neuroplasticity, Heal Traumatic Stress, and Build Resilience, is a valuable resource. Within its pages are powerful client stories, neuroscience insights, tools, and exercises to help you heal the past, create the present, and build the future you want.
While this book and other resources offer valuable insights, tools and guided exercises that can be used for dealing with suicidal thoughts, it does not substitute professional medical advice or treatment. It’s always a good idea to seek professional help and guidance if you’re struggling with mental health issues that are interfering with your daily life. If you think you might need help from a professional, please see our list of services and how we can help you.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. You can contact a local mental health professional, a crisis hotline, or emergency services for help. Together, we can build a community that supports mental health and wellness, one that values compassion, understanding, and action in addressing mental health challenges.
Mann, J. J. (2003). Neurobiology of suicidal behaviour. Nature reviews. Neuroscience, 4(10), 819-828.
Eisenberger, N. I. (2012). The pain of social disconnection: examining the shared neural underpinnings of physical and social pain. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 13(6), 421-434.
Bremner, J. D. (2006). Traumatic stress: effects on the brain. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 8(4), 445.