Grief isn’t confined to bad changes

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Your recent blog about suicide, along with a conversation I had, is prompting me to write this question.

Suicide is a mystery… but what is even more of a mystery to me are the people who commit suicide just as things are finally getting better. A friend of mine mentioned several cases he’d read about where people offed themselves- one was a man who, after finally getting a job after years of searching, hung himself; and one was a woman who killed herself after it seemed she had it made with a fiancé and bright future. No one could discover any skeletons in the closet with either of these cases. It was just a big mystery.

I can understand why people might kill themselves when things are really bad- but how can someone do it when things are looking better? It just doesn’t make any sense to me.

Debbie Downer

Dear Debbie,

We ran a blog a while back answering this question in regards to people recovering from a major depressive episode. Statistically, people kill themselves less often during the depth of their depression than during the downward  plunge into it or recovery from it. The reason behind this is the same as for anyone who kills themselves when life changes for the better. It is about change itself.

Grief can happen with any change, good or bad. There is an adjustment period and an internal process that needs to occur.  All people have different sensitivities to change.

Over time, humans habituate to any circumstance, good or bad. Any change in the status quo brings things to the forefront of our attention again.

Interestingly this same phenomena can occur from medication. Medicine that initially works in resolving symptoms of pain, anxiety, depression can then make each of these symptoms worse if one builds tolerance to the drug. Ironically, the returning symptoms are perceived as greater than the initial symptoms. We respond reflexively to changes in our comfort levels. Once brought to our attention, this uncomfortable change in mood is perceived as more drastic since we now have a medicated, symptom free state to compare it to.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says:  I think that people fear the unknown even if it might be better than what they have now. This is also a reason why people stay in abusive relationships- we would rather deal with the devil we know; especially if we are convinced that pretty much everyone is a devil.

Something else to consider- when things really suck, we can sink into it without effort. It doesn’t feel good, but it asks nothing of us.

When things start looking up, there is an expectation of effort; we are no longer invisible, floating lumps. The sensation of an object at rest straining to become an object in motion can be unbearable. Imagine if you thought it would never stop.

I believe that this is something that most suicides share- the belief that whatever is unbearable to them will never stop.


About Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Dr. Brilliant Cliché and the Granny Dr. are a fictional web presence and advice blog. Together we offer a joint perspective that is deep but not academic, entertaining but not fluff, and educated yet street smart. By joining the internet community we hope to share thoughts and stimulate insightful conversation around pressing issues that affect us all. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. (This is not a site for therapy nor does it intend to replace medical or other professional care. ) You can leave comments here or email The Dr. at and don’t forget to like us on facebook. Our facebook page is Dr. Brilliant Cliche
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4 Responses to Grief isn’t confined to bad changes

  1. Ken Bryant says:

    During change, we are not responsible because we’re changing and we don’t know what to be responsible for. During change we have the highest amount of tolerance because the body doesn’t have specifics on what must be tolerated. It is during the high points of toleration we are at most risk for suicide. High pain, high risk, high danger, and high excitement, any of which seem to have a haven in a high tolerance state.

    • Dear Ken,

      Actually I would argue that periods of transitions and change increase ones vulnerability and therefor decrease ones tolerance, the “last straw phenomena.”

      Thanks for your continued interest

      Dr. Brilliant Cliché

  2. Ms.Duport says:

    I think that during change is when we need to have the MOST responsibility. This is when we are reconstructing. If we relinquish attention and responsibility, who knows how we will be put back together?

    • Dear Ms. Duport,

      Absolutely! Unfortunately many people don’t heed your words. Change means the unknown and ambiguity and many people are allergic to both. Denial, projecting the worst, avoidance, and suicide are all dysfunctional coping mechanisms employed to deal with change.

      Dr. Brilliant Cliché

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