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Monday Medical News: Killing Me Softly

Posted Aug 16 2010 5:50am

This weekend I did a lot of thinking as I unfortunately spent more time in bed that I would have liked.  I had an emotional discussion with my husband about what the future would hold.  My doctor returns from vacation today so we talked about what options even remain as far as to try to get rid of the pain (just pain meds?  surgery?  nothing?).  I turn 29 this year this October.  This September marks 7 years since my initial diagnosis.  Seven years of spontaneity, freedom, and youth lost to chronic illness.  I began to ask myself, “Will I spend the next 50 years in pain?”  then it became, “Can I spend the next 50 years in pain?”  And my answer was “no.”

Now please understand that I’m not planning to harm myself or anyone else.  But it made me think, how many other individuals out there who suffer with chronic pain and illness ask themselves the same question?  Let’s face it, suicide is not a topic that is discussed with delight and eagerness.  Unfortunately its often a topic not discussed at all.  I love the organization To Write Love on Her Arms whose mission is to bring awareness to self-cutting and suicide  Thank goodness organizations like this exist.

But back to my point and my research for today’s medical news.  I went on a hunt to find information regarding a correlation between chronic illness and suicide (if one even existed).  I came across this amazing article, called Killing Me Softly , which was written by Lisa Myers.  I hope this brings some awareness to the issue.

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Killing Me Softly : FM/CFS & Suicide

By Lisa Lorden Myers

Editor’s Note: Lisa Lorden Myers, a CFS/fibromyalgia patient from California, is a well-known writer. For three years, she was the Guide to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia at About.com. This article was originally published in Fibromyalgia Frontiers, the journal of the National Fibromyalgia Partnership.

On August 15, 1996, Dr. Jack Kevorkian reportedly assisted in the suicide of Judith Curren, 42, of Pembroke, Massachusetts. She suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia (FM). Jan Murphy, another FM sufferer, also turned to Kevorkian for help; ABCNews.com later reported her assisted suicide in the summer of 1997.

A recently publicized investigation in the UK revealed that just last year, Julia Revill, age 58, hanged herself outside her family home after becoming frustrated at a lack of medical help for her Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME). ME is the name used abroad for chronic fatigue syndrome. She had shown some improvement after treatment at the UK’s only ME hospital in Essex but had been refused funding by the local health authority for further treatment there, and her condition deteriorated.

The loss of “one of our own” always hits hard. These and other reports sent shock waves through the FM/CFS community. Patients with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome have an exquisite understanding of the pain, both physical pain and emotional anguish, associated with having a poorly understood, incurable disease. “When you start hearing there is no hope, no treatment, and no cure over and over, you lose your will to fight,” wrote Jan Murphy in a eulogy read at her funeral. “What most people saw of me was a shell of what was going on inside.”

The FM/CFS community is certainly not alone in addressing the problem of suicide. Each year, nearly 30,000 people in the United States take their own lives. It is the 11th leading cause of death in our country and accounts for more than 10% of all deaths in the US.

It is unclear whether there is an increased risk of suicide among FM/CFS patients, as compared to the general population. No specific data exist about the number of FM/CFS-related suicides. However, there is evidence that chronic pain and illness put patients at risk for suicide. According to the CFIDS Association of America, experts studying 80 suicide cases in the state of Washington suggested that physical illness, including cancer, heart disease and arthritis, contributed to half of those suicides. An illness like fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, which is often doubted or neglected by the medical community, the public, and sometimes family and friends, can present unique problems. Patients with FM/CFS can become victims of isolation and despair.

Secondary depression is a well-known symptom of FM/CFS and is common with any type of chronic pain. Sufferers depend on a variety of sources of support, including pain management, psychological support, and financial support. When one of these essential needs remains unmet over a long period of time, it is possible for patients to begin to believe that their situation is hopeless.

In fact, a recent report published by Action for ME, a UK non-profit organization, revealed that 51% of survey respondents have felt suicidal as a result of their illness. Those with the most severe cases of the illness and who received delayed diagnosis and management were most likely to have considered suicide.

Martha Ainsworth, founder and director of Metanoia, a non-profit organization dedicated to suicide prevention, describes the problem of suicide succinctly. She writes, “Suicide happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.” There are many kinds of pain that may lead to suicide, and individuals vary greatly in their capacity to withstand pain. According to Ainsworth, you can survive suicidal feelings if you do either of two things: (1) find a way to reduce your pain, or (2) find a way to increase your coping resources. Both are possible.

It is important to realize that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. The Journal of the American Medical Association has reported that 95% of all suicides occur at the peak of a depressive episode. For many people who feel suicidal, there seems to be no other way out. But suicidal thoughts are typically a reflection of distorted thinking caused by severe depression or even by the neurological changes associated with FM/CFS itself. When we are depressed, we tend to see things through the very narrow perspective of the present moment. A week or a month later, things may look completely different.

Most people who once thought about killing themselves are now glad to be alive. They say they didn’t want to end their lives – they just wanted to stop the pain. According to Dr. William Collinge, Ph.D., author of several books including Recovering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, “If you can remind yourself that the suicidal thoughts or feelings are transitory and symptomatic of the illness, this will help you get through those times when you are in the bottom of the pits and can’t see any way out. Also, talking about your feelings with a confidant or loved one can help immeasurably.”

Experts agree that talking about suicidal feelings is one of the most important things you can do. Talking to a caring and supportive friend or family member can be helpful, and there are a variety of helplines and support groups to whom people who are feeling suicidal can reach out. Severe depression, the primary cause of suicide, is highly treatable. If depression is recognized and treated, many suicides can be prevented.

Anyone who has suffered with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome knows that it requires a huge adjustment, not only to the illness itself but to all the consequences it has on our lives. Chronic illness is likely to affect the way sufferers live, the way they see themselves, and how they relate to others. With the present state of world events, many people are feeling additional tension, anxiety, or sadness. But suffering with severe depression may be unnecessary. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, it’s essential that you know you don’t have to go it alone. Suicide is preventable, and there are a variety of resources that can provide the support you need.

Related Articles

Additional Resources

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE)
www.save.org

Befrienders International
www.befrienders.org

American Association of Suicidology
www.suicidology.org

Suicide: Read This First
www.metanoia.org/suicide

National Hopeline Network
1-800-SUICIDE
www.hopeline.com

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