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Seattle therapist’s theory on suicide based on 16,000 cases

Kansas City Chiefs players stand arm-in-arm during a moment of silence following murder-suicide involving one of their teammates. The Chiefs had a quiet victory over the Carolina Panthers at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (AP photo)

“It’s tough when certain circumstances happen that you can’t undo,” says Romeo Crennel, head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs football team.

Chiefs’ linebacker Jovan Belcher shot himself in the head, killing himself at the team’s practice facility. Minutes before that, Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend after an argument.

The Cleveland Browns also confirm that a member of the team’s groundskeeping crew committed suicide at the team’s Ohio training facility.

Answers are hard to come by for the families involved.

Anyone who has had someone close kill himself or herself is left with a helpless feeling. They wonder “if only” they could have said the “right thing” to prevent the self-inflicted violence.

Obviously, it’s not that simple.

James Hayes has been a local mental health therapist for 30 years, and he can’t count the number of times he’s heard things like this:

“I’m looking for something, but I’m not sure what.” “I feel like I have been swallowed by an avalanche.” “The real me dissolved into thin air. “I don’t know how to get back to myself.”

His colleague Fredric Matteson, at Contextual Conceptual Therapy has studied 16,000 suicidal patients. Depression and mental illness are not the main triggers for suicide.

“After I started listening to this many people I started to see a through line. It’s a commonality or a trend that speaks to every situation that I find, and it wasn’t about them having bi-polar or depression,” says Matteson.

The “through line” is that suicidal people don’t see themselves the way the world sees them.

“They’re in this place, inside this avalanche of emotion, and they can’t locate themself,” he says the suicidal people he’s studied have all managed to create a divide in their personality. He calls it a “bifurcated” state.

There’s the person everyone else sees, who generally seems normal and might even appear outgoing and happy. Then there’s the true self, the one who deals with all the painful feelings of abandonment, depression, and any other extreme negative thoughts. That’s the person they hide from the world.

“The best place to hide something is to not be present,” says Matteson. “If I’m not here I can’t be hurt, but if I’m not here I can’t be in love either. I can’t be in a relationship. I can’t have true success. I can’t sustain success. I’m this split place here.”

People who are suicidal try to cut themselves off from their emotions. They’re really in a “lost place” where they are trying to get out of their pain without understanding where the pain comes from.

Mental health therapist Jason Moran says someone who says they’re suicidal is actually closer to a breakthrough than anyone realizes.

“It’s not that something’s wrong with me, something is trying to be right with me here, and I need to uncover what that is. What is this phenomenon that’s keeping them from seeing who they really are?” says Moran. “Once they understand that and can begin to see what you see, the suicidal feelings drop.”

The take away from their years of research is this: We need to talk about suicide more, not less. That’s the beginning of helping people deal with the disconnect between who they think they are and the person the world sees.


This story was first published in May after Junior Seau’s suicide stunned sports fans and former teammates who recalled the former NFL star’s ferocious tackles and habit of calling everyone around him “Buddy.”

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

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