This is a subject I have held back writing about. There is a fine line in writing between helpful exploration of a topic, and exploitation of others’ suffering. However, I feel that some people may benefit from a short perspective on what mindfulness has to teach us about suicidal thoughts and actions. Last week we had suicides of the fashion designer Kate Spade followed by that of chef Anthony Bourdain. Prior to this here in Scotland we had the tragic death of indie singer and songwriter Scott Hutchinson of the band Frightened Rabbit, and, even closer to where I live, the loss of three teenagers from the Wishaw area.

Every time a suicide is reported there is rightfully a demand that we do more about preventing future deaths. Charities get set up, most often by parents of those who have taken their own life, in the desperate hope that other parents and siblings and friends may avoid the lifelong agony that suicide of a family member brings. They urge people to come to their events, to talk about their feelings, and they lobby government to take practical steps to help reduce the fatalities. This is all deeply moving and noble, and I have tried to help such groups as and when I could.

But in my view there is a much deeper and larger approach to this awful issue. Put simply we are all not as mentally well as we could be. We are all somewhere on a spectrum whose far end is a strong suicidal or murderous impulse. Ironically and pitifully we don’t even look at what is at the other end of the spectrum. Consider just for a moment how happy, contented, compassionate, joyful and loving a human being could potentially become, then compare it with the wretched suffering of one who feels life is so painful or unbearable that they must end it.

Why we feel and think as we do is simply the result of just two sets of things. The first set is the genes we inherit. We get them from our parents, but they got them from theirs, and so on back to the beginnings of life. They are very influential in how we feel and what we think.

The second set of things that determine how we feel and think is every experience we have ever had, right from a moment when the brain is sufficiently developed in our womb.

It’s nature and nurture. Genes and experiences. There’s nothing else that can shape us to think and feel as we do. And it’s very complicated. We now know that they genes and experiences interplay and influence each other, all of which affects our thoughts, feelings and behaviour in a constant, fluid way, moment by moment. So one moment we can be laughing, and in the next angry or moody.

My view is that we have been given the most astonishing, brilliant but complex and volatile tool yet discovered. But we have been given no instruction manual. Religion and philosophy used to try to do that job. Religion did so in a dictatorial way. I still remember my Catechism from the age of four or five. Who made me? God made me. Why did God make me? God made me to know him, to love him, and to serve him in this world so that I may be happy with him forever in Heaven.

Religions and philosophies have had to adapt dramatically to scientific discoveries. The old instruction manual needed updated.

In my opinion we need a new instruction manual, and we all need to learn it for our own good and for the good of those around us. Suicide is not just a tragic loss of an individual’s gift of existence. It has a horrific and hugely debilitating effect on those closest to the victim.

Yet life is all we have, and looked at through a different lens, can legitimately be seen as an inexpressibly beautiful and awesome experience. This is the view from the other end of the spectrum. But we need a manual to move along that spectrum in the right direction.

What happens in many people’s lives is that they move along the spectrum, but in the wrong direction. Biologically we have a built-in negativity bias. We are more likely to see things negatively than positively, and certain aspects of our society logically reflect that bias and magnify it. The news media purports to tell “the news” but actually it tells only the tiniest part of what happens in life, and focuses almost exclusively on bad news or crises. So we have developing in our heads a vicious circle of negativity bias being constantly fed by a daily stream of negative stories which claim to be an accurate summary of what’s happening in our world.

We all need to arm ourselves against this unnoticed but relentless drift to the negative end of the mental spectrum, and we need to not only do that but work our way slowly, steadily and optimistically towards the other end of the spectrum.

This should be a societal priority, not a minor sticking plaster. None of us is predetermined to become suicidal. Each of us has the potential to be resiliently happy, powerfully loving and compassionate, and deeply infused with a sense of joy at being alive. In every country in the world not just here in Scotland, we are so far adrift from that potential we are all failed states. The purpose of life, and therefore of all societies, is to live it richly, and to love the living of it. This should be our national vision, and from it the strategic and operational work to achieve it should logically follow. All life is too precious to allow even the thought of suicide to enter a person’s mind. Let’s get serious about living our lives.