I should probably start this post by saying I’m in a safe place and doing well. I am not suicidal I just have a bit of morbid curiosity on the subject.
I was watching a documentary the other day that mentioned the Suicide Forest at Mt. Fuji in Japan. (If you haven’t heard of it, I would suggest Googling it. It’s dark and sort of fascinating.) This had me thinking about views on suicide.
My Own Experience with Suicidal Thoughts
As a mental health worker, I would obviously do anything to prevent that final outcome for myself or anyone else.
I have only felt suicidal a couple of times, and both times I had an overwhelming feeling of being stuck – like nothing will ever change and there’s nothing I can do about it. Somewhere along the line, I asked for help.
I’ve always had a lot of help with my mental health. I have continuously seen a psychiatrist since I was twenty-one and I have seen therapists and other professionals off and on throughout the years. I feel very fortunate for that.
One thing that has always helped me is knowing that feelings are temporary.
Breakfast with My Husband
I’ve noticed I feel a little more passionate about this topic than many of my friends and family. Some of them feel it should always be the person’s choice, especially if they are truly suffering.
Sitting over breakfast at Bob Evans, I told my husband about this post and he had a few thoughts. My husband is a dispatcher for our local 911 where they receive many calls regarding people who are suicidal. For these calls, they always send police and EMS and the police are always the first to enter the scene. The police obviously are going to use force to try to stop someone from killing themselves and you can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a better way. Is force really necessary if they’re not hurting anyone else?
He also pointed out that we value free will and suicide is the last free choice a person can make.
Also, if you stop someone who is truly suffering from dying by suicide, is it for you or for them?
We both agree with assisted suicide in the case of a terminal illness.
It was an interesting breakfast. I miss having conversations with my husband like this.
Your Thoughts…Religious vs. Secular
I’m just really curious to get your thoughts on the topic. I think in Christianity it is a sin to die by suicide. Do you think that ever prevents anyone from doing it? Also, if you take religion out of it, should people view it as a viable option for ending their suffering?
I’m glad you had a disclaimer at the beginning of your post.
There was a girl in my high school friend group who was a miserable human being and a would-be bully. She tried really hard and caused a lot of trouble in the friend group. Most of us went to one branch of the state college and she went to another. Deprived of people who (barely) put up with her, she joined a campus fundagelical group and then tried to kill herself and dropped out of college. I ran into her a few years after that, and she told me that suicide was selfish. That surprised me (and still does): to me, suicide is the act of someone in so much trauma they believe death is the only relief. Maybe it’s a religious teaching that suicide is selfish? The thing with fundagelicals is that just about anything a woman does can be called “selfish” to shame her. Eat healthfully? VANITY. SELFISH. Dress nicely? Again, vanity and selfishness. Stand up for herself against abuse? SELFISH, all she thinks about is herself.
John Morales says
I’m just really curious to get your thoughts on the topic. I think in Christianity it is a sin to die by suicide.
Maybe in most of the many tens of thousands of versions of Christianity.
But one word: Martyr
(That’s the opposite of a sin, apparently)
Do you think that ever prevents anyone from doing it?
Sure. People are different.
Also, if you take religion out of it, should people view it as a viable option for ending their suffering?
It’s complicated, but overall, yes. Of course.
Dead people don’t suffer.
(Their family, their friends, their dependents, their pets… well, that’s different)
I don’t take the Christian church’s condemnation of suicide very seriously. For one thing, they revere martyrdom, but martyrdom is a form of suicide (sort of like “suicide by cop.”) They only pronounced suicide a sin because, in the early church, so many believers were killing themselves as an act of faith of some kind, and they were afraid of running out of Christians. Now, I think it’s because churches, at least the Catholic church, likes people to suffer because then they’ll be desperate and more receptive to the church’s commandments.
My own view on suicide is that you can’t talk about the morality of suicide without also talking about what motivates people to kill themselves. It’s usually because they are in unbearable pain (whether physical or psychological) and they see no other way out of it, and in many, many cases that pain is caused by society or by those in power over the person. In those cases, it seems like those in power would rather do nothing for the sufferer and then blame them when they kill themselves. The immorality lies in society’s choice to do nothing rather than the victim’s choice to die.
I speak from personal experience: as a child, I thought about suicide on a daily basis and I’m a bit amazed that I never went through with it. The adults around me placed expectations on me that I could not meet and they dealt with it by punishing and condemning me, which made it even harder to do what was expected of me. Looking back on it, I can see that it was obvious that their treatment of me was making me miserable, and I fault them to this day for simply doubling down and not even bothering to find out what was wrong with me, let alone try to help me with it.
I am also trans, and so am acutely aware of the dismal suicide statistics for trans people, especially trans children (cf. Leelah Alcorn), and we know that this is entirely due to how society and those in power over them abuse them. And I’m also aware of how popular it is to shift the blame to the trans people when they kill themselves. Like: “you can see how sick trans people are — they even try to kill themselves!”
I am in favour of intervention to prevent suicide, yet I am also in favour of euthanasia. Contradictory at first glance, but the two stances are for two distinct forms of suicide.
The former is because most suicide attempts are due to a temporary surge of emotion – grief at the loss of a child, anxiety due to looming financial ruin, guilt from accidentally killing another, a bad breakup – all sorts of things cando this. It may even be some small thing after a long period of unhappiness, a straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak. If a person is prevented from completing the act, it is often the case that the crisis will pass and the person will begin recovery, thankful that they are still alive to do so. This is called a crisis suicide, and I think I have explained why I support intervention.
The other type differs in that it is a decision made after careful consideration, usually after other solutions have been exhausted. Perhaps the person has cancer which has resisted treatment, an incurable degenerative disorder, or plain old age. Whatever the cause, the person has chosen suicide after weighing alternative solutions, and often after discussion with family and GP. A person is choosing their exit, the ultimate expression of body autonomy.
WMDKitty -- Survivor says
It’s my life.
More importantly, it’s my death.
I should 100% be able to make an exit on my own terms, at a time of my choosing.
When my close friend killed himself Christianity (or at least Christians) factored into the cause. R’s beautiful, vibrant 19 year old daughter had been in a car crash and was brain-dead. R had to make the call to withdraw life support. People in his church second-guessed his decision. I am sure he heard the whispers. It preyed on his mind. Anyone rational would have seen that he did the only thing possible. That was not the only cause of his despair and suicide three months after his daughter’s death, but it didn’t help.
(From what we now know about CTE, I believe the concussions R suffered during his participation in full contact mixed martial arts in his younger years probably were the biggest reason for his death.)
This passage has been gnawing at me ever since I read it:
My husband is a dispatcher for our local 911 where they receive many calls regarding people who are suicidal. For these calls, they always send police and EMS and the police are always the first to enter the scene.
This bothers me. Involving the police in non-crime situations frequently (usually?) makes things worse; this is a particular problem when people are suicidal, or others think they might be. Police officers rarely have any training in handling mental health issues and frequently make things worse, as their default mode of handling a situation is to start with deadly force or threats of deadly force. There was a recent case where someone’s medical alert device went off and the police were sent, and even though the person said they were ok, the police broke into his apartment and killed him.
I’ve had issues with suicidal ideation all my life and occasionally have times when I feel like I don’t know how I can go on, but the fear of having the police storming my apartment is enough to make me leery of calling any hotline, or indeed, anyone who I can’t trust to not call the police. The only hotline I know of that I would trust to call in that situation is the Trans Lifeline, since they explicitly promise not to call any emergency service without the caller’s consent.
Life is a joke. If you don’t stay to the end you don’t get to hear the punchline.
I’m a victim of suicide.
On one level that sounds like a massively self-involved thing to say, at least to me. My best friend checked out in spring of last year. I have no idea why. Formal mental health first aid training I have taken since has equipped me to spot the signals he was giving off, that I didn’t recognise at the time. If there is a next time, I’ll at least be in a position to ask the question – “have you been thinking about suicide?”. It sounds such a bald, almost rude question, and people think if they ask they’re going to put the idea in someone’s head. DO NOT think that. If they’ve not been thinking about suicide, you suggesting is NOT going to start them thinking it. If you’ve thought to ask, they likely have, even if in the abstract, and just you asking may stop them from following through. ASK. And importantly, do NOT use language like “You’re not thinking of doing anything stupid, are you?”, not least because people like me and my best mate spent most of our waking lives thinking about doing stupid things, as our lightsaber collections would attest. ASK, and ask bluntly in those words “Have you been thinking about suicide?”. It’s not comfortable, but believe me, it’s better than having to bury a friend. And if they say “yes”, get help.
The fact nobody else – not his work colleagues, not his family, not his other close friends – spotted the signs either is zero comfort. My wife convinced me to go to counselling to deal with the grief. It helped. Why am I making this about me? Because I have to believe that if I had spotted the signs and intervened, he’d still be here. So I have guilt. He wasn’t terminally ill (as far as anyone knows), he had a good job that he enjoyed and was good at, that earned him more money than he could sensibly spend, he had no addictions apart from boardgames, he had minimum three pretty much independent circles of friends who all loved him, none more than me. He was making plans. And yet he checked out. I have no idea why. I respect his choice. He didn’t fuck about “attempting” – he knew as I do that we are all fragile, easy to kill organisms, minutes or even seconds from death our entire lives.
His memorial was entirely secular, because as his mother said “there was no god in him”. She was a victim too. I can’t imagine what it’s like to outlive your child.
Is it a viable option? Always. I’ve had the thoughts. After the end of a relationship a decade and a half or so ago I sat, three or four thousand feet up in a paraglider, and unfastened all the straps, and just sat there. All I needed to do was lean forward out of the seat and fall. After a few minutes I decided not to, and discovered how fucking hard it is to rebuckle a paragliding harness while in flight. If someone has taken the decision to do it, and done it, well… OK. I won’t say “good for them”, because while it might be, it’s almost certainly really bad for someone else, not least the poor bugger who has to do the immediate cleanup or discover the scene. But it’s your right to do it, for whatever reason you decide.
I think clean, humane exits should be legal and available, for similar bodily autonomy reasons I think abortions should be, and with only nominal delays and hurdles to catch the spur of the moment people.
I have very little time for those who “attempt” (ALWAYS in quotes), because in my opinion, that’s not what they’re doing, and to suggest they are is to insult those who didn’t fuck about and simply did it. I do get that this opinion is… well, just wrong, almost certainly, and I won’t pursue this line further as I end up thinking and saying very harsh things about people who are clearly in at least some sort of crisis, mainly in anger at what I will always feel like was my failure to intervene and prevent a fully successful attempt. (no quotes).
I absolutely defend my right to take my own life. It is mine. Period. I will not left someone else guilt trip me into letting them decide for me how I want to travel or not travel this world.
I will take this one step further and suggest that the ultimate definer of humanity may be the option to take one’s own life. If you take that decision away from people you dehumanize them. It is a decision that requires self awareness and careful deliberation. Yes, some folks do kill themselves in a moment of self pity or angst. They are apart from those who decide to leave after thoughtful deliberation.
Yes, let’s care for the mentally ill. But a circular argument that says those who suicide must be mentally ill because…. serves no on in the end.