On suicide

Suicide is a disturbing topic that most of us would rather avoid thinking about. Recently I spoke with an old friend of mine. He was shaken up because just the previous day a work colleague and friend, a middle-aged man, had committed suicide. He said he was a cheerful, fun-loving person, hence his death came as a great shock.

Like all those who are close to people who commit suicide, my friend wracked his mind to see if there had been any warning signs that he should have observed and done something about. He also tried (and failed) to understand what might have pushed his friend over the edge and take such drastic action. It is true that he was in the terminal stages of divorce proceedings following an unhappy marriage but that it was pretty much over and he seemed to be looking forward to being single again. There was nothing in his life that seemed to be an insurmountable hurdle or to make life not worth living

Clancy Martin, who has tried to kill himself more than once and comes from a family that has suicides writes in Harper’s that we should talk more about it, because “Suicide is on the rise in America: more Americans die by suicide than in car accidents, and suicide by gun is almost twice as common as homicide by gun. (It’s hard to know how to feel about that last statistic.) Middle-aged men in America are committing suicide at an accelerating rate.” He goes on:

We tend to talk about suicide most when a famous person kills himself. There was, we all remember, the flurry of argument about suicide — much of it indignant, even outraged — when David Foster Wallace took his own life. His friends were deeply hurt, and many of them were writers, so they wrote about it. “[E]very suicide’s an asshole,” wrote Mary Karr, in a poem about Wallace’s death. “There is a good reason I am not/ God, for I would cruelly smite the self-smitten.” Suicide, seen as among the most selfish of acts, pushes a button in us that even murder doesn’t.

Or take the clever and witty Stephen Fry who seems to be riding a long wave of success in so many fields. He oozes urbane rationality and yet he revealed that he had tried to commit suicide last year and was rescued just in time but that he still struggled with it. He discussed his own case openly with an audience and said that at root, suicide is an irrational act.

“You may say, ‘How can anybody who’s got it all be so stupid as to want to end it all?'” Fry told the audience. “That’s the point, there is no ‘why?’ That’s not the right question. There is no reason. If there was reason for it, you could reason someone out of it.”

People tend to get angry at the person who committed suicide for throwing their lives away and causing immense grief to their loved ones. They also blame themselves for not seeing it coming. Martin says that people who commit suicide feel that their lives serve no useful purpose to society. They are not unaware that the act will cause their loved ones to feel grief and anger and guilt. But paradoxically, the very fact that they are willing to sacrifice their loved ones’ happiness merely confirms to them that society would be better off without people like them.

The sense that life is precious and worth living is what keeps us going but I don’t know where that feeling comes from and how best to convey it to others who may not feel it. All that we who have it can do is encourage people to hold on to it, however bleak and pointless life may seem to them.


  1. wtfwhatever says

    I appreciate your essay, but truly, just look around at FTB and the treatment that men, especially middle aged men are given around here with respect to their issues. It’s reflected across society.

    Richard Carrier is currently droning on about how all men, even that homeless dude in the alley are members of Patriarchy, the evil sky cult that rules society and oppresses women.

    Ally Fogg, the supposed MRA dude of FTB and PeeZus and Carrier rant about how feminists will save men from themselves, that men’s chosen MRA leaders are no good compared to feminist organizations.

    They will say that even though in this recession where men lost jobs disproportionately, women’s groups demanded jobs disproportionately set aside for them, they will say that even though women’s majority in college prompts articles complaining about colleges that set aside positions for male students, they will say that though NOW opposes joint shared custody of kids.

    Frankly, my life since my divorce has absolutely not been worth living. Quality of life is pretty much zero.

    I stumble on from day to day because I am told suicides affect the children so deeply. A parent’s suicide makes a child suicide that much more likely.

    FWIW, I am not suicidal, but I view my continued existence as proof there is no god, or at least, not a compassionate god.

  2. invivoMark says

    What in all the fucks makes you think that it’s even remotely okay for you to use the sensitive topic of suicide to bring in your personal pet issue of anti-feminism?

    Fuck you. Fuck you for tarnishing this topic with your presence, fuck you for showing zero deference to the topic, and fuck you for making me angry when I was going to try and write something sincere about suicide.

  3. Nepenthe says

    Obviously suicide awareness leads directly to anti-feminism. More men kill themselves than women because of feminism. Feminists are, of course, responsible for guns being associated with masculinity; they want fewer men to survive suicide. Even though significantly more women (in the US, twice as many) attempt suicide than men, this isn’t a social problem because women are flighty, unserious, emotional creatures and if they were worth a whole movement they wouldn’t fail so often, amirite?


  4. Anthony K says

    The beginning of your comment is mostly non sequiturs, but this pains me to read:

    Frankly, my life since my divorce has absolutely not been worth living. Quality of life is pretty much zero.

    I stumble on from day to day because I am told suicides affect the children so deeply. A parent’s suicide makes a child suicide that much more likely.

    FWIW, I am not suicidal, but I view my continued existence as proof there is no god, or at least, not a compassionate god.

    wftwhatever, you may not be suicidal right now but the depression you describe here is serious. As you say, your quality of life is pretty much zero. I’m one who’s been there, and even though I bet you know what I’m going to say, I’m going to say it anyway: get help. Seek therapy, seek counselling, see your family doctor, see a walk-in-clinic physician if you need to. I don’t know where you live or what your resources are, but I hope you’re able to find something, and find it soon.

    I understand your concern for your children, but consider that a father is more than a warm body, and even if they’re too young to understand why, know that it does affect them and pain them to see you hurting so badly, and the one of the best things you can do for their mental health is to find a way for you to be healthy and happy as well.

  5. slc1 says

    I would point out that one of the former bloggers here, J. T. Eberhard, has struggled with the urge to pack it in and wrote about his struggles before he decamped to Patheos.

  6. wtfwhatever says

    If my describing just how I wish I were dead and discussing the motives of these middle aged men in having the highest suicide rate keeps you from writing something sincere about suicide, then I guess you probably weren’t going to write anything sincere about suicide, but mainly use this as a platform for your own self-promotion.

    That you would tell someone that has considered suicide and that is severely depressed and that wishes he were dead so vehemently to fuck off indicates what a sad creature you are.

  7. wtfwhatever says

    I never said suicide of women was not a significant social problem. Obviously it is.

    It does appear that saying that suicide of men is a significant social problem and exploring why is problematic for feminists and free thought blog commentators.

  8. invivoMark says

    You didn’t even mention suicide until 3/4 the way through your post. Don’t give me that bullshit.

  9. machintelligence says

    This topic always leaves me with a bunch of conflicting opinions. I agree that in most cases suicide is a permanent solution temporary problems. Except when it isn’t. Certain terminal illnesses and the effects of extreme old age come readily to mind.
    There is also the issue of who “owns” my life. I believe that I am the final arbiter of what happens to me and if I should choose to end my life (not that I’m planning to) the decision should be mine to make.

    Another thing which bothers me a lot is the man (usually) who kills his ex wife and kids and then himself. It would be nice if we could persuade these folks to change the order and kill themselves first, sparing almost everyone a lot of grief. What is the value of revenge to a dead man? Or is it that they die happy having had revenge?

    The use of a firearm to commit suicide is almost praiseworthy. It is certainly superior to seeing how many miles you can drive at 100 miles per hour against traffic on the interstate or getting in a shootout with the cops (suicide by cop.) At least turning a gun on yourself is less likely to harm innocent bystanders.

  10. twosheds1 says

    A friend of mine once said that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I think that says it all for me.

  11. wtfwhatever says

    You will do a better with your reading comprehension once you can put down all your hate.

  12. Anthony K says

    That cuts both ways, wtfwhatever. I can’t help but notice you focused on the negative replies, and ignored mine. I can only speak to my experience, but i think you’ll heal faster if you get in touch with your sadness and rather than th anger.

  13. Anthony K says

    Thanks, Frank. The shitty thing is that exhortations to seek therapy are only as good as the access to care exists wherever wtfwhatever lives. But this stuff is important. I’ve been in therapy, and I’ve done it with people whose issues are much like wtfwhatever’s are. My father’s issues were similar. Even when I realized we could never have a healthy relationship, I wanted him to have peace.

  14. sithrazer says

    Except for many people who suffer from depression, like those with bi-polar disorder, it’s not a temporary problem. It’s something they will have to contend with for life, but will hopefully have success in treating the symptoms.

  15. sailor1031 says

    well if wtf didn’t poion this thread you totally did Mark. Maybe Mano can try it again sometime after moderating you both!

  16. wtfwhatever says

    Anthony K,

    At one level I appreciate your words, at another level I’ve read enough of what you have written at other times in other places, that I am reluctant to get into any sort of conversation with you.

    My responding to Mano’s point doesn’t obligate me to answer every reply, and oddly, I usually try not to reply, and just think I had my say, that person had their say, and that’s okay too.

    But I did appreciate what you wrote,

    So thanks

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