A Secular Argument Against Suicide

Jennifer Michael Hecht, author of Doubt: A History, has a secular argument against suicide that was recently published in the Boston Globe. It was written in response to the suicide of two of her close friends. Here’s an excerpt:

So I want to say this, and forgive me the strangeness of it. Don’t kill yourself. Life has always been almost too hard to bear, for a lot of the people, a lot of the time. It’s awful. But it isn’t too hard to bear, it’s only almost too hard to bear. Hear me out. [...]

I’m issuing a rule. You are not allowed to kill yourself. You are going to like this, stay with me. When a person kills himself, he does wrenching damage to the community. One of the best predictors of suicide is knowing a suicide. That means that every suicide may be a delayed homicide. You have to stay. The reason I say you are going to like this is twofold. First of all, next time you are seriously considering suicide you can dismiss it quickly. Second, and this one’s a little harder to describe, if you are even a tiny bit staying alive for the sake of the community, as a favor to the rest of us, I need to make it clear to you that we are grateful that you stay. I am grateful that you stay alive.

It’s a powerful piece, read the whole thing.

  • Peter Cross

    It seems like a blanket application of a rule which is not universally accurate. If Osama bin Laden or Ken Ham were to off themselves, I wouldn’t miss them even a tiny bit.

    • Ty

      No generalization is ever universally true. (heheh)

      But the target of this sort of essay is not someone in a position to thoughtfully analyze all the possible permutations of the argument. Getting a suicidal person to stop and think, “Suicide might be very bad for the people I care about,” might get them to not pull the trigger and seek help.

      We can have long philosophical discussions about the argument once they are thinking clearly.

      • JohnMWhite

        And if they are thinking clearly? The argument seems to begin from the presumption that the suicidal person hasn’t thought about the impact of their decision. While this may at times be true, generally it is rather like standing outside an abortion clinic trying to tell women “that’s your baby in there!”. They know the potential impact, it’s just they may have decided their pain is too great to allow that to stop them. It may seem selfish, but is it any less selfish than to demand that person live on in anguish just so that those left behind feel better?

        • JohnMWhite

          Ignore the “than” in that last sentence.

        • DarkMatter

          “but is it any less selfish to demand that person live on in anguish just so that those left behind feel better?”

          Except for jesus and hitler.

          • JohnMWhite

            I did always wonder, when I was a young Catholic, why Jesus’ suicide-by-cop was kosher within a church which came down so heavily on suicide. They liked to talk about “no greater love can a man have than that he die for his friends” but his friends were fine, Jesus was the one they were after and Jesus walked right into the arms of the soldiers he knew would kill him. But I suppose we could open a whole new thread on such inconsistencies.

            • DarkMatter

              You concur, VorJack?

              Pick that up from a movie … I’ll be that bad guy.

            • Shayne

              Yeah, unless Jesus was dying for the forgiveness of sins (Romans 5:8) and that those who follow Him, who are forgiven, would be His friends(Luke 8:21).

            • Sunny Day

              Yeah but the suffering of an innocent person for the the supposed crimes of someone else is just immoral.

            • Len

              Not just supposed crimes, but crimes that the supposed perpetrators couldn’t even avoid – because they were not even committed by us, but by our ancestors.

  • Kodie

    I have been around a few people who mention sometimes that they are at a low point and may someday kill themselves. I think the same thing every once in a while but I think I outgrew it or outran it as a serious urge. It has been reasoned to me that how a suicide devastates a family or community is no concern of the dead, and I agree; when you die, not even that will burden you because you won’t have the ability to think or care. I have this pretty smart friend who is prone to dark moods and although I would miss him a lot, I am prepared that he may off himself someday and that is not only his choice, but I trust he knows what he’s doing. I know how he lives and when he’s happy, he’s living it up like there’s no tomorrow. A bit irresponsible to some, but what a way to waste your resources only to later conclude there’s nothing left to do anyway, so why not? To him, it’s almost unreasonable to be frugal, miserable, disciplined, and live long. I have no argument with him about that anymore.

    What’s devastating is the “surprise” element, just like any fatal accident, for example. Well, a fatal accident just happens. When a suicide occurs, you can say, well, I just didn’t know he felt so bad! One of the reasons people feel so bad is because those around them fail to notice they feel bad or offer any kind of practical help. Depression is utterly intolerable to certain people. Hopelessness is weak and they will not respond to that with help, hopelessness is offputting, people shrug and do not know how to proceed, and carry on as if you’ll get out of it yourself. At least that describes how I’ve felt. Ignored and totally misunderstood.

    Suicide is a drastic measure for attention, but it’s relief. One way or the other, the pain will end. You won’t miss people or potential events of your life, because when you’re dead, you can’t miss any of that. Taking one fork in the road doesn’t really ensure things would have turned out better if you hadn’t, just like making choices when you’re alive, you might have missed a lot anyway because those involved different choices and turns of event. Do you miss them anyway? Say, for example, can I miss your life because that’s not the life I have? To me, this is a very rational approach to death anyway, or suicide, if that is your choice. People get tired and they just know they don’t want to go on, hang on, face people, live life, or be pitied. Sorry for the people who have experienced it, because it’s definitely a tragedy for those who live through it. Sometimes life is not a picnic and one has the ability to reason that it’s never going to be a picnic, or it’s too much work, and they have to admit laziness and failure to thrive and adapt to it. Nobody I know so far has actually done it. I think most people do choose to hang on and wait. To the best of my knowledge, 2 people who are no longer part of my life are doing ok now with people who care about them, I suppose, and that leaves my friend, who I mentioned, and me, sometimes, and probably everyone in my dysfunctional family every so often. It’s pretty scary when your mother says one day she’s going to kill us all and then herself, but I think she’s on medicine now. I’m mentally braced as well for this eventuality. I know that sounds kind of mean or cold, but hey.

    I actually have (or used to have) one of those cheesy little books with instructions on how to live, you get like at the front of the big book store while you’re waiting on line. One of the tips was to consider suicide an option. It seriously did say this, with the idea as I recall, to just remember it’s there, just in case, or to put your problems in perspective, not to actually consider doing it. This was meant to cheer a person up and motivate them amongst all the other tips. Just wanted to mention that I agree with that also. When you know someday, you have that option to do whatever you need to do, that it is one thing that is up to you and nobody else, you kind of find the energy to do something else instead. It motivates you, in a weird way, to brainstorm other ideas and makes the available choices less fearsome to make. Suicide’s a last resort, but you have the controls! My life conditions have drastically improved that I’m no longer so close to the edge, so I hope nobody’s worried about me talking like this. Anyway, that’s all about that that I know.

    • Ty

      I think I’ve been blessed/cursed with the warrior mentality all my life. When you go down, you go down fighting to your last breath. It makes it hard for me to empathize with what my brain wants to automatically label the “chickenshit” route.

      But I know that this is not a correct assessment of these feelings in other people. And I appreciate when someone writes something like you did above, Kodie. It lets me take a sympathetic look at an emotional place I’ve never actually been in.

      So thanks. Glad you are feeling better, too.

      • Kodie

        I can’t remember which of my no-longer-around (uh, just somewhere else, not dead!) friends said this, but to let anyone who may be considering suicide that some people will call you a coward for doing it. Like I said, none of that matters to a suicidal person. One of the fantasies I’ve had about suicide is finding out what people really think about me after I’ve died, and being an atheist, found that to be a good atheist argument against suicide. One of the thoughts you think might save a person is how many people would miss them when they’re gone, and at least one person on the above-mentioned said that would not logically be able to bother him after the act (and it’s guilt – another burden I kind of think is lame), but at least one of the thoughts a suicidal person may think is murdering themselves as a vengeful act anyway. They’ll all be sorry. And not being able to find out? Quite the dilemma. However one sorts that out in the end is up to them, but it’s one of the distracting problems that kept at least one person from killing themselves at an otherwise opportune moment or several.

        • Confused

          I’m curious about the “it won’t bother me when I’m dead” idea, because it suggests a kind of morality that is quite alien to me. Does that mean the only reason for not doing something is that you will personally suffer repurcussions? It seems to stem from an idea that anything is moral as long as you don’t get caught – “my actions will hurt people, but by the time they’re hurting I’ll be long gone, so I don’t care”. I’d have thought that the fact that your actions will cause suffering to others should have a bearing on your choice before you make it, regardless of whether you’re around to experience regret.

          This presupposes that you care about the people that you are in danger of hurting (at least at the point of deciding to commit suicide – I’m aware that the degree to which you care for people can change radically from moment to moment).

          I guess while unlike Ty I wasn’t raised to consider suicide as cowardly, at some point I picked up the idea that killing or harming yourself to try and hurt others was petty and shallow (for reference, I suspect I learned this by being the one who harmed themselves and saw the range of reactions in other people, from horror to outrage). Ironically, when I reached I a point where I was suicidal for long stretches at a time, this attitude actually made the whole thing worse, as I was constantly attacking myself for being so petty and self-pitying, which just wrecked my self esteem even more and caused a nasty vicious circle.

          I hope I don’t come across as judgemental – I’m just interested.

    • Wayne

      “One of the tips was to consider suicide an option….When you know someday, you have that option to do whatever you need to do, that it is one thing that is up to you and nobody else, you kind of find the energy to do something else instead.”

      Having suicide as an option reminds me of a study done by psychologists probably back in the 1970s. Participants were instructed to do a task that requires concentration and to note how the background noise affected their performance. The recorded background noise was made louder every few minutes and at the end of the task each participant was asked to rate how difficult it had been. As I recall, participants reported the ever-increasing background noise as being “unbearable” or “awful.”

      Members of a second group were given the same task with the same noise interference. However, they were also given a switch they could use at any time to turn off the noise. They reported the backgrolund noise as “not all that bad” or “not too noticeable.”

      Now the part that is interesting to me is this: No one in the second group ever actually used the switch to turn off the noise. Apparently knowing the off switch was an option made the noise bearable.

  • http://simplyabsurd.wordpress.com/ J.C.

    According to Albert Camus and Absurdism, our efforts to find meaning in the universe is futile since no meaning exists. He explains that we have three ways of resolving the dilemma: Suicide, accepting a religious belief system, or acknowledging there is no meaning and continue on.

    In the Myth of Sisyphus he states, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest – whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories – comes afterwards.”

    • Ty

      “acknowledging there is no meaning and continue on. ”

      I don’t buy this as the only remaining option. We are subjective creatures. The fact that the universe does not contain some overarching purpose does not mean that we can’t find our own personal meaning within it.

      I recognize that the universe doesn’t give a crap about the happiness of my wife and myself. But from my tiny subjective view, that is absolutely the purpose of my existence.

      • http://simplyabsurd.wordpress.com/ J.C.

        There is nothing wrong with finding your own meaning, I believe that’s where the “and continue on” falls in. But as a collective whole, the universe is without meaning – no divine plan from a distant god.

        I apologize for the vagueness of my initial comment. There is much more to Camus’ view, that was my weak attempt at summarizing it.

        • Ty

          Ah, I see. Creating your own purpose falls under the heading of “continuing on.” Yeah, I can dig it.

        • JonJon

          Camus also thought there was a certain nobility to continuing in the face of futility, or as he calls it “absurdity.” That was sort of his argument for human dignity: we might not have a purpose, but we keep trying to find one anyway because we are determined to make our way in the world. That determination deserves at least a little bit of respect. If I were an atheist, this is almost certainly the position I would take, because there *is* something appealing about humanity continuing to do what it does in the face of meaninglessness or absurdity.

          • JohnMWhite

            To me, the old phrase about the definition of insanity comes to mind. :)

  • Tina

    Growing up, my mother taught me that suicide was the most selfish act a person could commit. Thus I’ve always had a negative attitude towards such a decision. A number of years ago, however, I stumbled across a Wikipedia article that made me realize the subject was more complicated than that. (Philosophy of suicide)

    I think suicide most likely falls under the personal choice category. True freedom is to decide what to do with our own lives and that, in its truest form, must also include the choice whether to live at all. (Meaning persons that have the cognitive ability to understand the decision they are making-which makes the mentally disabled suicide rights a whole ‘nother beast of discussion) Do we, as individuals or as communities, have the right to tell someone they cannot make that choice? If so, on what grounds? On the basis of what it will do to us personally, or to the community as a whole? Would that negate the suicide persons own rights? Lots of gray area in this debate, to say the least.

    How do I personally feel about suicide? I’m not entirely sure. Luckily, I have never known anyone who made that decision. (I hope I never do) I feel many of the circumstances that drive people to contemplate or attempt suicide are manageable, if they seek help. But, in the end, I’m not sure how much say we should have on the subject of suicide in someone’s life.

    Thanks for sharing the article.

  • Confused

    “But it isn’t too hard to bear, it’s only almost too hard to bear.”

    The author can go to hell on this point. Who the heck does she think she is to dictate what is “too hard” and what is “almost too hard”? Is this any better than a secularised version of “God will never test you beyond your limits”?

    “One of the best predictors of suicide is knowing a suicide. That means that every suicide may be a delayed homicide.”

    That’s a horribly, horribly tenuous argument as even a moments consideration should reveal. It also smacks a little of victim-blaming. Low self-esteem and impaired judgement is also standard for the suicidal, and telling them that what they’re considering is tantamount to murder (along with all the stigma associated with it) seems a little unhelpful to me.

    First of all, next time you are seriously considering suicide you can dismiss it quickly.

    Doesn’t this miss the fact that suicidal ideation is itself a relief? In the words of Neitszche “The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets successfully through many a bad night.” It’s not a particularily healthy relief – comparable to self-harm in some respects – and finding a more constructive way of dealing with your problems should probably be a priority. But stigmatising that behaviour is not a good way to make things better.

    Don’t get me wrong, I fully agree with the idea that if you’re suicidal, you should consider the pain and suffering you will cause to others (and in my experience most suicidal people do), but if you’re going to counsel someone you should really do it without being judgemental (and that includes using loaded terms like “delayed homicide”). I’m also well behind the idea of giving someone emotional support to hang on to, but telling them “you must not do this because it’s naughty”, whether for secular or religious reasons, is singularily unhelpful.

    • LRA

      Confused, I’m with you. Sometimes life hands us pain and suffering so difficult to bear that the thought of dying to stop the pain is a relief in and of itself.

      I don’t think it is fair to increase the burden of a suffering person by calling them a murderer or a selfish a**hole or a coward or making them bear the weight of other people’s feelings. The best and most merciful reason I can think of to convince a person not to commit suicide is that it is an action that can’t be undone. It is the ultimate permanent action. If the person is suffering so much as to go that far, then who are we to judge?

      • Ty

        This is exactly what I have to remind myself when dealing with people who are this depressed. Unfortunately, I can’t imagine what that state is like, so it winds up being an intellectual exercise for me. But reading what other people write about it does help.

        Man, this is making me wonder if I’m the only person who’s never had suicidal thoughts. That’s a depressing idea.

        • Custador

          About ten years ago I climbed over the ledge of the roof of my office and let go. Fortunately, one of my colleagues had seen what I was doing and caught me then pulled me back over the ledge. I know now that I was not in a fit state to be making decisions about whether I lived or died; I am infinitely grateful to my former colleague for saving my life and for helping me to get help – my life is great right now, and I would have missed out on so much if he hadn’t been there. The important thing to remember here is that people who are so depressed that they decide to kill themselves without having any real (as opposed to percieved) reason to do it are not in their right frame of mind. I know this from hard experience.

          • Ty

            Glad you’re still here.

            If I saw someone on a roof like that, I’d grab them too, for exactly the reason you give. I would just assume they were not in their right mind.

            Which is not entirely consistent I guess, because I also assume that anyone who wants medically assisted suicide because of terminal illness knows exactly what they are doing and should be given whatever they ask for.

            • LRA

              It is interesting to me that people sympathize with the physical and mental anguish that comes with cancer or some other terminal disease, but treat the physical and mental anguish of severe depression as a personal failing. It is not a personal failing. The sufferer has no moral faults. It is a chemical imbalance, and like cancer, should be treated with kindness and medicine.

            • LRA

              (ps I just realized that my post sounds like I’m disagreeing with you in some way, but I am not. Just making an observation and putting my opinion in.)

            • Ty

              I did point out the inconsistency in my feelings on the matter.

            • LRA

              Yes– I’m sorry if I sounded critical. I didn’t mean to! :)

            • Ty

              I do think though that I would be less inclined to sympathize with a cancer patient who wanted medically assisted suicide rather than try any of the potential cures. Maybe that makes it more consistent with my feeling that prozac (or whichever one works) is a better option than suicide for depression. I can’t get away from thinking of it as last resort when all else fails.

            • Michael

              Ty, the problem is that you are imposing your framework for evaluating worth on the other person. You think that we should always try to shoulder any burden that we can, that shirking them is a weakness that we should avoid. So I understand why you do not sympathize with the cancer patient who wants to commit suicide. But that doesn’t mean the person does not have the right to do so. How can anybody take away such a fundamental decision as what happens to the person’s body?

            • Ty

              I don’t remember arguing that we should try to take away a person’s right to dispose of their own body in any way that they like. I think that laws forbidding suicide are, on their face, counterproductive and frankly idiotic.

              That does not change the fact that I think that giving up is generally less productive than not giving up. I also eating yourself to death is not productive, but I wouldn’t support laws that place calorie intake restrictions on people.

            • Ty

              “I also *think* eating yourself to death is not productive, but I wouldn’t support laws that place calorie intake restrictions on people.”

              Stupid typos.

            • Michael

              Ty, I’m not talking about laws, I’m talking about the way you view suicide. You said, “I can’t get away from thinking of it as last resort when all else fails.” My point is that suicide isn’t necessarily a last resort, it’s just a choice. The way I understood your posts, you might realize that, but you don’t understand it. I was trying to give a possible reason you can’t understand it and give it some perspective. Suicide is a somber and important decision because, as was pointed out, it is the ultimate irreversible one. But it is still a choice that can be rationally made, not one that necessarily should only be used as a last resort to escape horrible suffering.

              I’m not sure I came across the way I wanted to.

              And all that said, I certainly do not see myself making that choice anytime soon.

            • Custador

              If their decision is made in full knowledge of what lays ahead for them, I’m inclined to agree that it’s right to allow people that choice. Having said that, I would hate to be the medical professional who gave the final dose of opioids.

            • LRA

              I’m glad you’re still here too. After all, who would argue with me (vehemently, I might add) about not circumcising little boys??? :P

            • Custador

              I’m too tired to have a rant about genital mutilation this morning ;-)

      • Confused

        I think another avenue for counselling might be to help people to think carefully about it. Depression can seriously mess up your decision making, and skews your perception of the world and your value.

        I tend to think there is also a place for encouraging people to think about the consequences of their actions for other people, as long as it is done without judgement. Half of the reason I didn’t commit suicide was because I insisted on realistically facing what that would mean to the people who cared about me. But that won’t work for all people in all circumstances (for example, if they believe rightly or wrongly that no one cares about them).

        The other reason, as you said, was the finality of suicide, a decision that can’t be undone. Ironically, every step I took away from Christianity made suicidal thoughts easier to resist, because without the idea of eternal life the life I had, with all it’s shit and squalour and struggle, was given a great deal more value.

    • Marge

      Thank you Confused.

      If I’d read that when I was suicidal, all I would have thought was ‘bullshit’. I was a useless person, a burden to everyone who knew me, a stain on the face of humanity. Delayed homicide? That would only apply to people who killed themselves who weren’t the lowest scum of the world – and since I was such a low scum, then of course my death would be a relief to those around me. You couldn’t be grateful for my continued existence – I was horrible, hateful, repugnant.

      Yes, well, I obviously don’t think like that now. But that was my thought process, and trite little pieces like this (which as mentioned above even goes into victim blaming) serve no use whatsoever.

      Secular suicide prevention isn’t about silly little homilies. It’s about finding out why people want to die, listening to them, and bloody well doing something about what’s making them want to die in the first place.

  • Michael

    I agree completely that the right to die is a vitally important one. The most fundamental right anybody has is over his or her body, and the most important decision one can make about his or her body is whether it lives or dies. The right to death is just as fundamental, to me, as the right to life.

    You cannot say to somebody, “You cannot commit suicide, because committing suicide would hurt others” any more than you can say, “You must commit suicide, because not committing suicide would hurt others.” Either way treats the person as a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. Forcing suffering persons to continue living against their will so as not to hurt their family is tantamount to locking a naked child in the closet to benefit Omelas.

    Of course people deciding to commit suicide should give great consideration to their decision before carrying it out. But I do not think anybody has the right to decide how much deliberation is enough. I guess I agree that “spur-of-the-moment” suicide attempts or instances where the person is clearly not in his or her right mind are an exception, in that people around them do have the right, in fact have the duty to try to stop them. But beyond this, guidance cannot be forced on somebody. If someone wants to commit suicide and does not want to take pills or talk to a psychoanalyst before doing so, that is a right.

    • Ty

      +1000 points for the LeGuin reference.

      • JonJon

        I’ve never really liked LeGuin, but she makes a fair, if commonplace, argument against utilitarianism.

        • Michael

          No, it’s more subtle than just an argument against utilitarianism.

          I personally don’t think util is a great framework for morality. An OK one, maybe, but not great. But even at that, I think that Omelas can still be condemned under a util framework.

          The question really is whether or not Omelas was a true utopia, or really a dystopia. A world in which one has a chance of being happy but a chance of suffering horribly is not a good one. It is not really a benefit to all if one person must suffer for it–not just suffer in spite of it, but suffer FOR it. This to me is exemplified by the ones who walk away. These are not merely moral deontologists who despise society’s exploitation, because they take no action to stop it. Rather, they are people not satisfied with this false utopia in which–while most people are genuinely happy–a minority (of one) suffers to an equal extent. They think about it and ask, “Is this really good for all? Or is this world not one I want to live in?” And their answer is no; even the end result is not good.

          But it is true that in my response, I was assuming more of a Kantian framework than a consequentialist one.

  • Siberia

    I’ve suicidal tendencies. I think.

    Funnily, those are not born of depression (I think…). I just don’t like the idea of being a burden. I rarely think of suicide as a way to stop my pain; I usually think of suicide just to release the people I love of the burden of having me around.

    I have never harmed myself, neither tried it. What I’ve done is try to think: would my death help anything? Well, if I were to kill myself, it would hurt my mother and sister (the only people I care about, really) more than being alive does by default. I don’t want to hurt them (and yes I know I won’t care, but that doesn’t mean it’s not wrong to hurt them, as aforementioned). Therefore, I live.

    The day my existence is no longer useful – when I’m too feeble, or too sick, or too impaired, or, really, whenever I damn please – I’ll happily off myself and let my organs be useful to someone else. Probably only after my mother passes, though, if I outlive her. She doesn’t deserve to lose a child, on top of everything else.

  • bigjohn756

    I am 67 years old. I am lying here in my hospital bed writhing in agony. The radiation treatment is over. Didn’t help much. The chemo didn’t do much either. The morphine helps for a moment, but, I am allowed only so much. Pancreatic cancer is always fatal, usually in only a few months. I guess that I must endure to the end, even though I have a fully loaded Glock 19 hidden under my pillow.

    BULLSHIT!!!

    • Ty

      Hey brother, no one is saying you need to do anything.

      My .38 would look awful good in that situation too.

      • JohnMWhite

        Actually, the OP IS saying that he needs to do anything, or rather, needs to refrain from doing something. It is explicitly saying that persons in pain should allow that pain to continue to avoid causing pain for others. I think it’s fair to say there is a point where such a suggested moral obligation seems ludicrously unfair.

    • Ty

      Although, we have gotten a lot better about hospice pain management in the last few years. When my mother’s friend died a few years ago of cancer, they were pretty much giving her as much morphine as she wanted at the end.

      So even for those who don’t like the idea of ending their own life, I’m glad we don’t force a “tough it out!” attitude on them.

      Worrying about negative drug side affects and addiction is pretty damn silly in terminal patients.

      • Custador

        That’s an interesting thing to note in the UK if you visit terminal patients who’ve gone home to die; generally there is a lot of morphine kicking about the house. Oral morphine that the patient can take when they need it in 250ml bottle, ampoules of morphine for injection for the district nurses to give when they call round (because they can’t carry it with them for fear of junkie-muggings it has to stay with the patient) and usually a syringe-driver delivering a slow dose over a couple of days which, if given all in one go, would certainly be fatal.

        Now rewind to the 1970s – in the UK, terminal patients in hospital could be given a cocktail called Brompton’s Mixture, which consisted of Cocaine, Heroin and Alcohol – and could have as much as they wanted, as often as they wanted. Now tell me that medically assisted suicide didn’t happen!

    • Yoav

      That’s why I like the idea of assisted suicide. I have seen my grandparents decline during the last years of their lives and I know that I don’t ever want to get to that state. If by the time I get closer to death and can feel the decline approaching I don’t have the option to request to be put down once I decline beyond a certain point I am much more likely to make sure I take thing into my own hands while I still can meaning I will go earlier.

  • Richard

    If suicides call is strong, why not join the Army? I say this in seriousness. You will be given a purpose and the possibility of a chance to die with that purpose. Also, you will perhaps even gain a new found love of life when others are trying to take it from you by force. Or you’ll get PTSD… :(

    • http://simplyabsurd.wordpress.com/ J.C.

      I don’t think I would fight alongside someone who did not care whether they lived or died. It seems more a danger than possibly finding hope.

    • Michael

      Besides that, there is the possibility that you don’t want to serve (for moral or personal reasons) or are incapable of serving. There are many reasons not to join the army besides the risk of dying (which, honestly, isn’t that high anyways).

    • Custador

      Because any history of mental illness means that the army will not let you join. I know of a few occasions when an obliging GP has expunged patient records of all traces of the word “depression” on behalf of a lad wanting to join the army.

    • Siberia

      Mreh, joining my country’s army won’t make a difference. We haven’t been in a war since WWII. There has been a few smaller interventions (Haiti comes to mind) but that’s hardly a war. I’d do better joining the police!

      (Which I would totally do, but I’m handicapped.)

  • earthling

    So the author has lost two close friends to suicide, and she thinks she can guilt trip people into just not doing it any more? Talk about a massive projection of her own feelings onto the mentally ill population. Nice one!

    In all seriousness, I was offended by Hecht’s article. The idea that people can be told not to commit suicide is just ludicrous.

    Mental illness, particularly depression, is sometimes fatal. Would it make sense to ask cancer patients not to let their tumour kill them? Would it make sense to say ‘People will miss you when you’re gone, so would you please not die of a heart attack?’ Of course not. Somehow, because depression concerns the brain, some people (like Hecht) seem to be under the impression that any fatal consequences must be a choice. Who chooses to be depressed?

    A person who is so depressed that they are contemplating suicide probably believes that they are a useless, worthless person. They think that their family and friends probably don’t like/love them, and would be better off without them. They feel the future can’t possibly be good. Thoughts like these lead to tremendous mental pain. It is difficult to imagine the pain of depression if you have never been there, but believe me, it can be agonising. It isn’t just a case of having a few problems.

    Given the depressed person’s view of themselves and the world, it makes sense to them to commit suicide. If you have depression, suicidal thoughts inevitably pop into your mind, it’s a natural consequence of seeing yourself as worthless.

    I’d ask anyone who has lost a friend or family member to suicide and then turns round and calls this act ‘selfish’ or ‘cowardly’ to ask themselves: what did *you* do to help? What did you do to alleviate this person’s depression? Did you take them to the doctor? Did you encourage them to get counselling? Were you supportive? Or did you leave them to it and think, oh they’ll sort it out themselves? If you protest that you ‘didn’t know’ they were depressed, did you ever take any time to ask the person how they are, how they *really* are?

    Hecht’s whole article might possibly be a sublimation of guilt, or it might just be a way of coping with her loss – if suicidal people would all just buck up and not commit suicide, then none of us need to worry that we might lose someone close to us to suicide! Job done. Except it isn’t. Unless depression is treated, suicide will always be a possible result. Anyone who is concerned about suicide should quit victim-blaming and help raise awareness of mental illness.

    It is the very stigma that Hecht perpetutates with her article that stops people from going to the doctor when they are feeling depressed. If more people started accepting that depression is an illness and not a personal failing, fewer people would be dying from it.

    • Custador

      Totally agree with everything you just said. The absolute worst thing about depression is when idiots say to you “I don’t know why you can’t just snap out of it, I can when I’m in a bad mood!”

      You feel like saying to people “Imagine what a bad mood you’d be in if your whole family suddenly died. Now double that feeling, triple it, quadruple it. Now imagine that you feel like that all the time, but you don’t know why and there’s nothing you can do about it“.

      Snap out of it…. Yeah, right.

    • Siberia

      Mental illness, particularly depression, is sometimes fatal. Would it make sense to ask cancer patients not to let their tumour kill them? Would it make sense to say ‘People will miss you when you’re gone, so would you please not die of a heart attack?’ Of course not. Somehow, because depression concerns the brain, some people (like Hecht) seem to be under the impression that any fatal consequences must be a choice. Who chooses to be depressed?

      This. x 1000.

      Mental illness is hardly ever considered an illnesses by the masses and depression even less so than most. I’ve heard far too often people be derisive to someone depressed (“doesn’t s/he have anything better to do?” “must be lack of faith” “if only s/he was a true believer” “s/he’s so looking for attention!”) or utterly unsympathetic (“suck it up!”).

      Like a coworker once said to me, telling a depressed person to cheer up is like telling an asthmatic person to breathe.

      • JohnMWhite

        Oh don’t get me started on the “must lack faith” argument. Oh wait, you did. ;)

        When suffering from depression myself, I dealt with wide range of reactions. Those in the medical community I found to be the most sympathetic – doctors, psychiatrists and the like seemed very willing to accept the condition for what it was. My friends constantly told me to snap out of it, and my parents’ solution was “stop listening to such sad music and stop playing those demonic roleplaying games. It opens a portal, that’s why you’re depressed!”

      • earthling

        “must be lack of faith” “if only s/he was a true believer”

        I wonder how efficacious praying is for the alleviation of depression?

        A guess: not that much.

    • JohnMWhite

      Terrific post. It is very unfortunate that we have developed a cultural meme of sorts which separates mental conditions from the rest of physiology. I wonder if it is perhaps because the religious and philosophical systems which have dominated our culture are those which teach of a duality between body and spirit and see consciousness (the part of us which makes choices) as inherently non-physical and therefore in some sort of bubble where illness does not distort them.

      Of course it is nonsense, a little alcohol or pot or any other drug and our choices can become very different from choices we would make without them, so clearly the capacity for the brain to make decisions relies upon a physical foundation. Yet still, in spite of it being so starkly obvious, when it comes to suicide and depression the burden of guilt is shifted onto those who ‘choose’ to end their lives, and efforts to help are concentrated on leading them away from that choice by any means necessary. To fit with earthling’s pathology analogy, this is rather like treating those at risk of a heart attack solely with a crash cart. Stopping the heart’s failure is only the end of the story, and following people with heart conditions, obesity and whatever other risk factors with a crash cart all the time isn’t going to help them be less at risk. The same goes for suicide – so much effort is spent on preventing a symptom rather than preventing or treating the condition in the first place.

      “But it isn’t too hard to bear, it’s only almost too hard to bear.” Again, the perceived duality of mind and body crops up in our attitudes to what one should be expected to bear. Physical pain we are allowed to mask with drugs, and for many there even comes a point where longing for death is considered entirely reasonable. Yet with mental pain the author feels entirely comfortable presuming to tell us that whatever the circumstances of our life, mentally we all CAN bear it. No matter what. I understand this is meant to be encouraging, but anyone considering suicide would readily dismiss it, and likely be angered by the ignorance of a message which clearly does not marry with their perception of reality. But it is an attitude which seems near universal in dealing with suicide and depression – “I, who have no way to know what you are going through, expect you to deal with it anyway”. Why should this be considered fair, when we would think it cruel to tell someone with paralysis to get up and walk?

      I sympathise with the author of the original article, and I hope this flurry of comments do not upset him, but I’m afraid this (very common) attitude of trying to coerce someone into staying for your sake rather than their own is one of the least helpful to those actually contemplating suicide. The only one worse I can think of is the “go ahead and do it, I bet you can’t, you attention-seeker!” gambit.

      • earthling

        It is very unfortunate that we have developed a cultural meme of sorts which separates mental conditions from the rest of physiology. I wonder if it is perhaps because the religious and philosophical systems which have dominated our culture are those which teach of a duality between body and spirit and see consciousness (the part of us which makes choices) as inherently non-physical and therefore in some sort of bubble where illness does not distort them.

        I’d never thought about it like that before but you’re right, there is still this very persistent idea that our minds are non-physical, and it is bound to influence people’s perception of mental illness. Even atheists/secularists are prone to thinking of it this way, at times, the idea is just so pervasive.

        I can still blame religion for it though, right?

    • Michael

      Earthling, that is an excellent post. My only criticism, more like a question, I guess, is that doesn’t assuming that depression is a mental “illness” assume that the majority is “right” and the depressed are “wrong?” What makes one more normal than the other? It seems relative to me.

      Of course, one would almost by definition rather not be depressed, but that doesn’t really resolve the issue in my mind. I think most people would rather be straight than gay, but that doesn’t make straights “normal” and gays “disabled.”

  • Pingback: A Secular Argument Against Suicide - Science and Religion Today

  • nazani14

    The writer has obviously never been in an assisted living facility. I can think of a lot of conditions where i would unhesitatingly commit suicide.

    • Michael

      My debate case this year is about how Medicare should fund personal attendant care equally with institutional care and give people the choice of providers. Institutions pretty much suck and they give society the impression that the disabled or elderly are incapable of taking care of themselves. It’s really unfortunate.

  • Twewi

    I know I’m late to comment on this, and I may be repeating someone else’s thoughts as I don’t have time to read all the comments, but I think this article is the wrong approach…

    I spent many years staying alive just for the sake of those who care about me. Having no will to live and falling through your life for the sake of others is excruciatingly painful. I’m not advocating suicide, of course; I’m saying you need to get help.

    Depression is an illness and it can be treated. Don’t listen to those who tell you that you don’t need “happy pills” or a “shrink” and you just need to “shape up” or other such nonsense. You are sick and you need treatment, just like a diabetic needs insulin. It may come in the form of a pill or simple therapy, but you need help.

    You don’t need to stay alive just for the sake of your community, because frankly, in the long term, that’s probably impossible. Suicidal thoughts are not something you can just shrug off “as a favor to the community.” They can be a constant, unstoppable force in your brain, and willing them to stop can be like trying to shut your ears.

    Now I don’t need to spiral through life for others. I can function. I can be happy and I can be sad. I can push myself to make my life better instead of simply following the path of least resistance. Most importantly, when a bus passes me on the sidewalk, I don’t have to remind myself of all the other people who’d be hurt if I jumped in front of it.

  • Name1

    This excerpt in a nutshell:Hey,you know that whole killing yourself thing that you’ve been talking about?Yeah,well,I thought about it and figured,it would really just bum me out,and maybe some more people too,so I thought maybe you could live this life you don’t want to live for just a few more years or until you die of other causes.Okay?thanks!

    • Name1

      If you want to end it all,you should do it,no matter what religion,family,or the government say.Your life,your death,your fucking business!

  • meltingdog

    This is silly. You may as well say “Hey, you know that job you want in that other city? We dont want you to get it because we benefit more from you here.”


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