The Myth of Suicide

See the short introduction to these essays and the rest of my sociomedical essays here. Especially the essay What Is Pro-Choice? continues the discussion of suicide.

Suicide is a subject so confusing and traumatizing that it causes even many intelligent people to regress into argumenting with irrational mantras like "suicide is selfish", "suicide is the easy way out" and my favorite, the bizarrely nonsensical "suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem". It seems even the mere thought of suicide is enough to shut down the rational parts of our brain. Understanding suicide is equally hard for lay people and professionals. For most people the concept is entirely alien. It is easy to judge something as "sick" or "wrong" just because you do not understand it.

People often claim suicide is illegal and while it may be true for a select few of countries, suicide is not illegal in the United States, Australia and all the European countries I know. People can receive big charges for assisted suicide, though. In Britain the maximum sentence is a whopping 14 years. In some countries people may be punished for not intervening with a suicide, which shows what a screwed up society this is. People face charges for not killing an animal which is in pain, but helping a dying friend to die in peace could land you in jail for ages.

It is ridiculous that people have the nerve to claim suicide is the easy way out, that only cowards commit suicide. For every suicide, for every suicide attempt, there are many more people who wish they had the courage to end their lives. There is only one thing that might be more difficult than killing yourself and that is killing your children. These are the two acts we are biologically most hard-wired against. Survival instinct is very hard to fight with and does not disappear even when unconscious. That is topped by the guilt and fear caused by anti-choice propaganda.

There is a good reason why many want to believe suicide is an act of insanity and a normal person could never carry it out. It is safer to lull yourself into the belief that every problem can be solved, that time heals all wounds and life is always worth living. If you are not suicidal, accepting someone else's suicidal feelings as normal and rational means accepting that life can be extremely painful to some people. It is far easier to let yourself believe that people who commit suicide are crazy than that they were in massive pain. If suicidal feelings were something normal, it could happen to you.

Suicide is against our evolutionary instincts, claim some, which rationally makes sense considering the strength of the human survival instinct. Others believe suicide is nature's way of removing the "weak" from the society, so that they would not spread their genes to future generations. Either way, does it matter? Arguing whether suicide is natural or unnatural, pro or con evolution is fruitless. Our society is no longer about evolution or breeding. There is no need for the "weak" to remove themselves from the gene pool, since we have the option of not breeding.

Suicide is easily seen as a hurried, spontaneous act, while in reality it is often a process that may last for weeks, months, years or even decades. The lack of understanding for this aspect leads many to make erroneous assumptions, such as those who talk about suicide are not really going to do it. This has even been proven false. People are keen on discussing the thoughts they have in mind and for many this includes suicide. Some want to inform their loved ones in advance, others just want to discuss it. This does not mean they are not serious or that they are hoping to be "saved".

It is also a common myth that suicide is just a cry for help or people who attempt suicide and fail are just seeking attention. Death is perceived as such a simple thing that no one could really fail in dying unless they wanted to. This attitude is particularly common in the United States, where firearms are ubiquitous. But even in the States buying a gun can get complicated if you have a history of mental hospitalizations. Even in the land of the free people can shy out of shooting themselves. It is not what you first associate with a peaceful death, which is something everyone would deserve. There is also the common misconception that consuming a large amount of sleeping pills will kill you. Sadly, this is something of the past - barbiturates have been practically unavailable for many decades.

It is only recently that suicidal people have been easily able to find accurate information of lethal methods. This has led some to believe that giving out information about suicide actually makes people commit suicide. This claim is highly irrational, not to mention silly, but it has resulted in some very unfortunate ideas. Some countries have banned books and websites about suicide, believing that it will stop "vulnerable" people from dying. Not only is this a serious infringement of free speech, which like suicide is a basic human right, the more likely result is that people will go back to paracetamol and toilet cleaners, so that they get to spend a week or two in ICU in extreme pain before they finally die.

"Suicide is selfish" is a common claim, which probably just exists as a guilt trip for suicidal people, to make their lives even more difficult than they otherwise are. That phrase effectively claims it is selfish to decide about your own life. People repeating this mantra fail to see how selfish they are being themselves, demanding someone gives up their most important human rights just because someone else wants to. These self-satisfied people completely fail to see how much pain their thoughtlessness is causing.

Choosing about your own life is not selfish. There are plenty of choices we have to make in life which can adversely affect other people. Family or relationship related decisions may have tragic consequences for other people, but it is still up for the individual to choose. One is not selfish for starting a relationship, getting a divorce or quitting a job. Committing suicide is not selfish. It is a personal choice where you should consider others, but most of all yourself.

People sometimes continue their marriage for the sake of the kids, but often the result is much worse for the offspring, because the parents are constantly arguing or in pain. The same applies for suicide. While it may and usually will harm others, it is hardly a better choice to continue your life in pain for the sake of others. If they do not care about your pain, they are not people worth associating with.

Many people have a hard time believing it is possible to have suicidal thoughts without suffering from a serious mental illness. The concept of suicide seems against the nature to the extent that no sane mind could contemplate it, let alone commit it. This is what our society used to think of homosexuality. That does not stop doctors and laymen from claiming that suicide is always a sign of a "psychiatric crisis" and requires hospitalization. How could a stay in a psychiatric hospital help someone who is not mentally ill? The ones who are "mentally ill" are not necessarily helped either - many psychiatric hospitals do nothing to actually help people - and at best the hospital stay only serves as a small break from the reality.

So why would anyone commit suicide if they are not depressed? This is probably easier to understand for people who have not lived their lives in Western society. We are taught that life is the most precious thing available and death is the worst tragedy that could happen to a person. But not everyone views it this way. Just like some people do not like ice cream and to the rest of us that may seem utterly weird, some people dislike life. You might call it an illness or disorder, but that would be unfair. It is a preference, not a disease.

For many people terminal illness is the only acceptable motive for suicide, which makes little sense, considering that these people are going to die soon, anyway. Pain is only one side of torment and physical pain is just one side of it. There is a wide variety of illnesses causing decades of suffering, not only due to pain but due to loss of skills and capabilities, mental and physical deterioration, paralysis, dependence upon other people. Seriously but not terminally ill people often wish they had a deadly illness, so that there would be an end to the meaningless suffering.

Suicidal people are discriminated against like no other group of people. As long as the concept is surrounded by taboos, misconceptions and outright lies, there is no way to help these people. But it is just so much easier to label suicidal people as "sick" or "crazy", much easier to label people instead of accepting their opinions as valid. We need to drop these labels and realize that even if we cannot understand suicide, that does not mean it is wrong.