Tuesday, 22 May 2012

What do you do when someone is suicidal?

The answer should always be, whether you're pro-choice suicide or not, is to talk that person out of it. This is not out of disrespect for the possibility that they are fully aware of what they are doing, but rather cautious covering-all-the-bases in case they are not. You can't take the risk that by agreeing with them on the sorry and disgusting state of the world you are enticing them to commit an act that they would otherwise regret. You have to take things cautiously, ask them why they do not want to exist, ask them how long they've been steady in this desire, and moreover, if there is anything that would change their desire. There, are probably hundreds more questions you could ask to ascertain whether a person is suicidal because life is currently hard and it looks like a good way to escape, or suicidal because life has always been hard and it seems the best choice in this circumstance.

There's a reason you can't just walk into a Euthanasia clinic and not come out the next day, or rather come out in a body bag the next day. If you really want to commit suicide, not out of acute pain, but chronic pain, or a hatred of life, then you should be prepared to wait at least a little longer. If you cannot do that, then it may be possible you are correct in your wish to die, but it's actually more likely that you would choose not to had you been in a better state of mind. These are the suicide-attempters that can truly be saved. You cannot save someone who TRULY wants to die, unless you save them from life in assisting their suicide, which is illegal in a lot of places.

So is it right to force more suffering onto people to make sure other people who are not in the right state of mind come to the right state of mind? It's a simple trade-off. How many lives wasted are you prepared to see for wishes fulfilled? I think most people would come to the conclusion that making the suicidal wait to commit suicide is a valid alternative to having people who would otherwise not be suicidal if they were thinking straight dying unnecessarily. Therefore, you should talk people out of suicide or at least ask them to wait for a while before supporting them in their wish to die.


  1. Barbiturates with an n-month waiting period would be so much better than what we have now.

  2. I once wrote a similar, but gruesomely watered down, post (http://serialinsomniac.com/2010/09/24/suicide if you're interested), then proceeded to call the police when a friend was off somewhere to top herself (http://serialinsomniac.com/2011/06/06/action). I hate that dichotomy - pro-choice should mean that.

    But I think you've hit the nail on the head here. Most people who are suicidal are only in that state on a temporary basis, and as such should indeed be talked out of it. It's only where their suicidality is chronic, rational and as untreatable by any current treatments.

    I still feel like a hypocrite for calling the cops that day, though. Bloody treacherous mind..!

  3. Sister Y - Agree 100%. I wonder also if it would be good to, say, give incurably depressed people a free lifetime supply of opiates so they can get high enough during the day so as to balance things out and make people in the world generally as happy as each other. Right to Pursuit of Happiness? How about Right to Happiness?

    Pandora - Yeah I remember your post - I was somewhat inspired by it, I think. I used to believe that suicide was what I wanted and no one should try to stop me, but now I'm more of the opinion that someone should be stopped temporarily most of the time.

    If it makes you feel any better I think it would have been impossible for you to have done otherwise without feeling a lot of guilt over not doing anything. I probably would have done the same thing in your situation, since I'd be terribly afraid of losing a friend. It's pretty much a natural response in humans, and overriding it would take enormous strength of willpower, and would still leave you with a lot of guilt as I've said. Even attempted suicide tends to hurt the ones we love - people can't really stop that.
    It probably won't make you feel like less of a hypocrite, though, sorry. Words don't do much against feelings.

  4. I disagree with the mandatory waiting period concept; whether I'm making a stupid, hasty decision about my own body is no business of the state's. But it would be far preferable to what we have now.

  5. I even try to talk people out of it. Not doing that seems to have a whole bunch of implications, and most of them are not read as respect but as lack of caring.

    A lot of people write me when they're feeling suicidal. My response differs depending on the person and the situation (and probably my mood), but I generally try to make them realize that they have permission to die and permission to live. Treating someone like a person who is rational and worthy of respect and who matters is a sneaky way of giving a person a sense of meaning, if only temporarily. Ordinary, acute suicidality is often, I suspect, a psychological response to a lack of feeling that one does not meaningfully exist to others ("meaningful existence" being one of the needs for social belonging identified by Kip Williams and others).

    Perhaps distinguishing acute, temporary, short-lived suicidality that's not really in keeping with the person's values from rational, long-considered, stable suicidality that's consonant with the person's values should form a larger part of my project.