Danny Baker reminds us that many people with depression are convinced that no-one would care if they killed themselves.
With the increased reporting of mental health issues in the media as of late, this is an issue that has been discussed quite a bit. From what I’ve heard and read, opinions seem to cluster on either end of the spectrum, ranging from “if you commit suicide you’re a selfish asshole” to “people who say that suicide is selfish are prejudiced and clearly don’t understand depression at all”.
As someone who from 2008 to the start of 2012 was suicidal on more days than I care to remember, and who today in the course of running a mental health charity has encountered countless people who are suicidal and/or who have had people they’re close with commit suicide, I must admit that I’m uncomfortable with both of these extremes.
Therefore, I’d like to submit an alternative viewpoint.
Firstly, let me begin by saying that whether we like it or not, we do not exist in a vacuum. We have responsibilities—to our parents, to our partner, to our children, to our friends – and our actions do affect these people. This is where the “suicide is selfish” notion obviously comes from, because rather than eliminating one person’s pain, suicide passes that pain on to other people. Just ask someone who’s lost a loved one from suicide – they carry that pain with them every day for the rest of their lives.
Ultimately, this was one of the main reasons why I never resorted to suicide—because I was highly conscious of how much it would hurt the people around me.
As a result, I remember thinking, it’s incumbent upon me to do everything in my power to fight my illness and find a way to recover—not just for my sake, but for my loved ones’ sake too. To instead resort to suicide would be to ignore my responsibility to them. It would be selfish.
I believed that then, and I still believe that now.
But, what if I hadn’t been conscious of how much me committing suicide would’ve destroyed my loved ones?
You might be thinking, how could that be possible? How could anyone who’s committed suicide not be aware of the fact that they’ll hurt their loved ones?
Well, that’s why depression is such a horrific illness. It can make you hate yourself, and when you hate yourself, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that everyone else—even your loved ones—must hate you too (or at the very least not love you).
If you’ve never suffered from depression before then that may be hard for you to believe, but the truth is that many people with depression are convinced that no-one would care if they killed themselves.
They’re convinced that the world would be better off without them.
And, even if they do appreciate how much their loved ones care about them, they may be in so much pain that they may be convinced (very mistakenly, I must emphasize), that if their loved ones could comprehend the gut-wrenching extent of their anguish, that they would actually want them to commit suicide so that they’d be free of their misery.
And, if this is how someone feels at the point of committing suicide—if depression has warped their thinking to such an extent that they genuinely believe that their loved ones would not be affected if they committed suicide—or that they would want them too—then how can anyone look at that person and justifiably say that their actions are selfish?
I don’t think they can.
As a result, the way I see it is that whether or not someone is “selfish” for committing suicide turns on their state of mind in the moments of planning and executing it.
If they were aware of how shattered their loved ones would be—if they knew they were transferring their own excruciating misery onto their loved ones and chose to commit suicide anyway—then I believe that’s selfish—and to say that it’s not selfish is giving them a pass to shirk their responsibilities to their loved ones. And I think that’s a terrible message to disseminate.
However, if in the moments where the person was planning and ultimately carrying out their suicide, they—due to the way their depression had warped their mind—were completely oblivious to the disastrous impact committing suicide would have on their loved ones, then it is inaccurate—and also unfair—to deem their suicide a selfish act.
And, since we rarely know the person’s state of mind when they do commit suicide, my answer whenever someone asks me whether so-and-so’s act of suicide is selfish or not is actually, quite simply:
“I don’t know.”
Sometimes the person asking me the question feels unsatisfied with that answer, but the truth is that I genuinely think it depends on the circumstances pertaining to that particular individual.
And what’s more, despite me taking the time to write this article, I’ve come to believe that whether or not one’s act of committing suicide is selfish or not is a relatively subsidiary issue to focus on. As mental health advocates, as people in the media, or whatever other constituency you may fall in to, the primary message we should be relaying is that if you’re feeling suicidal, then instead of going through with it, seek help instead.
Because depression is a liar.
Recovery IS possible—even if you can’t always see it.
If you enjoyed reading this post, you may also like Danny’s book titled “MY RECOVERY BLUEPRINT – How I overcame depression in three straightforward steps and how you can do the same.” Grab your copy from Amazon here.
Photo: Thomas Nes Myhre/Flickr
If a person has reached middle age, has no family left, and no children, and makes plans for the suicide so it is as mess-less as possible, and distributes his or her estate in advance to charity, and realizes his carbon and Social Security footprint will terminate thus not depriving others, I would consider it “selfless” rather than “selfish.”
The ones who are selfish are the people like Robin Williams wives who kept him in financial servitude till his other problems became too great to bear. He was just an appliance and ATM to them.
I was suicidal at one stage and my thinking was this: 1. As I am, I’m dragging my partner down and probably harming my baby – even though it would hurt them for a while, they would be better off without me. And my partner would be able to find someone better to be with without the guilt of having to leave me. 2. This pain is too much – if I were a dog you’d have me put down – I want to die to end the pain. 3. I’m so scared of death, I should conquer that fear… Read more »
Interesting observation here: From what I am told (which might be far off the mark, of course) there are not many countries where responsibility to your fellow humans is a higher value than in Japan. Yet at the same time there seems to be a high acceptance of suicide there. So that indicates that suicide needs not necessarily be seen as selfish in a developed ethical system (although it usually is).
Thank you for this article; you’ve perfectly described what I was going through not quite two years ago. I was one single small step away from ending my own life, I won’t go into the details of how, just that I was actually at that moment where I was right at that decision point and I had I made the choice, it would have been my ending. Obviously, I didn’t. Only because I couldn’t bear the thought of not being there for my precious little then four year old daughter, and what it might do to her life if I… Read more »
In my experience, people who are suicidal don’t believe nobody will care, it’s that the pain is too much to bear, so the fact that people do care becomes irrelevant. It’s like if your leg gets cut off by a stray chainsaw; you’re in too much pain to consider anyone else. You just hurt, and you want it to end. The only reason I haven’t killed myself is that I know it would devastate my family and friends. The times I’ve considered it, I was the one who didn’t care. It just hurt too much. I might be wrong, but… Read more »
Suicide, for me, isn’t about the depression as much as the cycle. The highs are great the lows not so much. I explain it as pretend every 15 days someone stabbed you with a needle. The first few times not too bad, by the 10 the time dread sets in, you are going to get stabbed. I know to come out of the lows but I know I am going right back into it. It is very wearing. I would like it to stop.