Suicide is not selfish

This post may be triggering for some individuals. Please do not read if this may be distressing for you. If you are in crisis, you can find your local suicide hotlines here: http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html. Your life matters.

Whenever a high-profile death by suicide rocks the social media news cycle, I am both deeply saddened by it and apprehensive of the comments that I know will come along with it. Comments like, “how could he do that to his kids” or “but she had a husband, didn’t she think of him at all?” or “what a selfish thing to do”. I’ve had enough of it this week, I have to say something. Repeat after me: suicide is not selfish.

Listen, I can understand how suicide can seem selfish to people who have never been suicidal. I know that the concern we all feel for the loved ones left behind by suicide can morph into anger at the person who died by suicide. If you have never been suicidal, you just can’t understand. Too often it is assumed that those who contemplate, attempt or die by suicide are not thinking of the effect their death will have on those around them. Please hear me, that is so far from the truth.

Drawing from my own experience, my suicidal ideation is usually accompanied by the feeling that I am holding my loved ones back from true happiness. In my darkest moments I cannot register how important I am to the people who love me, even if they are right in front of me telling me just how much I matter to them. In my darkest moments all I can see is how much my mental illness impacts those around me, how hard those I love struggle to take care of me, how much I am burdening them, how much better their lives would be without me.

When I am suicidal I am thinking about others almost constantly. Wouldn’t my friends be happier if they didn’t have to worry about me all the time? Wouldn’t my husband’s life be improved if I was out of the picture and he could find someone less broken to love? Wouldn’t my mom be relieved if she didn’t have to drive me to appointments anymore? Eventually the doubt is erased and the “wouldn’t they” changes to “they would”. These are highly distorted thoughts, they completely shut out that my loved ones want me to live. They are unbalanced, irrational and drastic. But these are the kinds of thoughts that claw away at me when I am suicidal. I am usually able to understand how much suicide hurts the survivors, but not when I am most suicidal. When I am most suicidal I believe that my death would be a relief and bring joy to those around me. My mental illness distorts my reality. “Yes, they would grieve”, I think to myself, “but after they got over it their lives would be better”.

One person’s experience alone can not explain suicide. It is important to note that suicidal thinking does not look the same for everyone. I provide myself as an example, but my experience does not speak for everyone. I am fortunate to have learned this through meeting tens of individuals who have been suicidal. Having listened to their stories I have gained an understanding of just how diverse the causes of suicide are and just how different each person’s thinking around suicide can be. However, one theme that is almost universal amongst the people I know who have been suicidal is concern for their families and friends.

Let’s consider for a second that someone’s suicidal thinking is not as preoccupied with others as mine tends to be. I believe that most people who die by suicide feel desperate, exhausted, at the end of their rope and that there is no hope for recovery. That still does not make suicide selfish. No one should be judged as selfish for fighting hard against a serious and sometimes fatal illness and then losing the fight. Yes, suicide is preventable. Yes, there are treatments available that work for some people. But at its core suicide as a result of mental illness is no different from any other illness that can result in death. This can be hard to grasp if your thoughts and emotions have never been overtaken by mental illness. For too long phrases like “committed suicide” or “took their own life” have programmed our collective thinking and made us believe that the person who suffered and died from suicide is somehow to blame for their death. This is why it matters that we reframe the way we talk about death by suicide. We need to use our words to convey that suicide should not be about the act itself but about the underlying distress or illness. People with mental illness do not take their own lives, suicide takes their lives from them. Suicide is more disease than act.

Saying that suicide is selfish completely ignores the experience of suicidal people. It contorts suicide into something that it is not and further confuses public understanding about suicide. I believe that the misconception that suicide is selfish stems from a real lack of understanding of what causes suicide. If you are someone who struggles to understand suicide, now is the time to do some research. You owe it to yourself and others to educate yourself about why suicide occurs. If you think suicide is selfish, you don’t understand it.

Take care,

Fiona

If you are in distress please reach out for help. If you don’t know where to turn for help, please consider contacting a distress line near you. http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html

Photo by Free-Photos on Pixabay

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13 thoughts on “Suicide is not selfish

  1. Thankyou Fiona, your post is so true. Suicide took my son away from us 3 weeks ago. He was 22. To me it seemed like he had a type of dark cancer in his brain that just took over, constantly telling him everything was negative and hopeless even though everyone tried to get him back to being hopeful and looking forward. I’m suffering but I believe he was suffering so much more. RIP Jamie, you’ll always be my baby boy ♥️ Anyone feeling this way, please ask for help the same as for any physical illness, there is always hope and love around us, please just ask for help to find it ♥️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue, I am so sorry you lost your son. I can not imagine what you must be feeling right now. I wish I could be more eloquent in this response, but I am at a loss for words. Please know how very much I appreciate your comment. I am sending warm and healing vibes your way.

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      • Aaaw thankyou Fiona, I know suicide isn’t a selfish act, thoughts get distorted and the base of this awful illness is that the person thinks the thoughts are true and they take over the rational part of the mind. It’s going to be hard but the lovely people around me and now on line really do help. You really are helping others, especially me, today, I haven’t expressed these feelings or thoughts before, I may even get out of bed! so thankyou sweetheart, big hug to you ♥️♥️

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Bravely shared and eloquently written. As someone bereaved by suicide it took me a long time to come to an understanding and leave behind the anger. 6 years later I help run a support group in Somerset and sit on a suicide prevention panel. A note to Sue… I am so sorry for your loss. It is still such early days and I urge you to contact Cruse or Mind or SOBS. We’re here to listen and support you in this difficult time. Great blog Fiona, wishing you well x

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you so much for this post. I lost a close colleague last year and I know he both loved and was loved very much by his family (close and extended) but I also know as you say above that in the place he was when he walked into that river he couldn’t register that. He was a very thoughtful and caring person, the very opposite of selfish.

    I’m going to point anyone else I hear say that what he did was selfish to your article because you explain what I want to say so eloquently. I understand because I made an attempt when I was very young, and as you say above, at that time, in that frame of mind, I believed without doubt that those I loved would be relieved and free, not devastated, it’s like being in a parallel universe. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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