It’s an esoteric idea and a sucker-punching word. No one likes to discuss it because unveiling too many details is painful and awkward, and seldom is the action fully understood.
In the rare event that suicide blooms into conversation, a judgment that is made all too frequently is that suicide is selfish.
Deeming suicide a selfish act is not only erroneous and ignorant but also harmful. Suicide is not, in any case, selfish.
I will never forget the day my cousin took his own life. I woke up to a phone call from my mom. She had horrible news. I was 16 years old, and although I knew he grappled with depression, I could not fathom the idea of him being gone from my life forever. He took me on my first motorcycle ride and pulled off some of the best April Fools’ Day pranks. He personified “life of the party,” but he also suffered deep psychological pain that forced him to make a desperate decision. While I cannot claim to know what my cousin’s thoughts or exact intentions had been, I am confident that he did not take his life in an effort to make the rest of us grieve; it was not selfish.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, major depression is a mood state that goes beyond temporarily feeling sad. It is a serious medical illness that affects thoughts, feelings, behavior, mood and physical health. More than one-half of people who have committed suicide suffered from depression, which demonstrates the overwhelming effects of the disease.
“It feels like a heavy bag of rocks on your back all the time,” Grace Robinson, former University of Richmond student, said.
Robinson suffered from depression and had suicidal thoughts for many years.
“I often felt like I was floating around watching everything happen — my talking wasn’t me and my actions weren’t me, and I was so far away that I didn’t know how to get back to the present,” Robinson said.
When I saw my cousin in the years leading up to that tragic day, it was evident that he was not himself, at least not fully. And it wasn’t that I caught him on a bad day or in a strange mood. He had a chemical imbalance in his brain that he could not control.
When people take their own life, they do not dwell on how their action will impact others. They do not hope that people will suddenly pay more attention. And they are not “taking the easy way out.” People who commit suicide feel that there is absolutely no other choice. The disease has ultimately taken hold, sucked them into a black hole and convinced them that disappearing from this earth would be best for everyone involved.
“When I was in that place, I wasn’t thinking of my parents, sisters and friends who would miss me. All I felt was desperation and a need to make it all stop, because my situation was hopeless and beyond repair,” Robinson said.
A person who commits suicide is paralyzed, in a sense. He/she is not thinking rationally, he/she is overwhelmed, and he/she is constantly terrified. This is not a description of a person with a healthy mind, so people with this illness should not be treated as if they are clear-headed. Call a perfectly sane person selfish when he/she deliberately manipulates or cheat. But this does not translate to someone who has no grasp over his or her emotions.
Calling suicide selfish reinforces the self-hatred, the agony and the uncertainty of those with depression.
I am not condoning suicide. I am not permitting those who feel terrible pain to take their life. Rather, I am pleading that others stop calling suicide selfish so that these people who suffer can feel they live in a world safe enough to search for help, love and compassion.
We are nearing the end of suicide awareness month but I hope these discussions do not end. Suicide rates are far too high in the U.S., with almost 40,000 deaths a year. We must reach these people to let them know there is always, in fact, another option.
Contact Opinion Editor Stephanie Manley at firstname.lastname@example.org