The “conventional” view on suicide is that it’s morally wrong and selfish. As such, it’s (generally) illegal and people who try to commit suicide are placed in mental institutions. This probably stems from the view that life is inherently good and valuable and people who would try to kill themselves are acting so irrationally that there must be something wrong with their heads.
There’s also a strong stigma attached to suicide because of the legal issues surrounding suicide, the fact that it’s seen as selfish and morally wrong, and because the person who is professing a desire to kill themselves is seen as sick in the head somehow. Because of this, people panic and overreact at any mention of suicide, which only encourages those entertaining suicidal thoughts to not share what they are going through. Instead of being something that can be talked about and understood, suicide and suicidal thoughts have become a dark secret that must be dealt with alone. And then people wonder why people who look happy kill themselves with no prior warning.
The best evidence of the stigma surrounding suicide are suicide hotlines. The stigma is so strong that the only way many people feel comfortable talking about their suicidal thoughts and feelings is with a complete stranger, anonymously over the phone. Ideally, you would talk to the people you are closest to and who know you the best, as they know you the best and they are in the best position to help you. But instead people choose an anonymous voice over the phone that can, at best, give you some encouraging words and point you to another phone number or website. That’s fine when doing a book report, but for suicide?
The idea of removing the social stigma around suicide is already being “championed” by the mainstream culture and society. But no matter how many articles are written about the subject and memorials are created for those who have killed themselves, very little progress has been made in this direction. The people who create these memorials and write these articles want people to be comfortable opening up and sharing their suicidal thoughts, but at the same time are unwilling or unable to change their perspective on life and the rationale behind suicide. Suicide to them is an unspeakable horror that was inflicted upon them that could’ve been prevented had the person just opened up to them. They believe that they would’ve been able to talk some sense it to them, to help them see clearly. Never in a million years would they consider the outcome where that person would talk some sense into them, and they would agree that suicide was the best option. It is this “preserve life at all costs” mentality that serves as the foundation for the stigma around suicide.
An Alternate View on Life
If we don’t decide whether we enter the world, at least we should have the option to decide how and when we leave.
Life is unfair to some people, and it is unreasonable to expect these people to feel the same way about their life and want to live as much as the people who got a better roll of the dice.
People might say suicide is a selfish act because it hurts the people around them. I would argue the opposite — it’s selfish to prevent someone from committing suicide if they are really set on doing so. If you really don’t want them to commit suicide, it’s your responsibility to help them get to a place where they no longer want to. Otherwise, you’re unnecessarily prolonging someone else’s suffering to preserve your emotional state, which is a selfish move on your part.
Life is not inherently good and valuable, and neither is it inherently short and brutal. Life is subject to the whims of Fortune, which means for some life is good and valuable and for some it is short and brutal, and everything in between. Many of the people who commit suicide have thought their decision through thoroughly. For those who got the short end of the stick, it is not unreasonable to consider the options we offer pets to shorten their suffering, i.e. euthanasia.
Suicide, it seems, is one of the most rational decisions that someone makes. After all, the stakes are high, and people understand that they are also hurting other people. The decision comes from a personal calculus of current and future suffering and whether it would be worth it to persevere.
What Can Be Done?
Clearly the best way to prevent people from killing themselves is remove the stigma surrounding suicide and suicidal thoughts, which will encourage more people who are considering suicide to talk about it with others and potentially back off their decision. In order to remove the stigma, though, our cultural and societal view on life and suicide must change to be more accepting and understanding of the act. A good indicator of this shift is prevalence and legalization of euthanasia.
It is only by accepting suicide that we can effectively prevent more suicides. When the stigma disappears and more people share their thoughts, we can start to understand what is bringing people to the point where they don’t believe it is worth living anymore. Only then can we really start to address the other social and cultural issues that are driving the people around us to take their own lives. Just like with drugs, it is easier to manage problems when they are accepted, understood, legalized, and out in the open. Problems like drug addiction and suicide don’t disappear because they are outlawed or frowned upon — they simply go beneath the surface, fester, and get worse until we are forced to face them.