Attitudes Toward Suicide

A couple of threads on this board have already been hijacked on to this topic, so I wanted to set up a thread where we can discuss it openly. I’m not a counselor or psychiatric professional; I’m just someone who’s survived suicide attempts and has been suicidal on more than one occaision. I also run an on-line support group for Dopers who suffer from depression. This is a hot-button topic, so I want to emphasize that I’d like this debate in particular to stay civil.

My questions are how do you feel about suicide, and about those who commit or attempt it, and how do you come by those attitudes? I don’t really want to turn this to an “Ask the Person Who’s Attempted Suicide” thread, but I’ll do my best to answer any specific questions.


I know people are going to yell at me for this, but in my estimation it is a case of murder.

This is an argument of the Catholic Church: a self killing is still a murder, regardless of the motivation. For example,. St. Augustine wrote about the famous and honorably regarded suicide of Lucretia in Roman history. She was a high born lady married to (I think) Tarquin the King.

She attacked and raped during a war, but after the death of her assailant, she poisoned herself. This was regarded as a great thing by the Romans. They had a similar position on some women who did the same when the Vandals sacked Rome.

Augustine said, “Wait a minute now!”* (*Not an exact translation from Latin :smiley: ) This wasn’t a grwaet thing to him. Those women who chose suicide had murdered a person. They slew an innocent life. It was quite fitting with Christian doctrine that one’s life was a sacrosanct gift from God, and therefore should be held sacred. Moreover, what is the point of punishing one’s self for no crime of your own doing?

Less developed thinkers sadly took Augustine’s work and said that therefore all suicide’s went to hell, though Augustine specifically countered that.

Suicide is a tragedy. Nothing more, nothing less.

Been there, didn’t do it, and now glad I never did.

I think I have sympathies with both of the broad camps that tend to form around this issue. I used to be very firmly on the side of shrugging irritably and thinking, more or less, “get over it,” or “good riddance–leave life to those of us who can take it.” If someone (the present me, for instance) had accused the then-adolescent me of a sad blind spot of compassion, I wouldn’t have been hurt–the complaint would sound, to me then, like complaining that I was twenty feet tall with eighteen arms. Ludicrous and bordering on insanity at worst, inanity at best.

Coming by that attitude was rather simple, I think. It was a small paradox–the combination of suffering, and of lack of experience with suffering, both at once. Suffering–the hellish experiences many kids have in high school hit me early, sixth grade or so. Coming home each schoolday a mask over tears, dreading the next day, the usual mix of that kind of thing. Better than many, worse than others. Lack of experience with it–it takes a certain amount of experience and mindfulness, I think, to really know–not intellectually, but in the guts, where empathy really matters–to develop empathy for the fact that pain thresholds are a very individual thing. Combine those two things, and what results is a rather unsympathetic attitude.

The more complex reasonings/rationalizings of suicide being a horribly selfish thing, a cowardly thing, etcetera ad nauseum, were, as I look back, simply layers painted on top of that simple childish core.

These days, my attitude has changed. I have a quiet sadness about most suicides, but the anger about the matter is gone. I can’t track exactly where that shift occurred, though. Much of the resonant truth I find in the heart of Buddhist narratives has strengthened it, but coming to a more compassionate view on the matter seems to precede any exposure to those teachings if memory’s to be trusted. I think it came down to a matter of realizing, deep down, that pain thresholds varied quite a lot from person to person, and from time to time within a person’s manifestation, and that what suicide boiled down to was a choice–often a very short-sighted and selfish choice, made when the mind is very far from a state of clarity–and declaration that, beyond X point, beyond the bounds of Y qualities, no more. And that was something that didn’t deserve scorn or dismissal, no matter how clouded a judgment such a choice came from–because who was I to sniff dismissively at person troubled (even terminally) by a lack of clarity? But I can sympathize with those who do–I was one of them. I just disagree with them these days.

If someone I knew and loved were considering suicide I would do everything in my power to help them and to make them understand that life is not futile. My family and friends mean far too much to me to let them make this decision , one that will affect far more people than just themselves. Selfish? Maybe, but that is for another thread.

That being said, when this subject is removed from my immediate life, I feel that it is no one else’s business if one wants to take their life. Some may believe that the horizon is brighter as days go by, but some only see darkness. Who am I to make this decision for another person? If someone sees suicide as their only option is it right to intervene? I am inclined to say let their will be thine.

After prolonged bouts of depression I’ve come very close to suicide, to the point where only my physical cowardice kept me alive. The only method that didn’t seem too painful or terrifying was to use a gun. Luckily for me, guns are very hard to get hold of in the UK. So I know how it feels from the perspective of someone who’s thinking about it very seriously.

From another point of view, several of my friends have killed themselves. The most recent one to do it, a young man of 26, made me really see what an intensely selfish and unfeeling act it is. I have seen first hand the utter devastation left in people’s lives. Having dealt closely with the aftermath of suicide, I know I could never ever inflict that awful pain on the dear people who love me.

So on balance I’m pretty unsympathetic to those who do go through with it who are physically healthy but depressed. Life might completely suck, but it’s never an excuse to make other people’s suck more so.

For people with terminal illnesses or nasty incurable conditions, it’s a different matter entirely. If I was in such a position, God help me, I’d probably do it. And I wouldn’t blame anyone else in the same position. That’s nature at her cruellest and I see nothing wrong in taking a shortcut to the oblivion she’s pushing you towards anyway.

I have, thankfully, never experienced suicidal tendencies myself in any more than an abstract way. However, someone very close to me suffers from bipolar depression and I have had two close friends commit suicide in my lifetime, and so sadly I feel like I have some experience.

The last word I would ever use to describe suicide is cowardly. Indeed, I believe it requires a certain kind of bravery which I am sure I personally could never attain.

My feelings towards those two friends are not of guilt. I believe I was as true and supportive a friend as I reasonably could have been. And if, given that, they still saw suicide as the way to end their pain, then I must respect those decisions, as much as I miss them.

I think many people foolishly try to kill themselves, or succeed, when they would really prefer to live.

I also think many people foolishly hang on to life when they would really prefer to let go.

Killing yourself is like any other act: it can be done well or poorly, for good or bad reasons.

It’s never done easily, though. Willingly facing death is not an act of the cowardly.

Suicide is a symptom and should be treated as such.

Unfortunately our culture has glorified suicide for centuries and so most people have some romantisized view of it. This leads many people to either be unaware that there is help or to think that getting help is some kind of cop out.


One “hijacker of threads”

As a Catholic, I believe that suicide is murder and is a mortal sin. However, I also believe that no person in his right mind would do such a thing, therefore in that state of mind a person does not have the mental capacity for committing sin. God in His mercy will deal with these poor souls with kindness and justice. Suicide is a human tragedy, as much for those left behind as for the ones that do it.

Anger, sadness, guilt, and confusion are the big ones I think. Sad because you’ve lost someone you loved, confusion because you don’t know why they did it (in some cases), guilt because you couldn’t/didn’t help them, and anger because you’re pissed off that they’ve caused you so much pain.


Ultimately I guess what I feel for people who attempt suicide is great sadness and even a little anger at times.


I’ve been suicidal (long, long ago) and I’ve survived the suicide of a close friend. While I think I understand the emotions (illogical and skewed as they may be) that lead people to kill themselves, I also understand the pain and anger felt by family and friends of suicides.

I take issue with people who say suicide is cowardly or cruel - to me, that just shows a lack of compassion. Suicide is a result of illness and I could no more blame a suicide victim than I could a cancer victim.

Sorry this is so disjointed - it’s a tough subject for me.

As far as giving an answer that encompasses all suicides, I can’t say. I think it’s a case-by-case basis and that all suicides are different. That being said, I think suicides can be honerable (such as the ancient Japanese seppuku), dispicable (suicide bombers), tragic (a person who feels they can’t go on), understandable (a terminally ill patient), and I’m sure that their are a variety of other descriptions.

As far as depression related suicide I think two things: One, that it’s tragic and the person needs help/needed help. Two, that it’s selfish in that it deprives the family/friends/loved ones from that person. Granted their are a ton of factors and my comments don’t take some of those into consideration. I do want to say that I’ve had a few friends/family members attempt (and commit) suicide and it angers me/saddens me. I can express my sadness to them, and to a very limited degree, my anger. I suppose that it’s equally selfish of me to want the suicidal person here as it is for the suicidal person to want to go.

Personally, I think it’s selfish to expect a person to value the feelings of others above their own all the time. Sometimes people must do what they need to do, and sometimes others simply aren’t as important as the self. Refusing to recognize that other people can have a right to do things that cause you pain is as selfish as acting without considering the pain of others.

Indeed, Aide, one could ask whether I was the selfish one for wanting my friends to endure their lives of suffering merely to spare me that pain caused by their deaths which was, I’m sure, only a fraction of what they themselves went through.

As difficult as it was, I convinced myself that I was happy that they were no longer unhappy.

**So, assuming something like depression (now thought of, not incorrectly, as an illness caused by a chemical imbalance) is the root of the suicide, is suicide an amoral action? That is, it may be a bad idea practically speaking (the “glory” is not real), but it is not ethically wrong? Are you saying that it is like a victimless crime (self-indenture, prostitution), which modern culture should not only decriminalize but remove moral stigma from?

Remember that one (or a society) doesn’t need to be religious to live by a moral code. Maybe suicide is morally “wrong” because it says something about life (per MSU’s position) or because it harms others or because it encourages others to commit suicide or because it sometimes lets one give up instead of facing problems (that would be where the accusation of cowardice comes in).

Morality is a code for an individual to live by–as such it should address itself in this case only to the person considering suicide. The problem in the other threads is that people are trying to apply the morality of the rule “suicide is wrong” to those confronting a suicidal person or dealing with its aftermath. The moral rule then is not “suicide is wrong,” but something like “have pity on those who are considering or who have committed suicide and their families and friends.”

I was always taught that suicide was the cop out. That people who killed themselves were weak and lacked the needed emotional strength to function on this world. As an EMT I saw hate and pain on a scale I never imagined possible, and I still wasn’t prepared for it when it hit me.

I realize now that I was being very self absorbed and didn’t care about my obligations to anyone else especially my children.

I do not blame anyone else for my episode, the decision would have been mine and mine alone. It is tragic that many follow through where I managed to stop, but blaming others for my desire to end my life is bullshit. Whatever your pain it will pass it always does.

I grant an exception to someone who is terminally ill. If the best case is delaying the inevitable a few months further burdening your family and friends as well as extending your own pain. I see nothing wrong with choosing to end your own life while you still can.

There are some physical and mental conditions that are incurable, and horrifically distressing.

If someone were suffering from something like this, and there really were no cure, I don’t see the problem.

I think suicide ought to be a right. What business it is of anyone else’s if I choose not to exist? Why would you make me exist when I don’t want to? Because there are sunny days ahead? That’s your opinion, and you’re entitled to it. But that doesn’t mean my judgment that my potential for future happiness outweighs my current suffering.

That said, I agree with Meatros that there are good and bad ways and reasons. If you like, you can decide that depression is always a bad reason. But I think it smacks of imposing your personal morality on me.

May I hijack a little and ask the Catholics a question? I understand the logic that suicide is a sin, but is it your duty as Catholics to prevent others from sinning? I thought sin was a matter of one’s own soul, and that only I can prevent myself from sinning. I thought the role of religion was to make people not want to sin, not to force people not to sin?