I have been asked some variation of this question more than once – even by mental health professionals. Once, a therapist told me about a client of hers with schizophrenia. “He is miserable, and he will always have schizophrenia. I think letting him kill himself is humane.”
Indeed, there is a whole movement around “rational” suicide. Rational suicide includes physician-assisted suicide, which involves a physician prescribing a lethal dose of drugs to someone with a terminal illness. Physician-assisted suicide is legal in Oregon, Washington, and Vermont, as well as several countries around the world.
Yet “rational” suicide extends beyond people with a terminal illness who want to avoid a prolonged, painful death and to control when they die. Some proponents of rational suicide advocate its use in the case of physical disability. Some even consider suicide in the context of mental illness, such as depression, to be rational. In fact, in the Netherlands, where euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal, depression is a permitted reason.
Why Stop Someone from Suicide?
Years ago, a TV news show did a piece on the Golden Gate Bridge, the site in the U.S. with the most suicides every year. Death is almost certain when one jumps from the bridge. More than 1,500 people are known to have jumped to their death, and only 30 or so are known to have survived. So when two young men, in separate incidents, jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge, they were absolutely intent on dying. And yet, even with the certainty that they wanted to die, each told the reporter that the moment they jumped off the bridge, they regretted their decision.
These extreme examples illustrate that the wish to die is fluid. It comes and goes to varying degrees. A great many people who are saved from suicide are thankful, sooner or later, to be alive.
Another important reason to prevent suicide is because, proponents of rational suicide notwithstanding, in almost all cases suicide is decidedly irrational. Research consistently indicates that 90% of people who die by suicide had a diagnosable mental illness at the time of their death. Mental illness distorts thinking. What is bad can become good, and vice versa. Often, very often, when a person’s mental health improves, the wish to die goes away.
An Irrevocable Act
Yet another important reason to prevent suicide is its obvious finality. There is a saying, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” (Many people in the suicide prevention field dislike this saying, because it implies that suicide is a solution of any kind. But that is a topic for a different post someday.)
Suicide is indeed, and obviously, permanent. Yet life is always in flux. As long as a person is alive, things can change. Perhaps their external situation is unchangeable – perhaps they are permanently paralyzed, or perhaps they have a chronic incurable illness. Even if their external situation cannot change, their inner world can.
There is always the possibility that they may find ways to cope. Or they may come to appreciate different things in life. They may find a purpose in life that gives their loss or trauma meaning. Whatever the case, they may discover things that make their life worth living.
A Question for You
I have given some of the reasons that suicide should be prevented. Others have different reasons.
Do you think suicides should always be prevented? Yes or no, what are your reasons?
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