Is It Selfish to Die in a Tornado?

Written by on October 28, 2015 in All Posts, Misc, Stigma with 34 Comments

Menacing, huge clouds swirl above a tree at the end of a long highway

People who die in tornadoes are so selfish. They have people who love them, people who will be hurt terribly if they die. Yet they die anyway.

People who die in tornadoes are thinking only of themselves. They take the easy way out when they refuse to overcome the storm. They don’t care that their death shows others that not everybody can survive tornadoes.

Obviously, I am being absurd. Yet substitute the word “suicide” or “suicidal crisis” for “tornadoes,” and I have summed up arguments of those who say that suicide is selfish.

“How could she abandon her children like that?”

“He was only thinking of himself.”

“Her suicide sends the wrong message to others.”

Suicidal forces are a storm inside one’s head. The harsh winds of a tornado – and the debris they kick up – batter the body. The pain accompanying suicidal forces batters the mind.

But…People Choose to Die by Suicide

Wooden signs with arrows point in two different directions. The signs are blank.It might seem that choice sets apart suicide and tornadoes. People choose to end their lives. Nobody chooses to have a tornado demolish their home.

The mind is deceptive. What appears to be a choice often is not truly a choice. Otherwise, people with obsessive-compulsive disorder could choose to stop experiencing obsessions and compulsions. People with schizophrenia could decide to turn off the voices they hear. And so on.

Forces outside the person’s control cause the person to “choose” suicide. Those forces happen. Nobody chooses to experience so much pain, loss, trauma, or mental illness that they feel compelled to die by suicide.

But…Most People Survive a Suicidal Storm

The sun shines brightly over a long, empty road in a desertIt is true. Thankfully. Almost everyone who experiences suicidal thoughts – even most of those who survive a suicide attempt – make it out of the storm alive. They recover. Many thrive. It is a reason to celebrate. Life goes on, and their loved ones need not be hurt by their loss.

It is not that those who survive a suicidal storm are selfless. For whatever reasons, their suicidal thoughts become less intense. They get good help from professionals or people they know personally, or their mind offers some relief, or some other change occurs that helps them to resist suicide’s forces. It’s not personal. 

But…Concern for Others Does Stop Suicide for Some People

Some suicidal people vow never to act on their suicidal thoughts because “It would devastate my parents” or “I could never put my children through that.” It is wonderful that those individuals’ concern for others helps them resist suicidal thoughts. I hope they take advantage of that. However, it is wrong to presume that those who fall victim to suicide did not have concern for others.

In his book Myths about Suicide, the psychologist Thomas Joiner writes of the movie star Halle Berry, who says she halted her suicide attempt by carbon monoxide poisoning when she thought of how her suicide would hurt her mother. It is a mistake to compare those who die by suicide with those who survive, Dr. Joiner writes:

“It is a mistake because those who die by suicide have experienced a rupture in their social connections, and thus ideas like ‘my mother would be distressed if I were gone’ do not occur to them, not because they are selfish, but because they are alone in a way that few can fathom.”

But…I Got Through It for the Sake of Others, So Why Can’t They?

Perhaps you felt suicidal in the past, and you did not hurt yourself. Perhaps to resist suicide, you thought of those you loved, and the thought of hurting them hurt you.

In a drawing, two heads look at each other. One head as the sun shining inside it, and the other head has the moon and stars.Be careful not to expect others’ experiences (or resources) to be like yours. The suicidal storm is different for everyone.

Suicidal thoughts can be a whisper or a shout, a suggestion or a command, an idea or an obsession. Some suicidal people have fleeting suicidal thoughts a few times a week. For others, suicidal thoughts intrude loudly every day, throughout the day, without relief. Other people fall in between to varying degrees.

What worked for you might not help another. Sometimes, the difference between a suicide victim and a suicide survivor can be just one thing, like finding a good therapist, starting a medication that works, or simply waking up one morning and inexplicably feeling better.

Something else might make the difference between living and dying, something unknowable. Your own suicidal experiences do not reveal anything about another person’s.

But…Is Suicide Selfless?

Contrary to being selfish, many people who act on suicidal thoughts do consider the welfare of others. The problem is, their considerations are distorted.

 “I am a burden to those who care about me.”

“They’ll get over my death and be happier once they can move on.”

“I can’t bear to put my parents through the pain of watching me fall apart.”

I have heard those statements, and many more like them, in my work as a psychotherapist. Right or wrong, many suicidal individuals truly believe that others would benefit from their death. As Dr. Joiner notes in Myths about Suicide:

“Ideas like ‘my mother will be better off when I am gone’ are primary. These are the antithesis of selfishness.”

I would not go so far as to say that people trapped in a suicidal storm are selfless. Instead, they are victims of their mind’s deception.

The concepts of selfishness and selflessness simply do not apply. Suicide’s victims are neither selfish nor selfless, just as it is not selfish or selfless to die due to a heart attack, cancer, a car wreck…or a tornado.


Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, is the author of “Helping the Suicidal Person: Tips and Techniques for Professionals,” a psychotherapist and consultant, and an associate professor at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work.

© Copyright 2015 Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, All Rights Reserved. Written for All photos purchased from

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  1. John Roberts says:

    You are not being absurd. The exact opposite, in fact. People that stay to protect to try to protect their homes from tornadoes, floods, fires, etc. usually have sufficient warning in the 2000s to get the heck out of there before the crisis occurs! Many who choose to remain behind do not survive. For those with family or community who love them, I find their deaths INCREDIBLY selfish.

    While I understand the point you were making, I think you used a poor example to make it.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


      With all due respect, I am not familiar with any documented accounts of people staying to protect their home during a tornado. A flood or hurricane, yes. But a tornado? Typically people retreat to a basement or a ditch or some other place to protect themselves, not their house — if possible.

      There are storm chasers, and perhaps in the interest of logic I should address those dare-devils as exceptions. But to call anybody who dies in a tornado “selfish” is, I believe, a misunderstanding of the word “selfish.”

      Thanks for sharing — and for challenging my thinking!

    • Michael says:

      A tornado strikes without warning, often in the middle of the night. She wasn’t talking about other natural disasters that you can see coming. (Even some of the others you mentioned defy predictions) Even with all our new technology we can still only give a few minutes warning and possible location of a tornado. Even if you can take shelter you have no guarantees in an f4 or f5. So no it’s not Selfish.

  2. Virginia says:

    Thank you for recognizing the devastating effects of suicide and suicidal thoughts. These are lies your brain —the physical organ —tells you and brings such pain as can’t be felt as physical pain but surely causes physical side effects.

    When your leg is broken, you walk funny. When your heart is broken, you have pain and other debilitating symptoms. When your brain is broken, it signals with debilitating thoughts and suicidal thoughts. This is why medicine is all important in treating a person with such issues. Like you would set a bone or treat a fluttering heart with electric shock and a pacemaker, you treat the whole person who has debilitating mental illness, because the brain affects EVERYTHING.

    My sister lost her life to suicide, and she couldn’t muscle through her crises —which were many and included persecution for being gay—just like I can’t muscle through mine without help.

    If you are struggling with stuff that seems foreign to you —I’ve had suicidal thoughts that came out of nowhere and weren’t my will —find someone who will listen. Make them listen. Make your doctors listen or fire them and find another. Require them to treat you as a peer. Bring a list of questions. Tell them what is you and what is not you. (I make sure they don’t confuse my religious practices with my mental illness.) Go to a support group like or and connect with people who have similar would to yours.

    One in four people are affected by mental illness. There are people out there from all walks of life who have been through things you have and can help you find your way.

    I am bipolar, and I have dealt worth symptoms like this and others which are common to many affected by mental illness. I freely talk about it so that others can find what they need.

    Don’t suffer suicidal thoughts or think it’s “all in your head.” It is a persecution thing, and the illness will grab every sad thought you have to make you cry, and it will be a lie.

    Measles leave red marks. Polio paralyzes you. Smallpox leaves pustules. Mental illness takes over your saddest, darkest memories and throws them at your confidence and stamina. And, like the evil dementors in the Harry Potter books, destroys you utterly.
    You don’t have to go it alone.

    Suicidal thoughts are not natural. They are unbearable pain. It is this pain that victims want to stop. In any way possible.

  3. Mike H. says:

    Dr. Freedenthal, thank you for the link.

    I agree with you, there are many points of view with regard to what is selfish or selfless. To presumptuously assume that someone threatened or succumbing to suicide is selfish is to, in my opinion, misunderstand what a suicidal person is likely dealing with. To your metaphor, it IS like a storm, and we can’t always successfully duck out of the way of a storm (ask any pilot), despite our best efforts. To say someone gave up trying and simply allowed the storm to overtake him is to not understand that the storm can be so large there really isn’t anywhere to go.

    BTW, another metaphor that comes to mind for me is a chronic health condition related to lifestyle choices, such as smoking. I have no problem arguing that a life-long smoking habit is actually very slow suicide. Most smokers know the health hazards, they have or had a choice when they started, and they continued throughout their lives. Knowing it may lead to their deaths, usually after prolonged and expensive healthcare interventions, they continued anyway. Is that selfish? I think so.

    But even as our society has begun to understand the connection between smoking and poor health, rarely does the term “selfish” get thrown about when health issues arise. In fact, regardless of what family members may think (“he did this to himself, you know”), many feel sorry for the victim of smoking-related issues. In fact, a rather large and extensive (and lucrative) class-action lawsuit was initiated and settled with regard to smoking-related health issues and those who suffer from them, with one of the underlying contexts being that smokers (regardless of personal choice) “didn’t know or understand” the true consequences.

    Imagine a similar lawsuit regarding victims of suicide. Who would be the target? What would be the argument? A rather intriguing notion, I think.

    Thank you.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


      Your comment is beautifully stated, especially this part: “To your metaphor, it IS like a storm, and we can’t always successfully duck out of the way of a storm (ask any pilot), despite our best efforts. To say someone gave up trying and simply allowed the storm to overtake him is to not understand that the storm can be so large there really isn’t anywhere to go.” It makes me think, too, of those people who jumped out of the Twin Towers, because it was the only way to escape the flames, which were their own kind of storm.

      To your last questions (“Who would be the target? What would be the argument?”), I think you’ve elucidated why some people sue therapists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals when a loved one dies by suicide. Granted, sometimes true negligence did occur and the professional failed the suicidal person. Other times, though, loved ones blame the professional for forces beyond the professional’s control.

      For example, if a person is suicidal but doesn’t tell their therapist, pretends to be feeling better, and even outright denies having suicidal thoughts, then there’s only so much the professional can do. Yet many people expect professionals to foresee the unforeseeable. This isn’t quite parallel to your point about the people who sue tobacco companies, because in those cases the companies were providing poison that the people chose to use. In this case, professionals are providing help that some people choose not to use.

      Good food for thought!

  4. Suzette says:

    Love it it’s clear to me now

  5. Mark says:

    Suicide seems selfish to society, but suicide attempters don’t think so. But still its people own choice, NO ONE CAN TELL YOU,YOU MUST LIVE! Most of the time you live for yourself, not for society, friends, lovers, kids, etc.My writing seems cynical, but it’s harsh reality. My condolences to all suicide attempters and all who have already taken their lives.

  6. pained says:

    living in constant life changing pain, not being able to have 5 minutes without the pain crushing your every thought. my quality of life is diminished to the point that I have none and this is selfishness

  7. Michael says:

    If one has reached middle age, has no family left, and no children, and makes plans for the suicide so it is as mess-less as possible, and distributes his or her estate in advance to charity, and realizes his carbon and Social Security footprint etc. will terminate thus not depriving others, I would consider it “selfless” rather than “selfish.”

    • Jonathan O'Hair says:

      I think you are probably right about this. If you look at what the person who dies by suicide does before hand, and if we see that they have truly prepared for it mentally and physically then perhaps we should not judge them or apply any kind of selfish aspect to the memory of them.

  8. stillnesstest says:

    Thank you for this. I was just touched by a friend’s suicide, and your essay has helped. I look forward to exploring your site, and following you on FB.

  9. Anonymous says:


    The quiet, and the calmness just before the storm, and then it begins, as the warm air contacts the cold, it collides full force where it starts to spin, slowly at first, it gathers speed, the momentum is building, it commences to rotate faster and faster, becoming stronger and stronger until no longer contained it races to the ground. The vortex spinning uncontrollably downward: a category F5. It ultimately reaches ground and gathers everything up in its wake.
    Your emotions, feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and values hurled about, spinning out of control, flung every which way with no rhyme or reason. Then it eases, and stops, but what is left in its wake is debris, rubble, fragments of your life, nothing of value, everything damaged and shattered. The land where once fertile and alive is now bleak and barren, scattered about with total disregard.
    It is now hell on earth, every bone in my body, every hair on my head aches, it is unbearable. I am so exhausted, so overwhelmed, so destroyed that there seems no end to the suffering. My stomach starts to churn, like that of the storm, around and around it spins, stirring up all the emotions, all of the thoughts, and all of the feeling ,thrust together into the mixing boil that is my life. I try to focus; try to find that one entity that will give me peace that will calm the internal storm. I turn my attention to my breath, to each intake of air, and then as my body expels it. I find the peace, it is in between each breath, like the eye of the storm it is quiet and still, but only for that moment and then the explosion of anxiety smashes back into my body.
    The overwhelming feeling of fear, of dread, and panic, is it over, or will it rise again, once again to hurl my life into chaos. I feel completely out of control, as if something or someone has taken over the reins, and I no longer am allowed to drive. I am scared of the past and terrified of my future, there is no quieting my mind, it races uncontrollably around and around like the vortex of the tornado, no stopping it spins until finally it hits ground zero.

    The rubble of what is left of my life is laid out in front of me and there is nothing of worth. I try to sift through it, discovering bits and pieces of what once was my existence, a tiny bit good, and a massive collection of bad, nothing that is salvable, nothing of value. I am left alone, with nothing but my thoughts and feelings, no one to help, I feel abandoned and deserted. I filter through those thoughts and feeling looking for the joy, the happiness that once was. I am looking for something with which to cling, some form of hope in all that hopelessness, in all that confusion. Where and how do I retrieve the positives, to find some small glimmer of light in all that darkness, is it there, hiding beneath the debris? Do you think I can rebuild, can I restore myself back to the person I once was, do I want to return to that person, or is there something better, someone who is whole, without fault without the guilt and shame carried for so long. Where do I start the rebuilding, where do I get the tools, are there enough tools with which to rebuild, do I have the energy and desire to rebuild. They tell me that it takes time, time to first clean up the debris, the hurt and the pain, to accept that which has happened. I then have to start to mend, to reconstruct my life into a new shape, into a new character, into someone that is strong, able and courageous. This process is slow and cumbersome, it take time, there are so many steps, some forward, many backward, and always the fear of the storm returning, to once again hurl me back downward. If the tornado strikes again will I have the willpower the fortitude to once again start the process back upwards.

    That is depression; it pulls me downward in a vicious spiral, downwards into nothing but darkness, my life so pulled apart as to never be returned to normal: thrown about with wild abandon leaving my mind in turmoil, confusion and pain. Once the worst is past, once the storm has blown over I must find a way to recover, but has too much damage been inflicted, or does the sun come out and once again bring hope for the morrow.

  10. Me says:

    I’m one of those who thought suicide was selfish, the most selfish act someone could do. Didn’t the person who was committing suicide care about those they were leaving behind? What impact would it have on their parents, siblings, children, how could they expect those who loved them to ever recover from the feelings of guilt and loss and heartbreak that act would cause them? Didn’t the person committing suicide ever stop to think of that? Selfish!

    I have a young adult child who is often suicidal. I now understand. When someone is suicidal their thoughts aren’t about those they love, they can’t even think about them, can’t focus past their own horrendous pain. They are not capable of thinking ‘I’m not going to do this because it would hurt my mum/partner/child so much’ because they can’t think past ‘This is the only way to get rid of the pain’. Selfish? Definitely not.

  11. Rethink says:

    Stacey, this was one of the best articles in my opinion written. I am debating sharing this with a friend. Maybe there is some way for you to use this to help bridge the gap between both sides. I haven’t always agreed with what you have said, but I think this nailed a point that many in society need to hear. Again, if you look at someone who commits suicide as selfish, maybe that attitude in itself helped fuel the suicide.

  12. rob says:

    suicide prevention is selfish. no one should be forced to live, when he/she has had enough of life.

    • Rob says:

      people that do not understand suicide have never suffered. I am meaning tormented. it is far more compassionate to be at peace knowing their loved one no longer has to suffer .loving someone is wanting what the person wants. not what you want

  13. Cereal says:

    I hope you don’t mind me writing my response here.

    I’m always careful about the ‘suicide is/isn’t selfish’ issue, because….well, I always end up thinking of the people who do think suicide is selfish. What about them? Aren’t their opinions important too? What if they lost someone to suicide, and think they were selfish? What if they have attempted suicide, and still think suicide is selfish? I don’t think they should have to hide their opinions of suicide in order to keep others comfortable, or put on a happy face and only speak of the ‘good’ or ‘acceptable’ opinions of suicide out there. Your website is called ‘Speaking of Suicide’; therefore, shouldn’t we speak about *all* of it, including the ugly, angry, selfish, rage-filled parts?

    I don’t understand how this is meant to help them unless they are encouraged to speak of all their thoughts. It’s kind of like saying, ‘It’s okay to be angry when someone dies by suicide’, and then greatly limiting the way that anger can express itself, which feels unfair to me. If you help someone who has lost others to suicide, then surely you have to be prepared to hear thoughts and opinions that you don’t want to hear, otherwise how are they ever going to move on?

    Personally, I agree with you that it is neither selfish nor selfless. I don’t think there’s one fixed answer to it. But I also think ‘selfish’ means very different things to very different people. Some people think that in order to perform a selfish action, you must have the intent to be selfish. Others think that everything we do is selfish; in which case, someone who saves a baby from a burning building is selfish because they were saving the baby so they didn’t have to feel guilty about it afterwards. But I wouldn’t ever judge anyone who does say suicide is selfish. I don’t know how they got to that opinion; it would be much more interesting to simply listen to what they’re saying without trying to change their mind.

    I also think that this is relevant; when my friend told me she’d attempted suicide, I did not cope with it very well at all, and am still struggling a year and a half later. I will always feel far safer talking about my experiences and feelings with someone who says suicide is selfish. I feel safer knowing that, with such an extreme view, they probably will not judge me. And I know that’s not going to be the same for everyone, but I thought it was worth popping in there. It irritates me when people make assumptions that because my friend attempted suicide, I don’t want to hear that suicide is selfish; why not trying *asking* me my opinions on it first? I think that if there were less judgment against thoughts such as ‘suicide is selfish’, ‘suicide is cowardly’, whatever, I would have been able to get my thoughts out on it and would therefore have moved past my friend’s suicide attempt by now. As it is, I have kept my thoughts, emotions of anger and opinions on it locked up for far too long and recently became suicidal as a result.

    I’m sorry if that came off as rude, I’m not angry at you. I actually find your website very helpful-I just disagreed with this part.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


      I did not find your comment to be rude or angry at all. Thank you for sharing. You raise really good points, and they have caused me to question some aspects of what I wrote.

      When I wrote that post, I was responding to a newspaper column in which the writer said a Dallas woman was selfish for dying by suicide. The woman, Patti Stevens, killed herself two weeks after a stranger hacked her husband to death with a machete. The newspaper column was headlined, “Patti Stevens’ tragedy was unspeakable, but her suicide is still selfish.”

      The entire situation was so horrific that I found it repugnant that the writer would malign this woman even in death. Her poor family and friends! As if their egregious losses were not enough, now this writer’s condemnation was added to the mix.

      I wasn’t thinking about others who more privately find suicide selfish, especially those who have lost a loved one (or, in your case, almost lost a loved one) to suicide and viewed the act as selfish. It is not my intention to judge them. I agree with you that people should be able to think, feel, and say whatever they wish about the suicide, without judgment. And many people do view their loved one as selfish for, in the survivors’ minds, causing them deep pain and grief that could have been avoided if the person were still alive.

      I think the distinction here is that the editorial writer was a stranger to the woman who died by suicide and condemned her for thousands of reader, including some vulnerable, suicidal individuals, to see. Surviving family and friends, on the other hand, who might find their loved one’s suicide selfish are wrestling with intense grief. Grief is not logical. Even when somebody dies for reasons completely out of their control, it is not uncommon for surviving family to be angry with the person.

      I need to think more about this, though, as I truly do not want to cause pain to anyone who feels very human emotions about the loss of a person close to them. Perhaps I will write a post about this soon!

    • Rethink says:

      While I can appreciate your careful approach to this, and expressing logic. I have a question for you. Considering your sympathy for the people who think suicide is selfish, do you not see how someone on the other side, couldn’t see that attitude as selfish? I guess you could go back and fourth, but I tend to side with the people who are in that much pain to begin with. It sounds like you are getting there, so maybe you understand.
      I can tell you don’t like being judged, and I don’t think anyone does, but what are people doing that have that attitude? Judging! Do you honestly think, with that attitude, they are even beginning to consider how bad it must be for the other person? I just find it a little ironic, that someone who lines up on that side which sure seems prefaced on a judgement, doesn’t in turn like to be judged. You are pretty careful here not to say anything judgmental, and I can tell you have been hurt by this, but I have heard this from people who have no idea how bleak things look, and I am always baffled by the irony. I am sorry, but I think this is one of Staci’s best articles. Attitudes like that just make a person want to go more. In fact, in some cases might make someone feel justified in the pain they are causing others. You may have heard this already, and if so, I apologize, but I felt the need to respond.

    • Cereal says:

      Hi Rethink,

      You’re right when you say that I am judging people whilst I don’t like to be judged myself. I try not to, but in the end everyone’s going to judge someone at some point. I suppose that because of my own experiences, I feel more empathy for people who say things that people don’t really want to hear; I want to understand how they came to that viewpoint, and if they are only saying these things because they are hurting, I’d like to try and help them. I think that if you dismiss someone as a heartless individual because they called suicide selfish, you’re ignoring quite a big part of the issue, which is *why* they’re calling it selfish. You’re not getting the full picture, which is why I feel uncomfortable judging them for it. They’re being very judgmental for doing so, but I also feel like people spend too much time trying to turn someone’s grief into something rational. Grief isn’t rational. Never has been, never will be. Hence why I think it doesn’t occur to some people just how bad the suicidal person had it; they’re too caught up in their own pain and irrational thoughts to consider it. At the end of the day, I empathize more with people who say suicide is selfish because I’ve been in that situation. That’s a pretty shallow reason, I know, but there it is.

      Staci’s article did upset me quite a bit at first, mainly because I now take *any* hint of judgment at the anger stage of grief as a personal insult. It’s something I’m working on.

      One thing I will say though; you say people have no idea how bleak it gets, at which point I feel like you’re referencing suicidal people? That’s absolutely true. But I also think that people have no idea how bad it can get for people who have lost someone to suicide, or people in my situation who know someone who has attempted suicide. The latter is so rarely talked about that I cannot find any support groups, any websites on it, whatsoever. I’ve lived with mental illness my whole life; I’d rather go through that again than be told about my friend’s suicide attempt, because at least I have support when it comes to the mental illness. People just don’t want to know about the consequences suicide attempts can have on other people; it’s too problematic to discuss; it needs to be hushed up, or else suicidal people might feel guilty. Both sides (suicidal people and people who have lost someone to suicide/attempted suicide) brush the other’s problems off as something they’ll just ‘get over’, it’s just that only one side is challenged on it.

    • Rethink says:

      Very well said. I don’t think anyone acts rationally 100% of the time. I think though, that it is through rational discussion that SOMETIMES people can come to a common ground. That is truely frustrating, and I tend to side with people who never get their voice heard. It isn’t even just being heard, but truly listened to. I have met many a person who will shut their mouth, blink intently, and call that listening. Then, later they will say something that clearly indicates they haven’t given much thought at all into balancing new information I provided them with into their conversations. I have seen this perhaps most in the psychological profession.
      The reason I say this is as someone who has been contemplating the end for a good year or two, I want to mention something that might help people who don’t want to lose someone to suicide…..You don’t have to be a shrink to listen! I wish I could get into all of the negative experience I have had with psychologists, but it often means more to someone to have a friend/family member who is willing to put down their own selfish feelings, and make the suicidal person sense there is someone willing to help them carry the load for a while. That entails TRULY listening. You have heard the saying about not knowing what a man has gone through until walking a mile in his shoes. It is amazing how hard it is for most people to actually do that. The problem with therapy is it places labels down, convinces the rest of society that there is something “wrong” with the person going, and to some (I include myself in this), it creates an environment that feels so superficial it is hard to trust. Briefly, the questions I always ask is “if you care so much, why do you need to get paid to talk to me?” or “what makes you think an hour is really going to be the right amount of time I will need today?”. I know it can work for some people, but the problem is many people now believe you need to be “trained” to be able to show concern and just listen to someone! Is that progress???? That doesn’t even begin to mention the society a shrink wants to send a person back into with all of those stigmas, and barriers, they have helped to create, but done little if nothing to really tear down. I really don’t hear shrinks advocating to help the “mentally ill” find stable income, advocate for ways those people might have increased job performance, or help those people really surround themselves with life’s luxuries. I only say that, because I have had friends I considered close, who I think both don’t believe they can do the things I need, and they have called “professionals” against my will who have only made matters worse (it doesn’t look good to neighbors when cops show up to your door because they think you might kill yourself, and doesn’t score points with the landlord either). There is a small segment of professionals starting to acknowledge that many in the psychological profession are doing as much if not more harm than good.
      I wrap up by saying, I think the problem with the system, and many in it, is they are only trained to handle mainstream problems. Even most shrinks, can get frustrated if you tell them their mainstream ideas don’t work, and they will begin to label you as defiant. Well, maybe you are even being defiant, but why? Because you aren’t getting your needs met!!!! I hear you saying that here, that you aren’t getting your needs met. I empathize with you, and just hope that people learn to be more genuinely caring/selfless/understanding because I don’t think you need to be a shrink to do that. I mention this, because in SOME cases, it could make the difference between life or death. I know in my case, therapy won’t do it. Only genuine efforts from real people will. Sorry, to get on a rant, but I just say that because I think you can get something positive out of your experiences and maybe this is one……Sounds odd hearing that from a suicidal person, but I believe it to be true.

  14. Mary says:

    Honestly, the reason I am considering it is because nobody seems to care. I want to reach out but I already have. If I do now – I would seem like a burden. All I want is someone here for me, physically, who could tell me it’s going to be okay. That’s all.

    But you know people. They see it as attention-seeking when you’ve been like this for so long. They think that just because you’re suicidal for so long and haven’t acted on it – you won’t actually act on it. That even saying you’re suicidal was a ploy to get attention because you seem fine in generally.

    And so, they stop caring about you after a while. When do they care? When it’s too late. Not now. Not when you really need the help. Only when you’re dead.

    I’m surrounding by such people who see me as a burden. I want them to be there for me – these people specifically, but I know they can’t. I know they have other commitments (exams; work; their own issues). What to do? Other than just give in. Let go and be done with it.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Mary, how lonely and rejected you must feel thinking that others do not care about you and your pain. Perhaps you are right. Perhaps people have tired of bearing witness to your suicidal thoughts and trying to help.

      Two important points to consider are that, one, you might be wrong. There might still be friends and family who want to help and listen. Two, even if others are not available, there are still people who can help you, who can reassure you and provide you with connection, empathy, and perhaps even hope. ‘

      I hope you will consider seeking help from a professional or from others trained in helping suicidal people, such as the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1.800.273.8255 (TALK). Many people do care, even if you have not met them yet.

    • Michael H says:

      Almost a year ago I took more than 300 prescription pills because I thought I was a burden to my wife pulling her down into the abyss with me, I thought she didn’t understand the pain I was in, that I was just lazy, and I thought I was a terrible role model for our son. Those thoughts took over, a full proof plan developed over 8 months along with a deeply buried mass of darkness. One night in December of all months after an argument the darkness consumed me, those thoughts and emotions were in control. I walked a 1/2 mile with my box of pills and a bottle of water to a field where roads had just been laid for new construction, I could see my bedroom window where my wife was sleeping as I downed Percocet, Vicodin, Zofram, Tramodone, Provigil, Lithium, Imiprimine, and who knows what else. My conscious rational mind was there to, trapped watching in horror, screaming, pleading, praying for my body & mind to stop what it was doing. Then I ran out of water, in the one moment of cognitive thought of how to get more my rational mind was able to take back control. I was closer to passing out than walking home, but somehow with some divine intervention that’s what I did. I’ve been as close to death by suicide as anyone can ever come, I know it is not a selfish decision. I also know what it’s like to feel that those closest to you don’t care or find you a burden. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. My attempted suicide affected my wife so deeply she had to take 2 months off and see a therapist herself to recover; imagine if I hadn’t regained control. The shockwaves affected my, friends, parents, and inlaws in a devastating fashion. Before my attempt I never thought I was capable of attempting suicide. I always managed to get my self into the hospital, or to the church, or talk to someone first. Now I know what my depression can do to me and I know it’s not going anywhere, fighting it does no good, it’s a part of me. Since then I’ve lived a much better life, I still suffer from depression, still looking for the right combination of medications, still seeing a therapist regularly. The difference is now my focus is on living with the depression, using skills I have learned to fight the irrational thoughts and ease the painful emotions. I’ve also built an intricate safety net to help me when I start to fall, so I never hit that dark place again. The thing is you have got to seek help wherever you can find it, the suicide hotline, emergency room, a therapist. Whatever it takes, start to care about yourself again. Than you can bring others along though I think you might find they are not as far away as you think.

    • Rethink says:

      I can understand Mary’s pain. I do have a question about these solutions. What if therapy, and the people who are always suggested as people to go to have been more of a problem in the past than a help? You can talk to anyone about these things, honestly, but many see it as a burden or waste of their time like Mary says. When the only people who are willing to talk to you are the ones that are getting paid to do so, how can you honestly feel there is anything true or genuine about that?
      Before any judgement, let me tell you a little bit about myself. When I was only 11 I was put in a psych ward with a whole slew of kids older than me who had gotten in much more trouble than I. The STAFF in that place abused me! The place ended up getting shut down because they killed a girl in a restraint. I have tried calling the suicide prevention line a few times, but I want to KNOW I am talking to someone who is going to put their own feelings aside. Otherwise, I can’t trust them. There are so many that get into the psychological profession thinking it is going to be easy. I always wonder why. They label people as having “disabilities” and “diseases” and then think that is going to make them feel better? I have questioned the field and done it rather effectively for a long time, because of what I went through, and very very very few people in the profession have ever been able to even show the slightest acknowledgement of some very valid questions:
      1) How can I trust someone who has to get paid a lot of money and cut me off at the end of an hour?
      2) What if I need more than the “canned” amount of time to get any productivity out of a conversation?
      3) Do you honestly think psychology is 100% objective? Don’t you think you might have biases in the way you treat me that might get in your own way of being effective?
      4) Even if this conversation is “confidential”, what is stopping you from going out and talking about me (even vaguely) after we’re done? It isn’t like there is a judge hanging over your head watching you.
      5) Even if you are able to listen to me, and I come away with a different perspective, that doesn’t change many of the ways the world looks at me? Your profession has so many labels they place down on people, when one goes back to the world where many of the problems started, any visible connection I may have had with a shrink is often seen as a sign of weakness. In today’s social media, that could mean job opportunities, social engagements, and many other things blown.
      While I would love to believe that psychology/psychiatry can just be trusted. There are many instances in which it just can’t. I am one who believes the profession needs help before it can continue to help others. The last time I called the suicide hotline, I got chastised because I wanted to ask questions about why the person on the other end of the line really wanted to help me. I simply stated that I didn’t have a great deal of respect for her profession, but did need to talk to a genuine person. She grew defensive, calling me “abusive”. I WAS THE ONE VULNERABLE!!!!! I will not call that line again. I am sorry, but after my background with these people, I don’t trust them. I only trust people who show a genuine concern, and those are few and far between. It shouldn’t be hard to understand why people feel there is no hope left. It really shouldn’t.

  15. I have 2 year old twins sons.Their father completed suicide by train 5 months ago yesterday.So many people have said it was so selfish of him to do that and how could he leave me and his children behind.He was an addict that had lied and stolen from me and his kids numerous times.I know that in his mind he thought he was doing us a favor by being gone.And that he didn’t do this for selfish reasons.He made the ultimate sacrifice to give me and his boys a better life.I’m not angry with him at all.I miss him but I know how tortured and depressed he was.And him finally being at peace puts me at peace also.

  16. Shinyshiny says:

    Thank you for writing this. I have struggled for 25 years with suicidal thoughts, or at least wanting to be dead, most days. My husband killed himself two years ago so I know what a person goes through in the aftermath of suicide, but it doesn’t change my thoughts when they get so intense I can’t see another way out. But I’m still here, for now.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this. A family member committed suicide this month at a train station. It was his funeral yesterday. I am shocked and stunned by this and I’m finding your blogs helpful, comforting and much needed at the moment. Thank you for all you are doing, keep up the good work.

  18. The Dragon says:

    A very excellent article, Stacey. I could reiterate so much of what it says, but why rewrite it? Thank you for the thought that went into this.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Thank you for the feedback! I appreciate it.

      The post was actually inspired by a column I read this week where the author called out a woman who died by suicide for being “selfish.” The woman, Patti Stevens, had been married 25 years. Two weeks earlier, her husband was murdered by a stranger with a machete. Patti Stevens killed herself in the throes of grief, despair, and trauma. And the columnist called her selfish!!

      The headline of the column was, “Patti Stevens’ tragedy was unspeakable, but her suicide was still selfish.”

      Can you imagine?

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