Thursday, December 5, 2013

Stopping Suicide

This may be one of the better written essays I've ever read:

We need such an argument to counteract the belief that suicide is morally neutral, even the right of every individual. Michel Foucault, for instance, argued that everyone has the right to suicide regardless of health or well-being.

That view has spread beyond the realm of philosophy. Google "suicide and choice" and you'll find many claims by ordinary people that suicide is a right, that because your body is yours alone, the choice to die at any stage should be yours.
Which is absurd in the most extreme. As big a fan of Foucault and other relativist thinkers as I am (Hume, etc.), he/they were always wrong about suicide being a fundamental "right" or individual choice. It's no more an individual right than the "right" to kill someone else.

Though the author doesn't conceptualize of the act in these terms, the fact remains that the difference between suicide and homicide is merely the direction of the rage or violence. When students object to this, I stress the absurdist logic of the distinction. Some students are appalled when, after saying they think suicide is an individual right, I ask "are you similarly for homicide?" Quickly they state they'd "never hurt a fly."

Right, except for that big fly they inhabit on this planet. That one is fair game, others aren't? Homicide is the murder of another's self; suicide the murder of the self. The idea that they are different acts is tautologically silly.

But where the author really hits home is in the social cost of the death impacts the rest of society.
No matter how much of a burden a person thinks he is, it is nothing compared to the burden of his suicide. People do wrenching damage to their communities when they kill themselves. Studies have shown that when parents of children under 18 kill themselves, their children are three times more likely to kill themselves than children who make it to 18 with both parents alive. When one person in a community kills him or herself, the suicide rate in that community spikes. Sometimes it is called "suicidal clusters," sometimes "suicidal contagion," sometimes "social scripting," but the sociology, epidemiology, and psychology literature clearly shows that if you kill yourself it is likely that others will follow you into the grave.
Yep, and this is where the individualists get it wrong. I always laugh when someone lands on this blog after searching "does suicide run in families" as if there is some kind of DNA or genetic component to it. Suicide does run in families but not because of what's in your blood or in the water.

Suicide is fundamentally a learned behavior. So if one of your parents did it or friends or siblings or whomever, suddenly the behavior is noramlized (to an extent) and the choice doesn't seem as appalling or foreign. 
Suicidal influence is so strong that if you want your niece, or your fellow soldier, your sorority sister, or fellow poet, to make it through their dark nights, you have to make it through yours. Those who have suicidal thoughts must know that resisting them is an act of generosity equal to that of running into a burning house and rescuing a child. Rejecting suicide saves more lives than one's own.
Without doubt.
A main feature of depression is that it feels like it will never end, but it almost certainly will. Life can change to a remarkable degree. There are times in one's life when the main job is to live through it, trusting that better days will come.

To do this it is extremely helpful to decide before that moment comes that suicide is not an option. You cannot choose to not feel pain, and you cannot choose to not think about killing yourself, but you can choose to not do it. Many studies have shown that the vast majority of people who attempt suicide are later very grateful that they failed; most people never try it again. A study following up on 515 people who were stopped from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge found that 25 years later more than 94 percent of them were still alive or had died by causes other than suicide. Another study, over 37 years, found that only 13 percent of suicide attempters did eventually kill themselves; about a third of those studied reported that their initial attempt was an act of impulsivity.
As I've also been writing on this blog for years as well: that the more we can do to erect barriers to suicide (and sorry, 2nd amendment absolutists, but this would include gun control as well since over half of all gun deaths each year in the U.S. are suicide), the more we can lower the rate.

There are some problems with the article. For example, the writer does not go into the sociodemographics of suicide (economics, poverty, unemployment, race/class, gender, etc.) and the huge role they play in who completes suicide and who doesn't.

But her fundamental premise, that we need more than physical barriers, we need moral, secular boundaries against suicide that lie outside the traditional religious arguments, is dead on.

Suicide needs to be viewed as a public health epidemic and crisis of morality and community. It is not about "sick" individuals or those who lack God.

It's about all of us.

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