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© Copyright 1998, Jim Loy
I heard that the law says that it is illegal to commit suicide. Strange law, huh? I always wondered what the penalty was. I suppose that they are just trying to prevent suicide attempts. But, I am told that it is not illegal to commit suicide, it is illegal (some places) to attempt suicide.
A friend of mine attempted suicide. And he was involuntarily committed (for his own protection) to the hell of the State Mental Hospital at Warm Springs, for testing and observation. Such an experience could well drive someone to suicide. Attempted suicide can be the mistake of a lifetime.
Another friend of mine says that everyone has the right to commit suicide, apparently one of those rights that the Constitution neglects to mention. And, as I think about that, I find that I have to agree. But my attitude is that everyone (including very bright people) has a right to think stupid thoughts, and do stupid things. I have the right to destroy my own life, to destroy my health, to destroy my relationships with others, to destroy my property. I even have a right to hurt others, within limits, something that suicide does. Anyway, regardless of whether people have a right to commit suicide, it seems like such a pathetic waste.
Is suicide ever the right thing to do? I suppose I might do it to save other lives, or for a noble cause (for my country). I might even consider suicide to end a painful, fatal illness. What noble cause is the reason for most suicides? "Life is no longer worth living." Such a feeling often comes after some loss, some injustice, some embarrassment, some mistake. Besides that, a person who feels that way is normally prone to depression. Depression hurts a person's quality of life. But, perhaps a feeling of hopelessness is not the same as actual hopelessness. At least part of this hopeless feeling comes from within.
I'm saying that I think the depressed person may not be competent to make a life or death decision.
Pretend, for a moment, that suicide is actually a mistake. Personally, I have something of a fear of making such a big mistake, one that is not correctable. I don't really fear making mistakes, just the terrible ones (causing someone's death or severe injury, things like that). Is suicide a mistake or not? Are you going to find out after you're dead? It's too late to correct it, then, if it is a mistake, right?
If I said, "Don't commit suicide," would that stop anybody?
A couple of people have informed me that the law, in some places, prohibits attempting suicide, instead of committing suicide. I knew that, but was trying to be funny. Didn't work, did it? I said, above, that I guess everyone has the right to commit suicide. But, my overwhelming feeling is, "What a waste!" Please, don't throw away that life.
How can you prevent people from committing suicide? I want to know the answer to that question. I would like to believe that a depressed person can listen to reason. "Suicide is stupid. And life will probably get better. And death may not be that great. And other people may be hurt." They already know all these things, and they still commit suicide.
I am not just spouting off my theories of depression and suicide. I want to figure it out. I feel that there must be something (some thought or word of advice) that can help prevent suicide.
Above, I said that I thought committing suicide was "stupid." A person who was contemplating suicide wrote to me and objected that I was calling people like him "stupid." Of course, he was misreading what I said. I pointed out that doing something stupid does not make the person stupid. I think everyone does stupid things. He thought that the word "stupid" was still too harsh. I disagree. At least suicide is often "illogical" in the way it often relates to a person's mood more than it does to reality.
If I say that something you think or do is "stupid," the reaction that I expect from a healthy person is, "Oh yeah. Up yours. Your opinion doesn't count." Instead, this person was even more depressed by my supposed low opinion that I had for him. I apologize for my insensitivity. I wanted to know more about depression and suicide. That told me something more about it. What little I am learning about depression and suicide is this:
Does this make sense? Also, see my essay on the word "Stupid".
Above, I concentrated on the inner causes of depression and suicide. Are the external causes (financial and personal problems) of little importance? Of course they are important. But it seems to me that a depressive person reacts to these external causes in a much different manner than other people do. They are naturally pessimistic, sure that things will stay bad, and will get worse. I think that most people are optimistic, to some degree, sure that things will eventually get better. Of course "pessimistic" is not the same as "depressive." I am, by nature, pessimistic. But, I am seldom depressed. I suspect that things will go wrong. But, I expect things to eventually get better. And I have always been right in the past.
Which is more realistic, optimism or pessimism? I don't think that is the point. I think that pessimism is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think that pessimism can help make things go wrong. And it can make a person fail to deal with the internal causes of the depression and suicidal thoughts.
The above essay and its addendums (addendi?) may be off-base and superficial. But it seems to have helped save a life. I received email from a man who had recently lost his wife to cancer. He said that my essay helped him rethink his planned suicide. Excuse me, it's hard to type while I'm patting myself on the back (just kidding). Another email said that depressive people have been shown (in one study) to be more realistic and accurate in their judgements than optimistic people. That may be so, and I must emphasize that accurate judgement is often very important when making decisions. Personally, when things go wrong, I optimistically expect things to get better eventually. I think that is realistic. Plautus said (exaggerating somewhat), "Patience is the best remedy for every trouble." I must also add that optimism is often very useful in accomplishing difficult tasks, like athletic feats. But I do take issue against wild, unrealistic pessimism (and wild optimism too, now that I think of it) and suicide.
There is a lot of help out there:
and a lot more! Also, there is probably a suicide hot line in your area. Try the phone book.
I received email from a parent of a young man who committed suicide. This parent wanted to know if the hospital should have protected him, as was done at an earlier time at another hospital. He had slashed his wrists, and they just sewed him up and sent him home. Then a couple of weeks later he committed suicide. I replied:
This is my first email like this. Once suicidal person sent me email, and then made it impossible for me to send email to him, which was frustrating.
I'm trying to understand (at least a little bit) this problem, as I'm sure you are, and as suicidal people are. Some of these deaths apparently cannot be stopped. I don't know if the hospital (a doctor) should have done more (legally). You might talk to a lawyer in that field. Also, I suspect the laws vary from place to place.
What can you do when a person does not want help? People of all ages can be involuntarily committed at the orders of an M.D. for their own protection (probably for just a short period of observation). That is drastic and controversial for a number of reasons. And that is one of the many no-win situations that a doctor must occasionally deal with.
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