They Don’t Want To Die. They Just Want Attention.

No one really wants to commit suicide. They just want attention, right? We have all heard it many times before, and many of us probably (at least secretly) believe it to be true, even if we won’t admit it. I will admit it right now. I HAVE struggled with this notion many times, and I KNOW better. Boy, do I know better. Several years ago, my fiance, Dan, committed suicide three weeks after a failed first attempt.

A few months before he died, we had a conversation about his youngest sister. She had attempted suicide on more than one occasion. Do you know what Dan, himself, said to me about his sister? “She doesn’t really want to die, she just wants everyone to feel sorry for her. She needs to grow up and take responsibility for her problems.” What does this mean? Why would a man, who clearly had these thoughts himself, say such callous statements concerning his sister’s suicide attempts? I’ve had years to figure it out, and still, I’m not certain I have.

Of course, I’m sure it was partly the “over compensation” routine, to hide his own suicidal proclivities. But, I think it’s more than that. I think if we really analyze the words, we can ultimately see the truth and the myth in them – all wrapped up in a perfect little enigma.

What do we TRULY mean when we say, “they don’t really want to die”?

Well, what we THINK we mean is: This person does not want to die, therefore, they will not kill themselves. That seems logical, right?

However, WE are the ones using flawed logic. We are assuming that suicide has something to do with the desire to live or die. In almost all cases, suicide has nothing to do with either.

It has to do with relieving pain. It has to do with ending suffering.

I think we need to realize that there is fundamentally a difference between “wanting to die” and “wanting to commit suicide”.

It might be best to think of a suicidal person in terms of a terminally ill person. Even if you don’t morally condone euthanasia and right-to-die laws, I imagine you can at least understand the logic of a terminally ill person who is suffering wanting to have the right to die peacefully and painlessly.

Do you think that terminally ill person really wants to die? Of course they don’t. They want to live, but the pain of continued living is so great that they choose to end it. Choose to end their PAIN, by ending their lives. Even if you don’t agree with their right to do so, don’t you understand their desire to do so?

A suicidal person is no different. YOU may not understand their pain, but you don’t need to understand it, to recognize that it’s there. A clinically depressed, suicidal person feels their pain for the same reason that an arthritis patient feels their pain, or a cancer patient feels their pain. They feel their pain for the same reasons anyone with a health disorder feels their pain. If any of us had the same genes and brain chemistry that a depressed person has, then WE would be depressed. We would feel the same pain they feel.

Depression has no more to do with a weakness in character or desire for attention than arthritis, cancer, or diabetes does. A cancer patient does not express their pain in a misguided attempt at hogging the spot light, and neither does a suicidal person.

If you are still having a hard time accepting this, then I will use an extreme example of “suicide to escape pain” to illustrate my point.

When we all watched in horror on 9/11, as victims jumped from the towers, did any of us, for one moment, believe that those people “wanted to die”? Of course we didn’t. Those tragic victims did not want to die, yet leapt to sure death. Why? To escape the pain of fire and smoke.

Please believe and understand, that even though you can’t see the fire behind them, a suicidally depressed person is feeling the flames. They are choking on the smoke. And it may be pushing them toward the edge. Toward the promise of relief. The fire is charring their skin as others look on and tell them to stop over reacting. As they are suffocating and blackness is closing in around them, our society tells them to stop being a baby and take responsibility for themselves.

On the other hand, it was explained to me after Dan’s death that this desire to end pain can grow so great that the desire for death becomes genuine. In most cases, when a suicidal person thinks about dying, it makes them sad. They DON’T really want to die, but they see no other options. However, in some cases, when a suicidal person thinks about dying, it actually makes them happy. Sometimes we will see that shortly before a suicide, the victim appears genuinely happy. This was the case with Dan. We had the best two weeks of our relationship before he died. I can only assume that he had at last found the peace he had been searching for.

But when it comes to suicide, the question of whether the person “wants to die”, is really not at issue. Cancer patients don’t want to die, but some of them die anyway. And a few of them suffer in so much pain, that they actually DO desire death. Depression patients are no different. Most of them don’t want to die, but unfortunately, some of them die anyway. And a few of them suffer so much, for so long, that by the end, they  also desire death. The real issue is: Is this person at risk for committing suicide? If you are unsure, ask them. When confronted with a direct inquiry, most suicidal people will be honest with you.

But not always. Dan never admitted he was suicidal, and I asked him over and over. In the end, ultimately, we have no control over the life, or death, of a suicidal person. Recognize the warning signs, provide support and understanding, help them get the medical treatment they need. Realize that they probably don’t want to die anymore than a cancer patient wants to die. But depression, like cancer, is sometimes fatal even with the best medical treatment and support.

Help is available 24/7 at the ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What do you think? Have you ever been accused of just wanting attention? Have you been told to just go ahead and kill yourself? Down deep inside, do you feel like most suicidal people are more interested in hurting others rather than themselves? Foundational beliefs are hard to change. Let us know what your experiences have been with this issue. But please be kind.



10 thoughts on “They Don’t Want To Die. They Just Want Attention.

  1. This was such a great post, Carrie. I couldn’t agree more. I knew my partner didn’t want to die. He wanted to relieve his pain. A pain that he felt no one understood. I was in our home, in another room, at the time he took his life. Even though I didn’t initially identify the sound I was hearing while he was in the process of taking his life, after his suicide, I realize that the sound I heard, several times, was him cocking the shotgun, as though he kept changing his mind. A clear indication to me that he didn’t want to die, but could see no other alternative to relieving his mental pain.

  2. thank you for sharing this dramatic example of how suicidal people may not want to die, but will still commit suicide anyway. We would never think to say, “a cancer patient does not want to die, and so cancer will not kill them.” We also should never say, a depressed person does not want to die and so depression will not kill them.

    bless you, I can’t imagine what that experience must have been like for you. Dan shot himself when he was alone in his apartment, so I didn’t have to experience the horror of hearing it and finding him. hugs to you! 🙂

    • Thank you Carrie. I feel certain, as neuroscience advances in its understanding about the brain, that depression, mental illness, head injuries and suicide will be greatly curtailed. There is hope for those who feel hopeless. ♥ *hugs you back*

      I’m going to share one of my favorite tunes. How interesting that I was just looking for the lyrics to leave on your post when I ran across this comment from the “Song Meaning” website:

      “I This song stopped me from suicide, and ever since has been what I turn to in tough times.”

      Here are the lyrics followed by the video. I hope it will be uplifting to others.

      Stitch in your knitted brow
      And you don’t know how
      You’re gonna get it out
      Crushed under heavy chest
      Trying to catch your breath
      But it always beats you by a step, all right now

      Making the best of it
      Playing the hand you get
      Well, you’re not alone in this

      There’s hope for the hopeless
      There’s hope for the hopeless
      There’s hope

      Cold in the summer breeze
      Yeah, you’re shivering
      On your bended knee
      Still, when you’re heart is sore
      And the heavens pour
      Like a willow bending with the storm, you’ll make it

      Running against the wind
      Playing the cards you get
      Something is bound to give

      There’s hope for the hopeless
      There’s hope for the hopeless
      There’s hope
      There’s hope
      There’s hope

      There’s hope

  3. Very good, informative and educational post! Suicide is bigger than most people know. Thanks for the clarification between wanting to commit suicide and wanting to die. I’ve never been able to understand what was going through a person’s head before they commit suicide. What you said about them just wanting to end the pain makes perfect sense. It’s given me another way to look at it. Thank you for sharing such important information.

  4. Pingback: How To Help Someone Who Is Suicidal | Little Blog of Letting Go

  5. Pingback: Post #100! My Re-dedication to Suicide Prevention and Grief Support | Little Blog of Letting Go

  6. There is so much that I’d like to say in support of this article, it’s message, and the important work you’re doing for the cause. Unfortunately, when I feel something deeply words escape me.

    Because your thoughts gently /radically challenge people to think of suicide from a different perspective (the accuracy of which I can personally attest to), I’m hopeful
    that you’ll be open to my gently challenging you on something that is very close to my heart and to the work and message that I share in my own educational efforts.

    Words matter, especially when we’re trying to change a paradigm. The phrase “suicide survivor” is so commonly used that I’m pretty sure people don’t think much about it . They should.

    I know what people mean when they say “suicide survivor” – that a loved one has taken their own life. I’m unaware of any other disease or condition that people die from where others call themselves “survivors of.” Relatives of people who have died of cancer don’t call themselves “cancer survivors.” Instead, they have lost a loved on TO cancer. “Cancer survivor” is a term – dare I say, a sacred term – that can and should be used by and about those who themselves have/had cancer.

    I am unaware of any other situation whereby those who don’t actually “have the illness” call themselves “survivors”. Suicide survivors are those who have this terrible illness, have attempted suicide and lived. Those are the only ones who are “survivors.”

    Is it a small distinction, merely an issue of semantics that doesn’t really matter because “everyone knows what we’re talking about, anyway”? No. It actually co-ops a phrase that is critically meaningful in the struggle to change the conversation around suicide. Unintentionally, it hurts the very people that your work aims to help. It disempowers us, devalues our struggle, and makes us invisible – nameless.

    Suicide survivors are NOT those whose loved ones have died by suicide. Suicide survivors are those who have attempted suicide yet lived.

    Were those of us struggling with this illness in any kind of position to able to advocate on our own behalf (which, as a result of the disease itself, we’re not) , I feel strongly that this issue would have been raised and resolved “in our favor” long ago. It’s not too late, though.

    Please think about it. Please, also, consider writing a blog piece about it, perhaps, if you understand what I’m saying, sharing your journey of awakening to and embracing this critical issue. Please think twice before using the term to describe yourself and please correct others who still do.

    I honor your insight and work. On behalf of all my sisters and brothers who are the true are “suicide survivors,” thank you for all of your love and effort.

    • Wren, I know exactly what you mean with this heart felt comment. The reasoning behind “survivor of suicide” is because statistically, people who have lost a loved one to suicide are at a much higher risk of dying by suicide. The death of a loved one, for any reason, is a risk factor for suicide, but if the death was due to suicide, the risk is substantially higher. The rate of suicide among “suicide survivors” is alarmingly high. I myself was about a hair breath away from becoming one of those statistics.

      There are so many additional obstacles in the grieving process which involve guilt when a loved one dies by suicide. The guilt those left behind feel is just so great that it pushes many over the proverbial edge. I’ve met so many people who have lost multiple children, or father/son, mother/daughter, husband/wife losses. Among children there is often a wave of suicides following the first one. And of all those who DON’T commit suicide, a very high percent of them struggle with thoughts of suicide, or survive attempts of suicide….There just simply isn’t this heart breaking phenomenon after people die of cancer, or even tragic deaths like murder.

      But I have also thought of what you have said here. That people who attempt suicide but survive are ALSO survivors, esp. if they go on to successfully treat their depression. Because as we all know, simply not dying from a suicide attempt does not, unfortunately, always mean surviving DEPRESSION. Many people who fail in their first attempts go on to ultimately be successful. As we call cancer survivors after the illness they beat, a more apt term would probably be “depression survivor”, as that is the illness they are struggling with in most cases. It’s not really suicide that they need to beat, it’s depression for the vast majority.

      I call myself a survivor of suicide because that was the only thing I had to make it through – the grief of losing my fiance to suicide. I was not suffering from depression, it would have been completely unfathomable that I would put a loaded gun to my head and almost pull the trigger. The only thing that pushed me to that moment was his suicide. I felt it was my fault. I felt I could have saved him. I felt like he had wanted me to save him, but though my own stupidity didn’t see it. I felt I deserved to die.

      A person who is struggling with depression which leads to thoughts of suicide is not being pushed to suicide BY suicide, but by depression. That being said, I am NOT disagreeing with your comment at ALL. I see both sides of this issue as legitimate. In truth, anyone who survives the wrath of suicide, whether those left behind, or those who live after a suicide attempt, or even those who suffer depression and have thoughts of suicide but don’t ever attempt it. There are many suicidally depressed people who never attempt suicide. We are ALL survivors of this cruel, heartless killer.

      I WILL take up the challenge of writing a post on this topic, and highlight the legitimacy of all of us calling ourselves survivors of suicide. Thank you so much for the thought provoking comment. I’ve been neglecting my blog because I’ve been caring for my elderly mother all summer, and am also having increased trouble with my severely depressed daughter now. But I will come back soon and visit this very topic, thanks again!

  7. Pingback: Who Are “Survivors of Suicide”? Do We Need a New Definition? | Little Blog of Letting Go

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