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.
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.