Is suicide selfish?

Recently a young community member committed suicide.  A group of us were talking about how sad it was, and as the group was breaking up, one of them commented that suicide is selfish.  What surprised me was the vehemence in her voice  — she sounded angry.   I remembered that someone she knew had committed suicide months ago, and realized the anger was her way of dealing with her grief. 

Today I read about an ex-Marine named Clay Hunt who recently committed suicide.  He served in Iraq and Afghanistan, received a Purple Heart, and since his discharge has worked a lot for veterans and in disaster relief.   Friends and family say he suffered from PTSD, depression, and had survivors guilt.  Most people who knew him were sad, but understood he was dealing with difficult things.  Yet one friend said, “He was always a guy to stick things out and he basically quit life, and I was mad that he felt he had to do that at that particular time.” 

Anger is one of the stages we all deal with when we grieve over a death (whether it is the death of a person, a relationship, a cherished dream, whatever).  But it is a stage in the process, not somewhere we are supposed to remain at forever.   We can never know exactly what a person who commits suicide was feeling or thinking, even when they leave letters or journals behind.   I don’t think we can imagine the pain experienced by people who see death as their only way out.  Nor should we blame ourselves for not being able to do something to make life better for the person, or to stop them.   We do the best we can, and some things are beyond our power to change.  The only person who could have prevented the suicide was the person who committed it.

People who commit suicide see no way to make things better.  Indeed, they often see themselves as making life better for others, by taking their pain out of the equation.  I am not arguing for suicide.  What I do ask is that people respond to the news with some compassion.  I argue that people who see suicide as selfish are themselves being selfish.  Deal with your own issues, and don’t blame the person who was in pain for your inability to deal with your grief.


PS  (several days later):  Have been thinking about this, and perhaps asking if suicide is selfish is like asking if living is selfish — it is a blanket statement, and therefore cannot be true for ALL cases.  We are individuals, and the reasons we do things are our own.  So it is possible a suicide may be selfish.  But just as that person is responsible for their actions, we each are responsible for our own issues.


About judithornot

Lives in semi-rural Northern California, happily married, retired counselor, night person, knits, plays WoW.
This entry was posted in Mental Health, Random thoughts and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Is suicide selfish?

  1. GusDavis Autry says:

    I’ve always thought as we are searching for answers about suicide, a person can be depressed, despondent, feel hopeless. All or. none of emotions but for that brief mme, they go crazy, all sense of reason:they do the act, shoot, cut, pills, whatever. And, unlike others of desperation, if they are successful, no changing their minds. Sad.


  2. judithornot says:

    It is sad. I’ve worked crisis lines, and when talking with someone who is suicidal, one of the things I’ve mentioned is that as long as they stay alive, there is always a chance to make things better. It helps if we can help them see hope. But it really is up to them . . .


  3. S says:

    I do believe the reaction to suicide as being termed “selfish” is one of guilt with an underlying theme of: “what could I have done that I didn’t?”. People who term suicide as selfish are plagued with questions in the aftermath: What didn’t I see that I might have? What didn’t I pay attention to? What might I have done that I didn’t do? How busy or self absorbed was I that this person in such desperation I didn’t help or didn’t find time or energy to help? I believe those feelings and the guilt are responsible for the surviving family and friends of suiciders are responsible for the label of “selfish”.

    Let me say a couple of things: suicide is the final act of desperation for someone in such intense pain that they feel they can no longer endure it. It is no more selfish than any act any person takes to alleviate their pain. I understand the guilt of survivors who feel they should have or could have done more, and sometimes this is justified…and sometimes, perhaps not. I am not into balming the victim–primarily the one who has taken their own life.

    In some circumstances ( I believe in most circumstances) there is much more that we can do to support one another. In some cases, the minority of them, we do all we can do, and the suicider is bound by mental illness, and there is no more we can do. I think those cases are a tiny minority, by the way…

    The truth is, if our priorities are right, we place a higher priority on one another and the value of the lives close to us than our financial and other prosperity. Those with help those without. And when someone we love takes their life because they have needed that kind of support, and we have failed to give it because our priorities are so screwed up, we are indeed left holding the bag of guilt (called “conscience” ) that makes us say the person who has just ended their life is solely responsible and “selfish”.

    Sorry, I don’t buy it, and neither should you.


  4. S says:

    I want to clarify that in my closing statement of my comment, above, “you” was not directed at the author, but rather, to the population at large who may be reading…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s