that no man is educated
who has never dallied with the thought of suicide."
- William James
Talk about it:
There are several mainstream web sites that deal with the topic of suicide. A few of them can be found here and here. This section of LiveReal is designed to complement, not replace, this material.(We also have a disclaimer here)
Further, this article is not necessarily written for someone who is currently thinking of suicide as an option. If this is the case, we recommend finding a professional through the above sites.
Many academics and intellectuals have spent countless hours researching the topic of suicide, and have written countless books on the subject. So, as is typically the case nowadays, we have mounds and mounds of information, more than we can ever hope to absorb, and much of which is essentially trivial, redundant, or practically useless.
Further, the suicide services out there - many of which are excellent - sometimes tend to focus on short-term, crisis-oriented, ultimately temporary solutions.
And meanwhile, the suicide rate seems to keep rising.
". . . we know a mastodonic amount about suicide.
We know, for example, a great deal about the underlying conditions
that predispose an individual to kill himself -
heredity, severe mental illness, an impulsive or violent temperament -
and we know, too, that there are some events or circumstances in life
that interact in a particularly deadly way with these predisposing vulnerabilities:
romantic failures or upheavals; economic and job setbacks;
confrontations with the law; terminal or debilitating illnesses;
situations that cause great shame, or are perceived as such;
the injudicious use of alcohol or drugs.
We have much knowledge, as well, about who commits suicide:
the most vulnerable age groups and the social backgrounds and gender of those most at risk;
and we know, too, about the hows and wheres and whens of suicide:
the methods used; the places, times, and seasons chosen.
But we are less certain of why people kill themselves . . ."
- Kay Redfield Jamison in Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide
Why does a person commit suicide?
Let's cut the crap: it's really not too terribly difficult to understand. Life is hard. And in times when things get really, really hard, suicide can seem like one of the only solutions.
ever lacks a good reason for suicide."
- Cesare Pavese (1908-50)
- Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in America
- It is the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15-24.
- During the Vietnam era, there were more casualties of suicide than of war.
- More teenagers died from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, lung disease - in essence, all natural causes, combined.
- Suicide in the young has at least tripled over the past forty-five years.
- Every 17 minutes in the U.S., someone commits suicide. About once a minute in the U.S., someone attempts it.
- More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia and influenza, and chronic lung disease, combined.
- More than 80% of people who commit suicide give some sort of clue as to their intentions. Yet in most cases, family members had no idea what was about to happen.
- Statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention www.afsp.org
"When you're between any sort of devil and the deep blue sea,
the deep blue sea
sometimes looks very inviting."
- Terence Rattigan (1911-77
So what's going on in suicide?
Suicide, in itself, is only seen as a "problem" by people who are on the outside, looking in, trying to figure it out intellectually the way they would figure out a math problem.
But to the person who is actually thinking about doing it, it is not seen as a "problem" at all - rather, it is seen as a solution - a solution to another problem, or set of problems.
- It is seen as an escape from what is experienced as an unbearable social situation,
such as a bad marriage or family relationship.
- It can come from being too identified with something that you are not
- for example, one's social role, wealth, relationship, job, or so on,
- and then losing that role, wealth, relationship, job, or so on.
- It can come from a state of depression (which comes from other things)
- It can come from overall viewing life as meaningless (a habit of constantly asking "what's the point?"), or simply asking the question "Why are we here?"
and not having a good answer to it, like surprisingly few of us do
- It can stem from a general state of world-weariness
- It can stem not from only suffering, such as physical - which never causes suicide alone -
- but more importantly, from suffering without having a good reason for why there is suffering.
(people can endure all kinds of torture, as long as there is a good reason for it)
- It can stem from believing that, if there is a God, He must either be some kind of sadist
or else not know what He is doing;
- It can stem from hopelessness that "IT" will never be found, and so life isn't worth living;
a collapse of faith that life is a good thing and is worth living.
"The thought of suicide is a great consolation:
with the help of it
one has got through many a bad night."
- Friedrich Nietzsche
So then, what can a person do about it?
The best approach to suicide we have found is this:
A person commits suicide because they are in a great deal of pain, probably have been suffering for a long time, and imagine that their pain and suffering will continue for a very long time in the future.
Suicide, then, is sometimes imagined as a way to end the pain, as a solution to the suffering.
In other words, a person imagines that the reason they are suffering is because there are alive and have body, a physical human body. And they imagine that if they end the body, or end their life, then the suffering will cease, and there will hopefully be peace.
However, there is at least a fair chance that even killing the body may not end the suffering. Instead a person may be better off killing the ego instead.
Many wise individuals claim that the cause of suffering is not the body, or being alive, but is the "ego." And if a person "kills" the ego, then the suffering will cease, for real.
So then, how to "kill the ego"? Well, many recommend certain exercises which, if practiced sincerely and consistently, lead to a kind of "ego death" which ends suffering. Click here to try some of those exercises. And further, it might help to get in contact with certain spiritual teachers, either ones you are familiar with or others here, who may be able to help with those exercises.
"Is Suicide Really An Escape?"
passage from The Wheel of Life and Death by Phillip Kapleau
"The ordinary suicide may think he or she is escaping a life of misery, pain, or financial or other difficulties, but life and death are part of an ongoing process, and anyone who understands this will realize that one does not escape one's misery in one life and avoid having to deal with it in another. (See "Karma" and "Rebirth" (in the book)). A friend once told me, "Many times I considered killing myself - particularly in my younger days - but each time the idea cam up I thought to myself, 'If I think it's bad now, what will it be like if I kill myself? Then, not only will I still have to face what is unresolved for me now, but I will have the added karmic burden of the suicide to deal with as well - not to mention the guilt arising from my awareness of the pain to others that my self-inflicted death caused..."
- Phillip Kapleau, The Wheel of Life and Death
Suicide, again, is often viewed as an isolated, remote, random problem, which it isn't. We often hear about suicide as a single, isolated event, that "so-and-so committed suicide," and that's often all we hear about it. But actually, this is something like reading the final chapter twenty of a book - having skipped the first nineteen chapters. We see the result, often the inevitable conclusion of the first nineteen chapters -but none of it really makes sense. It's not that it doesn't make sense - it's just that we need to read the preceding nineteen chapters first - after which all the pieces can click more into place.
In fact, some individuals can read the first chapter or two of a book, or see the first few minutes of a movie, and can accurately predict what will happen from there - in a way, they can foresee the plot and consequences of how certain stories will turn out. This is sometimes a perspective on people who understand real morality.
The solution to suicide, in this editor's opinion, is not one that is best addressed directly; The best means, in other words, for "solving" the problem of suicide lies in addressing all the things that lead up to it.
The good part is, few of us are actually locked into hopelessly unpleasant situations. Even in the worst of situations, we have the ability to overcome them.
We can often think that painful times may seem permanent, as if they will last forever, as if we will be scarred for life and in pain somehow. This is not true. Remember constantly, in regards to whatever kind of pain we are going through now, that everything changes: "This too shall pass."
If one is in a bad or seemingly unbearable social situation, such as a bad marriage or family relationship, do everything in your power to change it, and then bear the must come, remembering that "This too shall pass." Everything changes with time.
Do what can be done to alleviate depression;
Find meaning in life, or figure out why you are here
Try to understand why you are suffering, and then try to find the solution to it.
Do what needs to be done to get some kind of "faith"
Spiritual traditions dating back thousands of years have all recommended a certain practice in common, namely, that of cultivating an attitude of "detachment."
This does not mean a stoic, rigid, joyless uncaring attitude towards life; rather, it simply means seeing things in their proper perspective, rather than all out of proportion like we usually do. The way this is typically done is through meditation.
Do not buy too much into the wrong things. n't get too identified with a certain status, rule, wealth, relationship, job, or so on.
Stop searching for "IT" in all the wrong places, and find "IT" where "IT" really is.
"If some people fail to live boldly, out of their fear of death,
there are others who can lightly throw away life
on account of a secret attraction toward death.
Death is not all dreadful, popular belief notwithstanding.
Death has also a sweet, fascinating aspect.
It exercises a magnetic attraction upon the minds of many people,
even though they may not be consciously aware of it . . .
Some people secretly long for death
as a sweet escape from the horror of life.
Life is reduced in their eyes to a nightmare.
The pressures and problems of life
prove too much for them.
By comparison, death appears charming . . ."
- Haridas Chauduri
"There is but one truly serious philosophical problem,
and that is suicide.
Judging whether life is, or is not worth living
amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy."
- Albert Camus (1913-60)
( - in other words, why are we here?)
Many of the most insightful and successful thinkers throughout time have grappled with the issue of suicide, asking, as Camus did, "Why not?" They have often come up with some creative solutions . . .
Story of Paul Brunton
"As a result he found himself out of tune with the harsh materialistic big-city vibrations surrounding him. In fact, he told me, they became unbearable. Finally, he decided he could do something about it, that he did not have to put up with the situation, that he had a choice - and that choice was to leave this world by the only means he knew, that of committing suicide. So being a well organized young man he wrote in his diary: "Commit suicide a fortnight hence."
And he proceeded to put his affairs in order. The thought then struck him: what happens when I die? Where do I go? His curiosity aroused, he went to the large British Museum Library and asked the reference librarian for books on death. She steered him to the shelves carrying books on spiritualism. He took home half a dozed and eager devoured them. He found the subject fascinating - so fascinating, in fact, that as he had not finished all the books when his two weeks were up he postponed his impending suicide and went back to the library for more books. And again he had to postpone his suicide which he read with much interest whatever books he could obtain on the subject. Finally, he decided to postpone his suicide indefinitely . . . "
- Paul Brunton: A Personal View, Kenneth Thurston Hurst
Story of William James
An excerpt from a biography of James, often considered to be "The Father of American Psychology":
"For almost three years after graduation, James lived in the family home. His bouts of depression increased after a young woman whom he had befriended died following a prolonged illness. He would later describe his depression as a descent into a profound crisis-of spirituality, of being, of meaning, of will. He suffered panic attacks and even hallucinations that left him mentally crippled. His father had suffered similar attacks and had sought refuge from them in spiritual quests. William feared that his infirmity was rooted in a biological destiny he would be unable to overcome. He also shrouded his angst with secrecy and used only his reading and journal writing to deal with the mental anguish. One day in April of 1870, the psychological fever began to brake. He recorded in his journal that, after reading an essay by Charles Renouvier, he had come to believe that free will was no illusion and that he could use his will to alter his mental state. He need not be a slave to a presumed biological destiny. "My first act of free will," he wrote, "shall be to believe in free will."
James was now 30, three years out of medical school, and with no career prospects or plans except for a vague desire to devote himself to philosophy in some fashion. It was at this propitious time that Harvard president Charles Eliot, a neighbor and former teacher of James, offered him a post at Harvard teaching physiology for the modest sum of $600 per year. His acceptance signaled the start of a prestigious career, for James was to become a gifted teacher, a skilled orator, and, of course, a prodigious thinker and writer."
- from excerpt
William James essay: "Is Life Worth Living?"
("What Makes a Life Significant?")
Shakespeare understood the mind and heart of a person who considers suicide. A passage from Hamlet where the young prince is considering whether or not to take his own life:
To be, or not to be, - that is the question: -
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? - To die, - to sleep, -
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, - 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, - to sleep; -
To sleep! perchance to dream: - ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death
what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despis'd love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
But that the dread of something after death -
The undiscover'd country, from whose bourn
No traveler returns, - puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to other that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought;
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard, their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action . . .
LiveReal Editor's Note:
The noble Prince Hamlet ponders: Life is a struggle. Life, even when it is lived well, comes with a healthy dose of pain and suffering. So why, why go through it? Why suffer the seemingly meaningless "slings and arrows" that life inevitably throws at you?
This is a question asked by the warrior Arjuna at the beginning of a battle in the centuries-old tale called the Bhagavad Gita . . .
Talk about it:
"Razors pain you
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live."
- Dorothy Parker (1893 1967)
"There are frightening
statistics of suicide by young people in the last decades.
In the 1970's suicide among white young men increased greatly.
We may try various ways to prevent suicide in these young people,
like telephoning seriously depressed persons and so on.
But as long as the highest goal
remains making money,
as long as we teach practically no ethics
by example in home or in government,
as long as these young people are not inspired to form a philosophy
and as long as televisions is overloaded with aggression
with no mentors in learning to love
- as long as these obtain,
there will continue to be among young people
such frightening depression and suicide."
- Rollo May