Who is to Blame for Suicide?

g_image.phpThere seems to be a growing tendency on both sides of the atlantic to validate the morally complex act of suicide. I’m posting this blog entry to help clarify the debate for anyone unfamiliar with the issues. I am asking people to consider the consequences of encouraging people to think of suicide as a fair response to the world when things turn nasty. Even if the suicide you’re advocating appears to back up a political point you’re fond of or appears to validate the awfulness of someone’s suffering it’s still morally complex to stand on the side of a person who surely you must think has done the wrong thing.

In the UK a number of suicides and suicide attempts have been reported recently as being the fault of bullies who gave their victims no choice but to kill themselves. A similar approach appears to be being taken in the US and to me it is a very worrying trend. The bullies are variously, kids at school, teachers, the media and the UK Government’s benefits policy. The suicide of a nurse last year, blamed by the popular press on a couple of ‘wacky funster’ style DJs who made a prank phone call to her, is a widely known example.

Back in the 90′s suicide almost seemed fashionable. When Kurt Cobain killed himself my generation was devastated. I recall many of them rushing to the defence of their hero and justifying what he’d done to his family. Around the same time a personal friend of mine also took his own life. In the immediate aftermath I was furious at the society he’d turned his back on and I became quite an angry person for a while.

Then another friend, around the same age, also killed themselves and I was forced to reconsider my perspective.

Suicide is defined in most cultures as “self-murder”. That’s a definition I am more comfortable with. Part of dealing with the grief of losing someone like that comes, I think, from understanding this dynamic. The person you know has done something you disagree with on a profound level. It’s not disrespectful to think that, it’s an expression of the fact you loved them and still want them to be around. If another person had killed them you would likely be baying for their blood and possibly never forgive them. In this instance though you have no one to blame in such a way.

Furthermore blaming others is, I think, entirely the wrong thing to do. It implies you think they were partly right to take their lives. They weren’t, no one is, whatever problem you face it’ll seem less awful if you give it time. Life is hope, stand on the side of those who want us all to live side by side.

Self-murders always carry ultimate responsibility for their deed. That said, “sympathy” for their motives could encourage more suicidal people to take their lives. Keep that in mind when posting on this topic. People of this mind set look for excuses to murder themselves. Words of encouragement are not helpful and ironically though those who encourage it the most are the ones who think they’re being “sympathetic” by blaming society, the media, and anyone other than the victim.

Nick Margerrison (my twitter here).

A piece on Disinfo recently, “Is suicide selfish?“, brought this to mind but there’s a number of stories with this angle around at the moment.

An earlier version, written directly in response to the suicide of a nurse in the UK, exists here on my personal blog.

 

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  • jasonpaulhayes

    It’s national suicide prevention month in the US, be aware of whats going on in the lives of those around you.

    • Matt Staggs

      Great call, Jason. I owe you a beer.

      • jasonpaulhayes

        Cheers, perhaps one day we will cross paths.

  • Nora

    IMHO, we need to get beyond the concept of blame on this front. It sucks to get to the place where ending one’s life seems like the most rational answer. The grassroots suicide survivor movement springing up right now gives me a lot of hope. It can be most helpful to talk to people who have been there and encourage one to find one’s own answers instead of professionals who want to put one on a locked ward in involuntary treatment. When blame is replaced by love, we will be getting somewhere.

  • echar

    From my perspective, self murder is one of the most ignoble acts out there.

  • Donna

    IMHO suicide is the easy way out for someone that just WANTS the easy way out, or just has had the fight kicked out of them. Either way, it is wrong. Even when the world is not to your liking, beats up on you, bullies you, it’s up to YOU to remove those people from your lives, get psychiatric help if you need it and if you don’t recognize that fact, listen to your friends that do. You don’t give up without trying EVERY possibility. My personal religious beliefs don’t have to agree with yours, but mine say suicide lands you in hell. I’d rather live thru several or 10 years of hell on earth, and come out the other side a better person, than end up in hell for eternity. Just my 2 cents.

    • Calypso_1

      It’s not an easy way out. It is agonizing and every moment that leads to it is agonizing until ever fiber of strength is destroyed.

      I’d rather sit in hell for eternity with every suicide victim that has ever been than spend a second with your ignanamous god.

    • godozo

      Hardly. As someone’s who’s contemplated the act off-and-on for the better part of 28 years (and been in moods dark enough for years before that, before becoming an adult may I add) I can assure you the act is hard. The mind makes a bed in the dark mood, one learns to struggle through it day-by-day, and tries to work out of it.

      Not saying that suicide requires much courage (let’s just say that cultures that accept suicide put a lot of myth, ritual and enticement into the act – AND state situations where it’s acceptable or even expected), but it’s hardly an easy way out – otherwise you’d see a LOT more happening out there.

  • Donna

    And YES…as another poster mentioned, if you have a family member, friend or acquaintence that is contemplating suicide (I have had one in the past) FIGHT FOR THEM. Be there for them. For as long as it takes. You’ll never be sorry….that I promise you.

  • Ethic Slurred

    I live in Seattle, & understand why it is the suicide capital of the US: technology is driving people apart. The more people in your city, or “friends” on your Facebook wall, the less time you have for each. Want to “cure” suicide? Put down your handheld device, & be a friend in the present. ♥

  • godozo

    What I find interesting is that, where suicide was an accepted act, there were strict reasons given when someone SHOULD kill themselves. There’s also rituals and myths surrounding the act itself.

    That’s another reason why I can’t consider Suicide as a selfish act. If you have to wrap the act around rules, mythology AND specific situations where suicide is an acceptable act, then the act itself can’t be considered an act one would do by one’s self … and that’s one measure of a selfish act.

  • Obvious Point

    Suicide may well be selfish, but it is just as selfish to ask those who are truly miserable, day after day, to continue to exist, purely to appease the emotional states of those around them. It would make you feel bad if this person commited suicide, therefore they are not to do so; just as selfish, just the other side of the equation.

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