Why Suicide is Not Selfish



People say suicide is selfish because choice is involved, but where is choice, really?

There are behaviors we do not have a choice in. If your favorite food is chocolate cake, and I lock you in a room with a fork and a chocolate cake, it’s not a matter of if you will eat the cake, it’s just a matter of when. While you could always say you chose to eat it, if nearly everyone or everyone in your situation would have eaten it sooner or later, there is a certain inevitability to it. If it’s inevitable, it’s pretty hard to understand eating the cake as a “choice” in any meaningful sense.

So what about just toughing it out? Maybe people with depression should just suck it up.

Without treatment, staying alive, for some people with serious depression, is a constant battle. We know from studies on willpower that 1) every person has a limited amount, and 2) the harder a person fights NOT to do something, the closer they actually get to doing it. For some the fight not to commit suicide requires huge amounts of willpower and eventually depletes it. We also know that no one has unlimited willpower. No one. Not me, not you, and not your friends with depression.

What about just changing their thoughts? Why can’t they just stop thinking about suicide?

Sit quietly in a room for two minutes and try to think of nothing. You can’t do it. It’s impossible. Your mind has a mind of its own. It is constantly generating thoughts that lead you off on tangents. This proves beyond dispute that no one has total (and most don’t even have slight) control over the thoughts in their own head. If you do not have serious depression, the only difference between you and someone with it is that the thoughts that automatically come into your head are different. You are lucky, because this is little more than an accident of nature. This means if you don’t suffer from suicidal depression, it is not because you have deeper faith than people who do. It is not because you are more disciplined. It is not because you’re a more moral person, or love your family more. It is not because you have deeper insight than other people, and it’s not attributable to whether or not you believe committing suicide is a sin. If you don’t have suicidal depression, you are fortunate. That’s all. In the same way that if you don’t have MS or other diseases you are fortunate. The automatic thoughts most people naturally have are fairly harmless most of the time, but some have constant thoughts that are very dangerous. Depending on the person, their degree of suicidal ideation, genetic and environmental factors, the question is not if they will attempt to take their life, it’s just when and how. This is still almost completely unpredictable in the mental health arena. We just don’t know who will ultimately attempt suicide. [Or homicide either, which has huge implications for the gun lobby’s suggestion that we have to invest more money in getting potentially dangerous people locked up. But that’s another post.] When thoughts of suicide begin to team up with the thought that removing yourself from the world would actually be better for everybody else, you end up with the twisted notion that this is a good, and perhaps loving, thing to do.

Well horrific things have happened to me, and I haven’t committed suicide

First, you don’t have major depression. But most important, your own experience refutes your point rather than proving it. People don’t take their lives because they experience horrible things like you did. Almost no amount of personal suffering can, under normal circumstances, bring somebody to this point. But when a person has major depression, they can have all the love, money, comfort, fame, and talent in the world, like Robin did, and those things will not keep them from attempting suicide. You may know we almost lost my youngest daughter to suicide three years ago. She wasn’t selfish, she was lost. She thought she was doing us a favor. She knew we’d be hurt, but she thought we’d get over it and our lives would be much better. She didn’t know how to ask for help because she didn’t even realize how profoundly messed up her thinking was. It made sense to her. That’s terrifying to me still, to this day. And getting back into that state of mind is still what my daughter fears more than anything. A few days after her attempt, when she really realized how close she came to dying, it scared the hell out of her and she cried for hours. No one wants to die. But people will only stay alive long-term when they find a reason to live, not merely a reason to not die. I assure you, if you woke up tomorrow and couldn’t find a reason to live, and no medication or treatment could help you, you would probably not be long for this world. No person has infinite will power, and no person can live long without a reason for living. Outside observers say, “What about your children? Your family? Your friends?” But the horrible thing about depression is that, finally, even these reasons end up not being good enough. I know. That’s terrible. It truly is. But it is not selfish. It is diseased thinking and feeling.

Suicide is NOT selfish

So I think it’s irrational to call suicide selfish. That ignores the incredibly powerful instinct all living beings have to live. When a person is somehow able to overcome this most basic of instincts and takes their own life, they have so violated a basic law of nature that it is almost like defying gravity. If someone truly defied gravity, and levitated, you would not ask them how they summoned the willpower to do it, or what strength of character allowed it. Those questions wouldn’t even make sense. Instead you’d ask what special conditions allowed them to do this thing no one else can do. What did they have that others lack. Likewise, when someone overcomes the basic human instinct to survive, asking what flaw in their character allowed it is simply the wrong question. Instead you must ask what special condition existed that allowed them to overcome the life instinct and take their own life (or attempt to). But of course you don’t need to ask that question because we already know the name of that special condition: Major Depressive Disorder, code 296 in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. A request for me to defend some of my comments does not obligate me to do so.

  • Melanie

    I struggle with suicide – I think about it daily. Fear keeps me stranded – I can’t kill myself and yet I can’t live (thrive). I used to tell myself that suicide was the most selfish act because I felt that suicide sent the message that the world can suffer, even Jesus, but I cannot. I’ve “toughed it out” but it’s more like prolonging the inevitable. Shall I go on in this awfulness? Shall I stay here just to keep my loved ones from the pain of losing me – all the while, they are dealing with the pain that I think about suicide 24/7. What’s more selfish – keeping someone from suicide so that loved ones won’t have to live without them or ending a continuing pattern of misery…?

    • Kevin

      Hi Melanie. Suicide is not the right thing to do. There is nothing wrong with getting help. God loves you very much. Please call someone to help you through this. I will keep an open communication line if you need to talk.

      • Kevin

        God has a purpose for you. God definately wants you to communicate with your loved ones about your struggles. again, I’m here if you want to talk as well.

      • Kevin

        God has a purpose for you. God definately wants you to communicate with your loved ones about your struggles. Again, I’m here if you want to talk as well. You are reaching out for help and that is awsome.

      • Melanie

        Bless you both for your quick and genuine response.. you’ve been the first (professionally speaking). I’ve told my story many times, to my psychiatrist and I have called crisis lines before and was told not to “editorialize” and another agreed with me when I asked, “so if no one cares, why should I?” Needless to say it was the grace of God that I survived those nights. I know there is a meaning to life and that I shouldn’t go against that. I know, by some insight somehow, that God will not be happy with me if I kill myself. Whether or not He would condemn me to Hell isn’t what I worry about – but to face Him after such an act weakens my drive to do it.
        However, the images are so strong – the feelings so strong that it is complete agony. My heart physically aches and my will to go on is nearly depleted. I’ve been on anti-depressants – but they aren’t getting to the root of the problem, and sometimes I think they are causing these thoughts (taking Paroxetine). I need some real help. I can tell you right now I won’t do it tonight.

        • Kevin and Chastity

          You are very welcome Melanie. You mentioned that you have a psychiatrist. Do you have a therapist as well? I’m praying for you Melanie and I will put in a prayer request for you at my church. There is power in Prayer. Feel free to communicate.
          Love in Crist Jesus

        • Melanie

          No therapist – I know I definitely need one. I’ve tried a few but they basically just ask, “how are you doing today” and no further development is reached. This is another reason I feel so hopeless. I know I can’t put all my faith in man, but I just want someone to guide me a little. I don’t even know where to start with my story anymore – I’m feeling exactly how the author described his daughter in “The Almost Suicide of My Daughter” – lost.

        • kevin

          I see a psychiatrist and a therapist at Oakland Psychological Clinic. They have been very helpful. Their number is 810-732-0560. I’ve also had a wonderful therapist in the past that gave me assignments along with asking me questions. I utilize my counselor as a therapist and use my therapist as an advisor.

        • Melanie

          Thank you Kevin and Chastity, I’m going to keep trying. I once heard a saying, “if you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on” This conversation has renewed my will to survive somehow. I can feel God with me here and now. God bless you.

        • Kevin

          Your welcome Melanie. God reminds me daily to stay calm, use my resources, and to just live one day at a time. God bless you too.

        • http://DavidKFlowers.com/ David Flowers

          Good therapists can be hard to find, Melanie. Please hang in there. A therapist who just asks “how are you doing” doesn’t know what he/she is doing if you’re having serious problems like suicidal thoughts.

          Hang in there! Thanks for contacting me via email and we’ll keep up our conversation there. So glad Kevin found you here and was able to be an encouragement to you.

    • Kevin

      Have you called anyone to talk to Melonie?

    • http://DavidKFlowers.com/ David Flowers

      Hi Melanie. Please email me at dave@davidkflowers.com.. I’ll email you as well. Let’s connect!

      • Melanie

        I’ve been reading about Wildwind Church, I wish it was here in the Twin Cities. I like what your church believes, it sounds like the church I went to as a kid.

  • Kevin

    Very serious and sensative topic Dave. Kind of like your article “Does Suicide Equal Hell”. I’m highly surprized to not see any comments by therapists to this blog or anyone for that matter. Not to refute, but to help you understand the concept that suicide is a selfish act sometimes. I believe that not all suicides are selfish acts. Some people are born without the full faculties of the mind and some people lose their full faculties of the mind by way of genetic factors and enviromental factors.

  • http://www.delemares.wordpress.com Sandra Delemare

    This is so true. I had bouts of short-lived depression for many years and was often suicidal and used to think that my family and friends would be better off without me.
    And then God took it away. Doctors said there was nothing wrong with me – they didn’t ask the right questions and I was too ashamed to admit how I had been feeling – so I had no meditation or psychological therapy. God took it away. That was nearly 30 years ago, and I haven’t had a suicidal thought since, thank God.

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