I had reservations about writing this post; I felt a need to discuss this topic in a more open manner, but I didn’t want to come across as callous, unfeeling, or worse—condoning. However, the problem is that typically one of two things happens: it’s either swept under the rug, or spreads around the internet like wildfire with no regard for what it’s like for those who suffer, and those left behind. I originally was going to talk about what suicide is; but I think I’d rather discuss what it isn’t. There are some myths that fail to do justice to the horrific and tragic act, and the more they are perpetuated, the more likely people—especially young people—are to try it.
Before we begin: if you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, please contact Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), or reach out to someone you know.
It Isn’t Easy
Sadly, there are some people out there who think that suicide is an easy way out—the quitter’s option, as it were. From a purely biological point of view, the body has excellent self-preservation methods, from the psychological drive to live to rejecting toxins and rerouting blood supplies. Overriding any of these things is incredibly difficult to do.
The psychological component is perhaps the hardest part to understand. I have been suicidal before. I don’t say this lightly; I have one hundred percent wanted to be dead. However, this is significantly different to wanting to die. Death is a state; dying is a process, and not one people want to experience. Every time I’ve considered options and methods, by the time it came to try it I couldn’t physically bring myself to complete. The base, survival part of my brain kicked in, and prevented me from going through with it. It wasn’t conscious thought—it was instinct. Overcoming this takes an unimaginable strength of will.
Then there are the physical aspects. While some methods of suicide are easier to physically go through with, and have a higher chance of completion, roughly only one in twenty-five attempts are actually successful*. This means that there is a less than 5% chance of your attempt actually ending your life. The body will fight to survive long after you might have passed out; the damage to your body is not nearly enough to stop the heart from beating, to stop cells from producing energy, and to stop neurons firing in your brain.
It Isn’t Slitting Your Wrists
One of the things that worried me about 13 Reasons Why (see my previous post) was the visual depiction of Hannah’s suicide in the Netflix series. Some have complained that it was too graphic; I’m afraid I have to argue that it wasn’t graphic enough. In the scene, Hannah is shown sliding a razor up her wrist and forearm, blood pouring from the wound. She then leans back, breathing rapidly, as the bath water overflows.
Not only is this unrealistic, it plays into the age-old trope of cutting your wrists in the bath. Statistically, cutting accounts for less than 2% of completed suicides, yet it is often the first method attempted, and showing it as a viable suicide method (Hannah dies) is inaccurate, misleading and arguably unethical.
The far more likely outcome of cutting is that you’ll go into a deep shock and pass out within a few minutes. As this happens, the body will begin to restrict blood flow to the wound site, leading to a significant reduction in blood loss. Most people expect the blood loss to be the deciding factor in the completion of the suicide, but in most cases the body stops the blood enough that by the time the victim is found, they are still alive.
Blood also doesn’t pour from wounds. Skin is tight, and when it’s cut it splits, leaving a gaping wound. The severed blood vessels will expel their contents, yes—and if deep enough, this will occur in brief spurts aligning with the pumping of the heart—but for a few minutes only. The blood flow rapidly dwindles.
It Isn’t Glamorous
Perhaps the greatest attraction of suicide, especially to young adults, is the romanticism surrounding the ending of one’s life. Popular media has done nothing to prevent this, from books like The Virgin Suicides to Girl, Interrupted (and their popular film adaptations). Suicide is typically shown as clean, pain-free, and almost always successful.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Suicide is messy, painful and more often than not leaves the victim with life-long disabilities or paralyses. What’s worse is that if completed, decomposition can set in long before anyone finds the victim. You won’t be found lying peacefully in the bath; you won’t be found under the covers, seemingly asleep. You’re more likely to be found putrid, surrounded by stale vomit, with your flesh rotting from your bones.
Few young people are intimately acquainted with death. Even those who’ve known a relative to die have rarely witnessed the passing before their eyes. Ask anyone who’s actually watched someone die, and you’ll learn just how unromantic and undignified it is. Especially violent deaths, which suicide by definition is, are traumatizing to even the most hardened of cynical souls.
It Isn’t Fair
Suicide affects far more people than you think. Research indicates that every suicide affects around 150 individuals (that is, 150 people will have known the victim in some capacity), while typically roughly six people will have known the victim intimately. This means that for the roughly 45,000 suicides each year, over six million people are affected. Each of those people will experience grief, and a darkening of their own world for the victim’s loss.
One of the most frequent thoughts suicidal people have is that they are alone, without anyone who loves or cares for them. As someone who has been depressed their whole life, and more than once suicidal, I know this feeling intimately. And it simply isn’t true. As convincing as the belief is that there is no one for you in all the world, it’s one that is misplaced.
I can with absolute certainly say that if you are considering suicide, there are anywhere from five to ten people who will be destroyed by your death, and upwards of a hundred that will be profoundly affected. They might not be the people you expect, either; it could be a long-lost friend, a secret crush, or even a teacher or mentor.
It Isn’t Worth It
This is where I’m going to say something that may stir some controversy. Not all suicides are equal. While the vast majority are the result of mental and emotional distress, there are some instances where suicide makes sense.
This is where we talk about despair. Despair, by definition, is the absolute absence of hope; the certain knowledge that there is nothing left in the world worth living for. For those who are suffering psychologically—depression, bipolar, DID or something undiagnosed—despair is a consequence of brain chemistry convincing the person that nothing will ever be better. However, what of those who are suffering physically? What of people who live with terminal illnesses, or never-ending pain and agony? Is it right to condemn them to a guaranteed life of horror?
I believe that assisted suicide can be a viable option in certain, proven cases where it is empirically known that the sufferer will never have even a moderately satisfactory quality of life. But that’s as far as it goes.
It’s taken nearly twenty years for me to find the right combination of medications and therapy to keep me level—to prevent me from falling once more into the abyss. And had I given in to those compulsions, I wouldn’t be here to write my books, or communicate to you. So my final point is this: suicide isn’t worth it. The pain, mess and extreme likelihood of failure and permanent physical damage make it a very, very unglamorous proposal. If you don’t believe me—if you still think that suicide is the best option for you—then do me one favor, first. Talk to someone. Find that mentor, that friend or crush, and tell them how you feel. I’m willing to bet they won’t tell you to go ahead with it.
People will listen to you. Medications exist that can relieve the despair. All these things are part of the world you live in, and leaving this world by your own hand isn’t the answer. You never know what’s around the corner. I promise you there is the chance of a better life.
* Statistics throughout are taken from http://www.suicidology.org/, and are US-only.