Note from Live Again founder: This post is a personal story and does not necessarily reflect the views of Live Again or all the communities it serves. However, we believe giving people an opportunity to openly share personal stories surrounding the issues of suicide is important and can lead to healthy open communication for others. So we are proud to present this personal story. For more info or to share your story e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Need help now? Click here.
Is Suicide Selfish? by Caleb Robinson
(Caleb is a 19 year old who lives in Gilbert, Arizona. He has a passion for music, leadership, and suicide prevention. He currently plays in two bands, cleans pools for some moola, and is the first intern for Live Again.)
Last month Robin Williams, a man I personally loved and respected, died by suicide. I was heartbroken because I felt like I had just lost a distant uncle that was always funny or a friend who always made you laugh. It always baffles me that people so happy on the surface can be so sad inside. But this is not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the reaction several people at my old resturant job and some friends said after this tragedy. The following is a quote from one of my old co-workers (excuse the language)… “What a selfish prick. He had the money, the house, the cars, the wife, he had everything and he killed himself? F*** him! I don’t feel sorry for him! I would kill to have his life and he ended it, what a ****!”
I was furious that anyone could think such awful things about someone who was struggling so much, and the worst part was I was the only person who disagreed with his statement! And it got me thinking… is this reaction to suicide common amongst people? Do people think that suicide is a selfish thing? I did some research asking my friends and acquaintances and looking through Facebook and what I found was crazy to me. Over half the people stated that they thought that suicide was the most selfish thing a person could do.
The subject of suicide is one I’m familiar with. One of my best friends killed herself, a co-worker I trained killed himself, and I personally contemplated suicide in the past and even had a plan that I came within moments of carrying out. As I think back to those incidents not a single bit of the intentions were for selfish reasons. My friend, Taylor, at age 16 left a note that in a gist said she was the reason her family was fighting, she was to blame for everything her family had been through, and she said she couldn’t go on living without her best friend, her grandpa, who had passed a month before she took her life. My co-worker, in his mid-twenties, who died by suicide was struggling with his girlfriend being bisexual and wanting to date women while still seeing him. They had a kid together and he had a hard time keeping her fed, his parents were struggling to help and they were way in over their heads. He might have took his own life thinking it would ease everyone else’s pain or make it easier for others. For myself, I had thought about suicide before and statistics show that suicide isn't usually a spur of the moment thing. It is something that is usually thought about it or even sometimes planned. I have struggled with suicidal thoughts since then, but never as much as that night. At 15, I sat there in my room with a bottle of pills after an extremely hard day at school that ended with an argument with my parents. But it wasn’t just that day of course. At that time in my life I was struggling with my sexuality, drug abuse, and depression. That day felt like the last drop to make the cup spill over. I was so sure that everyone would be better off without me making their lives stressful. If it was not for divine intervention that I still don’t understand, I would not be here writing this.
In my opinion not one of those instances are selfish in nature. But I think I know why people would jump to the conclusion that it’s selfish for two reasons, one very obvious...
The thought is that someone taking their own life rather than fixing the problem or sticking it out is selfish. However, in the midst of pain these people they might feel that they have weighed their options and thought that suicide was a solution. They may see sticking it out as something that would cause more pain to those around them or feel overwhelmed trying to think of other ways to approach things. In truth they might be suffering from a mental illness or a time of clouded clarity. Studies show that over 90% of people who die suicide are at the time suffering from a treatable mental illness such as depression or substance abuse.
The second reason I believe people think suicide is selfish is due popular culture. And I quote the same co-worker as before… “Money isn’t everything, it’s the only thing," he proclaimed.
This was a phrase thrown around a lot in that restaurant. I had had debates with co-workers before about its fallacies and often got responses like, “money is how the entire world runs” or “our human brains only want to advance so we only choose the paths that help us find success”. I realized quickly that these people had this equation in their heads “money + success = happiness.” And that’s the way they were raised, that’s what our culture teaches us here in the US. Work your way to the top and make as much money as you can to be happy… and I get that that money and success in a fiscal standpoint can be important… But money and success do not equal happiness.
I support this first with my trip to Malawi, Africa a few years back. The people I had the pleasure of meeting there did not have homes. They had mud shacks with thatched roofs, maybe an old tarp as a doorway, barely enough food to feed themselves that day if they ate at all, no shoes, one pair of clothes, and they were some of the happiest people I met. On the surface, you would think these people would be in the saddest state of mind imaginable but then you meet them and their lives are so filled with joy and happiness.
You look at Robin Williams, a man who on the surface had it all. And yet inside he was depressed and overwhelmed to the point that he thought it’d better if he killed himself. Now I don’t know his exact reasons for ending his life, but we cannot jump to the conclusion that his reasons were selfish. He appeared to have everything a person could dream about, but he was struggling. My friend Taylor was an honor student, very popular, had the most loving, bubbly personality, was a rising YouTube star, and killed herself. My co-worker was a tall, strong, good looking guy who lived in a middle class neighborhood, was one of the nicest people I had ever met, and he killed himself. I was in a band that was in the process of being signed to a major label, I lived in a nice house with a great family, I was a starter on my football team, and I was well liked by most people I knew, and I came within seconds of killing myself.
Two things to think about. One: just because someone “has it all” doesn’t mean they are happy and money + success doesn’t equal happiness. Two: it is not safe to assume suicide is a selfish act, because in most cases, the person who kills themselves is suffering and thinks this is a solution. Calling suicide selfish reinforces the stigma that stops us from truly caring for or helping people. Why would anyone who was struggling with such thoughts want to speak up if they are automatically judged? Think before you say things, and remember suicide is not the “easy way out”, it is an act of desperation that is preventable if we take the time to under and help.
Myth: People who take their own life are selfish, cowards, weak or are just looking for “attention.”
Fact: More than 90% of people who take their own life have at least one and often more than one treatable mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and/or alcohol and substance abuse. With better recognition and treatment many suicides can be prevented.(from "American Foundation for Suicide Prevention" Myth vs. Fact)