by Daina Frame
Note: This post originally appeared on Mah Butt Itches and has been cross-posted with permission.
No, Seriously, Suicide is Not Selfish.
After Chester Bennington killed himself, I tried to stay off Facebook. I knew what I would see, and I did not want to see it. Like so many, I have been a fan of Linkin Park since I was a teenager. Linkin Park helped me through one of the most difficult times in my life – when I was pregnant with my first child and preparing to give her up for adoption. My friend and I would blast LP on the way to and from all of my appointments, and the music both gave me happy memories, but also a sense of healing and not being alone. But, I don’t really want to write about me here. Suffice to say, I’m very sad that my heroes are killing themselves. I’m scared that the people who helped me fight are losing the fight. I’m sickened at the reaction.
Facebook wasn’t enough, unfortunately my email gave me several outlets publishing Manson’s former keyboardist saying “Fuck Chester, Fuck Chris, Fuck Kurt…” Why does this even get ink??? This man has been completely irrelevant for years, and suddenly he is getting press for…this? I can’t comprehend why someone would take the time to give a single shit about what Manson’s keyboardist thought of 3 musicians that he never worked with dying. Do you remember after the London bombings, Omarion released a press release asking for prayers? This is kind of how these types of articles feel – random person gets press for not being remotely involved in the situation. Unfortunately, this random person is not alone in his opinion. Giving press to this garbage reinforces a very incorrect and painful attitude about suicide and mental illness. These judgements and opinions are often given from people who are ignorant to the reality of mental illness. This type of ignorance feeds the stigma of mental illness, and continue to make people scared to talk, scared to get help, and defeated in their minds by their disease.
Suicide is selfish! How could they do this to [insert reason here]?!
Can we all just do a quick linguistic pause, because everyone who says this is inherently screaming, “I don’t have a basic command of words!!!”
self·ish – adjective
(of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.
Lacking consideration for others could arguably be the point that people are making; however, selfishness is inherently a desire to improve one’s station, typically to someone else’s loss. Death isn’t considered an improvment, and if it is: What kind of PAIN was that person in to choose death? Unless Chester Bennington, Chris Cornell, and the thousands of people who ended their lives have some sort of racket set up in the afterlife, there is no profit to be made, nor would the pain of strangulation, poisoning, etc. be considered pleasurable. Death is something pretty much everyone avoids, so a conscious act of killing yourself is not for gain, pleasure, or profit. It is an act of ending, ceasing, or perhaps giving up. It is a disease overcoming a person.
Death in any form is inconsiderate of others, because death hurts the survivors. If suicide is selfish, then everyone who dies is selfish. If someone succumbs to a disease – such as cancer, a heart attack, etc. people are sad at the loss. If someone succumbs a disease that causes suicide, they are selfish. I have to wonder if the people who say this have stepped back to ponder what it is like to sit in a bathroom and decide to end their lives – do they truly believe that these people think, “Meh, this is all about me.” It is very difficult, I suppose, to understand those moments unless you have lived them, but it is very likely someone you know has. For every 1 completed suicide, approximately 25 more people try, and that contains only reported statistics. It may be easy to call a stranger selfish, but what about a loved one?
NAMI estimates approximately 30% of the US population have some form of mental illness – with depression and bipolar disorder comprising almost 1/3 of that population. The CDC estimates 50% of suicides occur from people who are diagnosed with a form of depression, and NIMH estimates 20% of people with bipolar disorder commit suicide. Addiction contributes another large percentage of suicides – approximately 25%. NAMI says 90% of people who commit suicide have a psychiatric condition at the time of their death. Approximately 44k Americans kill themselves every year, and this number is growing. Approximately 121 people kill themselves every day in the US alone. In the hour it will likely take me to attempt to get my thoughts together, 5 people will have taken their lives. Suicide is the 10th highest cause of death in the US.
Ultimately, suicide is a fatal outcome of mental illness. People who commit suicide are not selfish, but the diseases that cause suicide are. The other top causes of death – Cardiovascular, Cancer, etc. are very selfish. Under the definition of selfish, these diseases are concerned about one thing – their survival. Through whatever mechanisms, disease can take over a person’s mind or body. Disease does not check your schedule or your family’s feelings or needs. While you can argue that a person chooses suicide, you cannot say they choose mental illness. It is understandably difficult for the ⅔ of the US population who does not suffer from a mental illness to understand why someone would choose to take their own life, and these very public instances of suicide bring the stigma back into the spotlight. Without having experienced clinical depression, a person can easily confuse a depressing event or day with the psychiatric condition. The comparison, though, is like comparing a pimple to Stage IV skin cancer.
Mental illness is a backseat driver in your mind, and sometimes, it grabs the damn wheel, and you didn’t even realize it. Medication gives a sense of safety by dulling the symptoms, but relapse is always possible. I have described depression as swimming in concrete. It is a perpetual heaviness in everything. Depression is a distorted magnifying glass on every aspect of your life. Depression can lock you in a movie theatre and play every shortcoming you have ever had on repeat. Depression is very manipulative, too. It twists and distorts reality such that the good things in your life become negative. Depression will tell you that you are a burden, worthless, and everyone you love is better off without you. You can talk in terms of chemicals, etc. but in all reality, depression turns off your receptor for love. Depression can turn affection of all forms into pain. Inherently, it causes a fight, distress, or a struggle inside, but it is very difficult to see the separation of “me” from “depression”.
People say, “They should have told someone.” or “Why didn’t they get help?” It is very difficult for someone in the midst of depression to talk, though. The depression tells you how everyone will be worried and upset, and look at everything you have done already. Depression tells you it is all your fault; it’s not depression.. I can only talk about depression when I am not depressed, because it is difficult to know that I am depressed. After all I have said, I suppose it is difficult to understand that. Depression shifts my entire mind, so it is very easy to slip into depression and not be aware of it until I am no longer depressed. While I am depressed, everything I just described make complete and perfect sense to me.. For me, there is no problem to be addressed, because I AM the problem. Everything is my fault. Realistically, how do I even know I am depressed? I don’t have a piss stick that gives me a plus sign indicating depression. The thoughts and feelings that arise do not have a depression warning on them. Depression doesn’t ease up because you are getting suicidal; it will worsen.
People who have a mental illness are not the illness. It is so difficult to remember that, though, because it overtakes your life. That is a problem with the stigma, too. I don’t look like a depressed person, because I’m not. I have depression, I am not depression. Warning signs can help, but as with anything, if someone does not want you to know, you won’t know. When a disease is in the mind, all of a person’s life is affected. Perception is reality, right? If a person is depressed, reality is depression. It is painful, even if you cannot see the wounds. When I look at my children, and genuinely believe they would be better off without me? It doesn’t tickle, and I don’t giggle. It is a pain anyone would want to end, and people try – medication, drugs, alcohol, other addictions, and suicide.
“Getting help” is not as easy as people think. If you have cancer, x-ray, biopsy, etc. will show the doctor. Most diagnoses in mental illness are a result of talking to your doctor, and not all doctors spend a lot of time listening, accept insurance, or have availability. It took me several months to get my first appointment, and I was hospitalized in the interim, because it took so long to “just get help.” What happens, too, when getting help doesn’t help? Talking to friends, psychologists, and medication aren’t 100% solutions. Sometimes, all of these make it worse; well intentioned loved ones can worsen your thoughts by not understanding how to speak. The stigma of mental illness also leads many scared to explore mental illness as a cause. Even with help, the disease may still win. Medication does not solve it completely, and there is an overarching attitude that there is a pill that will fix it all. Many anti-depressant & anti-anxiety medications can actually worsen suicidality. Many with mental illness tend to isolate themselves, because explaining this feels impossible.
The hardest part of depression is knowing it will come back. Sometimes, people cannot take this anymore. Sometimes, ending it is the best solution the person believes they have. Again, come back to the bathroom, and imagine an existence where you don’t want to be there for another moment. On a scale of 1-10, what would you rate that pain? The reality may be different, but depression and any other disease changes your reality. To judge suicide is to look from your perception, and the victim/perpetrator aren’t around to explain. Is it awful for the people who love them? Yes. Compassion and understanding leads to, “How bad must it have been for them?” No one can give that answer.
Instead of criticizing the person who killed themselves, people need to start asking why this is happening so much and increasing – suicide rates are up 25%. Psychiatric diagnoses are increasing as well. There are a lot of people who are sick and in pain, and our society tolerates articles calling the worst outcome “selfish”.An easy way to start making changes is to stop publishing articles giving voice to hatred. If you would not listen to or publish someone speaking negatively about cancer patients, don’t do it to mental illness – and if 90% of people who commit suicide have a mental illness, chances are pretty likely they did not kill themselves to hurt someone else, to make money, or to seek pleasure.
Mental illness is a disease, and like any disease, voices should be given to people who are survivors and understand the pain those who take their own lives are in. Every time I have come close to killing myself, there is a tiny voice in me that stops me – “You can overcome this.” It has never been the thought of the kids or anyone I loved; they’re why I WANT to kill myself. Every time I have opened up about mental illness, I have had many voices telling me to stop talking about it. This is not a comfortable or easy topic, and suicide heightens the need TO talk about it. Depression is just one of many parts of me. It affects a lot of my life, and I am not a huge fan, but I always remind myself that I am not depressed. I have depression. That separation makes it easier for me to talk, because I am talking about a disease. These twisted thoughts aren’t me, it’s a disease I have. I am not crazy, I suppose, but my depression is. I am not selfish, but my depression is very selfish. It certainly doesn’t give a shit about me, or you. 120+ people killed themselves today, because they have selfish diseases. They and their pain do not deserve hatred.
I am scared that there will be a day my little voice won’t be there, because I am watching my adolescence commit suicide. In the case of Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell, their ability to turn their pain into poetry helped countless others, but their disease won. Unfortunately, diseases are too selfish to understand love, fame, success, etc.