I’m trying to cover all the bases, but it’s tough with my busy schedule and the pace this thread is moving. I am going to respond to academic questions first, but I read the personal stuff, too. Anyone who posted anecdotes about their own struggles in this thread certainly has a spine. For those of you who got bad reactions from friends: I’m sorry. It sucks and it’s why we keep quiet. Don’t be that friend, readers. I mentioned how to show empathy and concern for a suicidal poster earlier in the thread. Please use that as a template. To those of you who lied to mental health workers, I did that, too.
I’m going to respond to the “Suicide is the only way out” idea with an amalgam of posts from the last thread. The animal stuff will have to wait.
Death is Certain – but is Suicide?
I’ve seen it posted in the old LF and E/N that if someone REALLY wants to kill themselves they cannot be stopped. This is a common myth, and I sympathize with those who believe it, as many are suicide survivors or friends of suicide survivors who have used it to comfort the survivor. Please know that, when dispelling this myth, I am not blaming survivors for instances of suicide in any way. But it’s important to be honest about suicide, especially if we’re going to continue to study it.
Suicide is preventable. Period. Full stop. Humans have a strong self-preservation instinct. As I said, it’s common for people to hesitate at the last minute. There was a case in which a women ran for the edge of a bridge but hesitated at the last minute, at which point she was grabbed by a cop. Suicides by stabbing are often identified by coroners by the presence of “hesitation wounds” – shallow cuts that the victim self inflicted while gathering the fearlessness necessary for such a gruesome and horrible death. Many people who self-immolate or take a bunch of drugs often plead to be saved in a hospital as they are dying. With self-immolations, this is especially puzzling. If a person wants to die because they perceive life as terrible, why do they ask to be saved in the hospital? After all, living with burn wounds is just going to make their lives more painful? Wouldn’t they just ask to be euthanized instead? First, the survival instinct is kicking in. And they are also receiving human care, which weakens the sense of social isolation/unimportance.
We’ve already discussed the myth that suicide behaviors don’t work because suicidal people will just choose another bridge or pick another method. In reality, when a barrier is raised rates of suicide in that particular region go down (especially in the area that previously did not have the barrier, such as a specific bridge) but suicides do NOT go up in nearby geographic areas. Research on the Arroyo Seco Bridge and the Duke Ellington Bridge confirms this. Joiner lists a few other bridge research pieces, then offers a compelling piece on the Grafton Bridge – suicides occurred, so a bridge was erected. Suicides went down drastically. The barrier was removed for a short while and suicide rates off that bridge skyrocketed, so it was re-installed.
Joiner looks at it another way – if someone has a heart attack or stroke, would you say “Why bother saving them? They’ll just have another!” With intervention this is emphatically not true. Seiden’s study of people who were restrained before jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge found that 95% had NOT killed themselves after their first attempt, either being still alive after the study (we would expect them to promptly try again) or having died by natural causes. 1,300 people have died by jumping off this bridge since 1937. No suicide barrier has been erected because it would be ugly and expensive. While phones to suicide hotlines are placed at intervals along the bridge, but they do not appear to have reduced suicide rates.
And people do not switch methods (at least not statistically) when a method is taken away. When the UK started to restrict the sale of analgesics to smaller packages in 1998, the suicide rate went down. When it stopped selling coke gas in 1963 and switched to natural gas, the suicide rate decreased to 1/3 by 1970 AND STAYED LOW IN THE ENSUING DECADES!!!
Anyone who is suicidal retains some ambivalence about death. By removing one means of suicide, we take advantage of that ambivalence to save lives. By reminding a friend how important she is to you, you weaken her belief in #2. By reminding a friend how much his friendship has done for you, how important he is to his friends and family, you weaken his belief in #1.
8/24/2011 comments: Posters have brought up the question of mercy in regards to life-long psychological suffering. I think this empathy comes from good intentions, but we know suicide is not certain. If you can find a psychological study showing that there is a population of patients that has ZERO chance of ever overcoming suicidal ideation, I’d like to see it. It’s possible that we will identify that population as psychological research moves forward. I doubt it. Until then, I say we fight to find ALL our friends, our family, and ourselves a way to rise above those feelings and rise above suicidal depression.