The Community Context of Suicide

On March 27, 2014, philosopher, historian, and poet Jennifer Michael Hecht released an On Being Podcast called,

 Suicide, and Hope for Our Future Selves

In it, she talks about losing a few poet friends to suicide and being in the trenches of suicidal contemplation herself. She looks to history and society in general for the opposite of suicide, and she comes to the opposite of loneliness. Her strong belief in our essential need for each other and that "Your staying alive means so much more than you really know or that anyone is aware of at this moment," urges us to stay alive for each other.

She reflects back to the historic context of suicide, from Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates who told others not to do it (even when Socrates we politically compelled to himself), and to Seneca, who says that life is really hard but, "sometimes to live is an act of courage." Even Camus, whose existential philosophies are misinterpreted as allowing for suicide, argued that this absurd, strange life is worth living. In fact, the only consistent book people tell her helped them is Camus' Myth of Sisyphus. The idea that we can embrace the weirdness of life, stop trying to make everything reasonable and fair, and imagine Sisyphus happy has helped save their lives. 

She wants people to know that when someone thinks his or her life is a burden to those he or she loves, in fact the opposite is true. And when suicide is an impulse, there are ways to get through the worst.  You owe it to yourself and you owe it to others around you to stay alive, she argues. We all rely on each other,  and our debt to each other is staying alive.

Her main goal is to change how we think and talk about depression. She'd like us to "attach a sense of honor to perseverance," and recognize the way we are all interconnected. Staying alive for each other is imperative. 

This argument appeals to our rational minds as well as our irrational, feeling selves. I cannot be sure it would work in every case, and surely people have tried and failed to stop suicide with similar arguments. Nonetheless, the enlightening discussion shifts some of our widely-held ideas of suicide and offers important things to think about. 

(If you're worried about suicide for yourself or someone you love, call the National Suicide Helpline (800) 273-8255.)



Posted on January 31, 2015 .