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Suicide is Suicide

10/10/2013

I woke up thinking of suicide this morning, not of taking my life, but of how it seems that the more we push "prevention," the greater the damage, both to those who kill themselves and to their loved ones. I recalled how odd it seemed that the Washington State "death with dignity" or physician-assisted suicide statute (and maybe those of OR and VT as well) stipulates against use of the term suicide. To me if you kill yourself intentionally it qualifies as suicide. I wondered how that stipulation ended up in the statute.

I believe I found the answer here. Death with dignity advocates apparently make a distinction when death is "already inevitable and imminent" and see the word suicide as offensive, inspiring fear, reporting that their opponents actually used the term to argue against passage of the laws.

Association of suicide with mental illness seems ubiquitous, and yet I also read in a recent AARP Bulletin that CDC Principal Deputy Director Ileana Arias explained increasing suicide rates among baby boomers as related to "financial woes" and "caring for their own parents and supporting adult children." The article did not associate the increase with an increase in mental illness.

I wonder whether our societal view of suicide as "crazy" behavior of mentally ill people who need restraint and treatment that will restore them to sanity works against us. Death is "already inevitable," if not imminent, for all of us. Could labeling suicide as "selfish" and irrational increase the self-loathing that may lead to the act and the damaging fallout that follows? Could it be that the strong association with use of firearms stems from perceived lack of access to other methods and from this image of suicide as violent and impulsive?

Suppose that every person considering suicide could avail themselves of the process, choice and dignity allowed by the death with dignity statutes. Fear of open discussion with family, friends and care givers might diminish. Perhaps if we removed the stigma from suicide, allowing for some dignity for all, even those suffering from a mental illness rather than cancer or ALS, we might have, if not fewer suicides, at least less damage.