- Is the mental health system more concerned with appearances than the actual quality of our lives?
- If not, why does it expend vast resources locking and drugging us up, but almost no resources to remedy the real life circumstances that led to the decision to die?
Why I Oppose "Suicide Prevention"-- Emily Sheera
This suicide prevention month, I wanted to take some time to articulate why I oppose the notion of "suicide prevention."
Suicidality is not irrational. It is not a sign or symptom of an illness, and it is certainly not an indicator of a person's incapacity to make their own decisions. Suicidality occurs when death seems like a less bad option than a person's life circumstances.
The notion of "suicide prevention" presumes that death is the worst thing that can happen to a person.
The reality is that there are a great deal of things worse than death for many people. Experiencing poverty, systemic oppression, violence, and other types of trauma can be worse than death.
Experiencing shame, humiliation, and isolation as a result of who one is - which so often occurs in a society where difference and distress are construed as illness that needs to be cured - can be worse than death.
By focusing on suicide prevention, and not on giving people the support and freedom they need to live authentically as who they are, we are ignoring the reality that suffering and isolation can be worse than death.
The following quote by David Foster Wallace has always been one of my favorite writings on suicidality:
"The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows.
Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling."
Just as in the case of a person about to jump out the window of a burning building, it would be ridiculous to shut the window and celebrate having "prevented suicide" (instead of putting out the flames), it is ridiculous to focus on the goal of "suicide prevention" without addressing the cruelty in our world that drives people's desire to escape.
Mental Health Model Increases SuicideChristina Taft interview with Emily Sheera
Emily's note to Christina: Thanks to Christina Taft for interviewing me about some of these ideas for Everyday Psych Victims Project. I would love to hear all of your thoughts on the interview!