Why People Commit Suicide

Pain has nothing to do with why people take their own lives.

On October 5, 2015, California became the fifth state to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Governor Brown's decision to sign the End of Life Option Act into law didn't come as a surprise to many, despite his Catholic heritage. A recent Pew Research study shows that support for assisted suicide has increased dramatically in recent years with 68% of Americans in favor of it.

White evangelicals, on the other hand, continue to be the stubbornly opposed demographic with only 42% in favor even when there's great pain and no hope. No doubt, many will view them as lacking all compassion choosing to value principles over people.

Those principles include things like the sanctity of life, the image of God, and selflessness. In fact, they're likely to say that there's no such thing as assisted suicide but rather assisted selfishness. To them, suicide is just selfishness disguised as compassion for loved ones when it's really the fear of admitting that even love isn't enough to keep trying and keep living. What these sorry folks need is to be confronted with the hard truth that they're only thinking of themselves.

While I've never had cancer or fought a debilitating disease, I have struggled with suicidal thoughts for most of my life. And I can tell you that taking this approach with someone considering suicide is the last thing they need.

Most people think that suicide is about pain. They think that it's a puerile, cowardly act by a person too immature to handle the stresses of life. No good parent would say that capitulating to their children's irrationality is compassionate. Rather, children need to be guided, challenged, and occasionally restrained when dangerous situations arise.

How remarkably patronizing.

If you're one of those people, you need to take a long, hard look at what it would take to take your own life. Draw yourself an icy bath, press a razor blade against your wrist and tell me and every other suicidal person that you have the guts to go down that road, not across the street. Go ahead and tell me that you've researched the perfect cocktail of painkillers and antihistamines or that you've driven so fast on an on-ramp that your back tires started to skid.

This isn't childish behavior; this is a dangerously sick resolve. And it takes a lot more than a little bit of pain to attain it.

Pain never killed anyone. Pain is just how our bodies tell us that something's broken. Those things, the things that are broken, are what kill you--the diseases or injuries or traumas that upset the delicate systems sustaining our lives. They don't all have to be physical. In fact, suicide is really the result of its own disease: depression.

Of course, depression can be and often is caused by pain, but depression is a step beyond tearful agony. Depression is hopelessness. It's the lie that the only good in life is the occasional rest stop along the one-way highway of disappointment headed towards death. And it literally makes you feel dead inside.

Having a case of the blues is what you get at the end of a bad day. Depression is having so little hope in anything but bad days that a case of the blues would be a welcome change of pace. This hopelessness leads to a nihilism so potent that all it can see is the grave as the inevitable destination of life. Suicide, then, is less an act of escapism as much as a desperate fulfillment of misguided purpose.

But you won't hear any of that the news. Instead, all you'll get is chronic pain, chronic pain, chronic pain. Which is ironic because life is chronic pain, otherwise known as aging. We all have it to greater or less extents and we all learn to live with it. So when assisted suicide promises a compassionate cure to chronic pain, all it really creates is an apathy towards the true motives of the suicidal. And nothing makes depressed people more suicidal than feeling misunderstood and alone.

Photo credit: Dr PS Sahana * Kadamtala Howrah / Foter / CC BY