Suicide – can it be a rational option?

suicide
Gary Speed

It is not uncommon for people with only a mild degree of depression to have thoughts of suicide. Although the majority take this no further, the process of thinking about harming oneself may make one more vulnerable to actually doing so.

Suicide of Gary Speed

From time to time, you might secretly wonder if ending your life might be the right thing for you. That’s what’s Welsh football legend Gary Speed probably had been thinking — only in his case he put his thoughts into action and committed suicide. This despite the success he enjoyed in the eyes of the world: he was good enough to be appointed manager of the Welsh national football team and apparently had everything to live for. Only the previous day, when being interviewed by the BBC, he had talked positively about his job, family, and his golf. Perhaps it just shows how little the world knows about what goes on within the human soul.

We might speculate about his mental state but only those who knew him very well might have had any inkling of what was going on beneath the public façade. Perhaps it was a sense of failure in not meeting impossibly high standards, or was it a fear of criticism by a newspaper industry quick to be judgemental when the national team does poorly? We can only imagine, whatever it was, it must have been something pretty horrendous to cause him to act in a way to cause his family such a loss.

Suicide and its assumptions

The general question remains: can suicide ever be a rational choice in certain circumstances? Some, who have taken their life, have believed that death was the only realistic way out of their difficulties. Others, given their terrible situation, have thought that life was not worth living. Some, because they felt they should be blamed for all that had gone wrong, have even assumed that they did not deserve to have anything to look forward to. I must admit I do wonder how they could have been so sure. When you are feeling low does not everything seems negative and is it not more difficult to get a reasonable perspective?

There is doubt in my mind about how accurately anyone can predict the future.  How does one know that the quality of one’s life will not improve if one were to stay alive? Is it really not possible that what feels to be an unbearable physical or emotional pain, might nevertheless become more tolerable in the future — after all, there are continual developments in medicine and many benefit from professional talking therapy. Is it inconceivable that there might be some changes one can make to daily living that could help? In other words, I’m wondering whether killing oneself might be a permanent mistaken solution to a temporary problem.

Suicide or a ‘living death’

There are some who would argue that deciding to kill oneself can be a perfectly rational decision:  that people who face irreversible suffering, for example of a deteriorating incurable disease, have a right to die rather than having a “living death”. Of course there is disagreement about what constitutes a “living death”.

Suicide and freedom

Some inmates in Nazi concentration camps thought that continuing to live would be intolerable and are known to have killed themselves by deliberately touching the electrified fences. I cannot say how I would have responded to such desperate circumstances but I do know that there were many survivors who had clung on to life and that some took the view that suicide takes away freedom because it amounts to precluding the freedom to make further choices.

Victor Frankl, the well respected existential therapist, for example chronicled his experiences as a concentration camp inmate which led him to focus on an inner freedom. This he said derives from the spiritual dimension of the person. He discovered the importance of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most sordid ones, and thus, he maintained a reason to continue living.

Suicide and religious belief

To my mind, a spiritual perspective also suggests that suicidal tendencies are less likely to be found amongst those deeply religious people who are free from worry and guilt: the reason being they have a deep sense of being loved by God, warts and all.

In my view a correct religious attitude challenges the view that a person’s life is his own and thus free to dispose of it as he wishes.  Instead individual life can be  considered to be from God on trust with that person. In addition there is the idea that suicide is a lack of faith that God will provide any help with desperate problems. Finally, there is also the religious view that it is a mistake to think you know best when to leave this world and enter the next.

Dark forces and suicide

Cognitive therapists encourage us to challenge automatic negative thoughts. Likewise Emanuel Swedenborg, visionary spiritual philosopher, warns us about the dark thoughts that can influence us. We need to be aware of their dangerous presence. He wrote about his own experience of negative impulses for example to throw himself in front of a carriage and horses: he said the source of such thoughts were his demons who wanted nothing else than his destruction.

Swedenborg reported that, when he was in a state of altered consciousness, he became aware of a spirit who had apparently committed suicide when in a state of depression.  Swedenborg says the state of mind of this individual lasted for some while after death. Apparently he was not condemned for taking his life and help was made available but it took quite a while for this spirit to change his mood. In other words, as there is a life after death, even suicide offers no immediate escape from despair.

My conclusion is that a spiritual perspective throws a different light on the question of whether suicide can ever be a rational decision.

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems