Is Suicide Selfish?

To begin with, my deepest condolences go out to the family of Robin Williams as well as to all the other families who have lost a loved one to mental illness.  You have my sympathies, as do the people who have been lost.
Every time someone, anyone, commits suicide the word comes up. Selfishness. I am not a big fan of this word in general because I think that it is often used to shame people into not engaging in self-care. People don’t take care of themselves, don’t take breaks or say “no”, because they don’t want to be labeled as “selfish”. In the case of someone struggling with a mental illness, this can be even more extreme. They can start to think that they don’t deserve any care at all, from self or others, and their world gets ever more dark. That is an impossible way to live – we must care for ourselves or we will perish. It’s not really all that surprising to me, then, that some pained souls choose to commit suicide. Why? Because, yes, they know that some will label them selfish – probably the people who always have – but it looks to them like one, single selfish act that then prevents them from bothering those they love with all of the selfish acts that they would have engaged in in if they lived.
I realize that, to a healthy mind, a mind that has never struggled with this, it can be very confusing. Perplexing even. That’s why I am writing this.
You see, illnesses like depression rob people of the idea that they are worth anything. They see themselves as people who do not add value. They believe themselves to be selfish people who keep taking more and more from the world around them without giving anything back. The cruelest joke of all is how untrue that idea is. People who suffer from these illnesses are often kind, gentle, creative, funny, and empathetic. They can’t see that. Or if they do see that one thing that they do is good, well it is never enough to make up for the deep sense of worthlessness that they feel. The good things that they do are explained away and the “selfish” or “bad” things that they do, often highly inflated in their minds, become what they see as the norm.
People outside don’t understand. They see someone like Robin Williams and think, “He has done so much good in the world. He spent his whole life making people laugh and teaching beautiful lessons via his art. He was so funny and talented and had so much to live for.” They don’t see that Robin Williams struggled with substance abuse, often seemed manic, and that his more thoughtful characters were colored by an understanding of loss and sadness that came from a place of true understanding rather than just a skillful rendering. My theory is that Robin Williams performed because he wanted to be loved, but the sense of worthlessness created a sort of black hole inside of him where all of the praise and adulation would be swallowed up by darkness.
Those of you who have lost someone to suicide usually don’t understand either. Why would they do it? Don’t they understand how much pain they caused? Were they trying to hurt you? How can anyone say that this wasn’t selfish?
It’s not so simple. Here is why:
Selfish – lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.
That is the definition. I know that, to a healthy mind, it seems like at least the first part of the definition is fulfilled. That the act of suicide causes so much pain and confusion to the loved ones who are left behind that it doesn’t seem possible that they were considered at all. I am here to tell you that depression and illnesses like it are like a dark specter, a presence that whispers to someone how worthless they are and how much of a burden their very presence places on those that they love and care about. If you have ever cared for a person with a mental illness, then you know how difficult that can be. So do they.  They wish it could be different, that they could be different, but they just can’t seem to find their way out of it. They don’t ever see a way out of it. They think themselves a burden to you, a weight around your neck, and they don’t think that will ever change unless you can be free of them. They only see one way that you could be free of them.
So, you see, it isn’t that loved ones weren’t considered, it’s that the perspective was so skewed by the darkness and the pain that it really did seem to them like they were doing the best thing for those they loved.
To answer the title question -- I don't think suicide can be selfish because I don't think that the people who commit suicide are healthy enough to make an informed decision. They only see the bad in themselves, the burden that they pose to those they love, the mistakes that they make. They don't see the beauty that they bring to the world, or understand that they ARE the world to someone. They honestly believe that they are doing the best, kindest thing for their loved ones. I think that to be selfish you have to have the intent to profit or benefit without caring what others think or feel. That just is not the case here.
I can’t speak for every situation. I didn’t, for example, have the pleasure of knowing Robin Williams. Surely some people’s thoughts and considerations were/are different. Most every depressive I have ever talked to, though, has told me some variation of the same thing – they think that the world would be better off without them and that they wonder if the kind thing to do wouldn’t just be to leave. You and I know that they are wrong, but they don’t. The disease has twisted things up so much in their mind that they are pretty sure they are right. There may be another voice that is telling them otherwise, but that voice keeps getting harder and harder to hear. Like someone is shouting at them through a hurricane, they just can’t make out the words over the wind.
If you have lost someone to suicide, please know that they didn’t callously disregard your feelings and needs. They most likely loved you very much and spent a good deal of time considering you. Unfortunately, the disease that they suffered from prevented them from being able to see any of their own goodness. They thought that you would be better off without them and that they were making the best decision for you. They were wrong, so very wrong, but they were sick. It wasn’t about hurting you. It wasn’t that they didn’t care. It was simply a matter of the disease lying to them and convincing them that the world, especially the people that they loved, would be better off without them. I know that this doesn’t take away your pain or fill the void left by the person that you lost, but if you thought that they did it because they didn’t care about you… then I hope that you can begin to see that was probably not the case at all. They were trying to have your best interests at heart, they were just too sick to see the truth.
If you are someone who is considering suicide, then please seek help. If you think that the world will be better off without you, you are wrong. You are being lied to by a disease. Please get help.  Call 1-800-273-8255 for someone to talk to, or go to the Suicide Prevention website ( to chat with someone. There is help. You can get better. You can be healthy again. You are so much more important than you realize right now, the world needs you in it.
I apologize for the clumsy nature of this post. It is a difficult subject and I am trying to write honestly and from the heart. I hope I haven’t offended anyone. If so, I sincerely apologize.
If there are typos, formatting issues, or awkward sentences it is because I am trying to get this up quickly because I think it is important.
Thanks for reading.


This post was originally posted at I Try: The Additive Property of Happiness. To see the original, please go here.

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