Don’t blame them

On a Noose

On a Noose by Alex Proimos. Creative commons license, found on Flickr

The recent passing of Robin_Williams spurred all kinds of discussions regarding depression and suicide.  First of all, I am not an expert.  I’m no psychiatrist, or even someone who has a good “feel” on people.  I’m your run of the mill antisocial nerd.

I am not going to talk authoritatively on depression or suicide.  I can’t.  What I am going to talk about is what happens when you botch it up and fail at suicide.  Yes, people botch up suicides all the time.  There are basically three outcomes to suicide attempts:

  • Success!  That sounds harsh doesn’t it?  It leaves behind questions, and grieving relatives and friends.  The event is declared a tragedy, and a few discussion about depression and suicide pop up with those that are left behind.  For the person who commits suicide, the pain is over, at least if you take the rationalist approach.
  • Failed, but no lasting health damage.  This is your typical sleeping-pills overdose subject.  They get found in time, stomach is pumped empty, put under observation for days and then a few weeks or months psychiatry and meds.  While their problem has not been solved, and the psychological torment does go on, they can basically hide it.  Unless you know them well or you witnessed the event, nobody will ever know it happened.  The talking behind their backs is probably the worst part.
  • Failed, causing major bodily injury.  Choose the “major trauma” way out?  Hung yourself and broke your neck, and they could save you?  Stuck a knife in your heart to get over with it?  Jumped from a building after all that’s foolproof?
    Yeah, they’re alive.  They will, however, pay their whole remaining life with pain, surgery, and questions from anyone who notices the damage about “what happened”, which is basically “everyone” if the damage is big enough.  Sure, you can lie and tell it’s a car accident that caused it, or something like that.  Any deeper investigation will easily show that it’s a lie.  However, when people do find out what happened, the most common reaction to the pain and suffering is “it’s your own damned fault”.

It’s the last category I want to plead for.  People with such a botched suicide attempt get no understanding whatsoever from society.  It’s always “How could you be so stupid?” or “The pain is your own fault”.  Even people whom you trust, and eventually tell, can totally change their behaviour towards you.
I’m sure many people reading this will shake their head in disbelief and think “But, but, it is their own damned fault!”.  I’m sure, I would have thought the same when I was younger.  It isn’t.  People who do try to commit suicide had no choice: Their brain told them it was the only solution, that there was no other way.  It’s like when you’re so thirsty that, even if you know you shouldn’t drink salt water, you’re still going to do it.  Perhaps not the best comparison, but I can’t really describe it any better because I haven’t been there.

So, please, if you find out about someone who tried to kill themselves, don’t judge them.  You don’t have to pity them, but please, stop blaming them for what they tried.  Putting the blame on them is definitely not helping and they are not to blame in the first place.
How to act then?  Really, the “lie” of the “car accident” isn’t that bad.  Treat it as an accident, as something they could not influence.  That will make it easier for you and them.  At least, for me, that worked.

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