Suicide and The Hot Stove

“I don’t understand why people commit suicide. It doesn’t make any sense, I mean, it’s just so stupid.”

I was party to a conversation today where this was said. I wish I had spoken up at the person, but I didn’t. The conversation moved on quickly and I’m not yet all that good at confronting people about bullshit like that in person. But I do want to talk about it, so here goes.

“I don’t understand why people commit suicide” is a fine statement. Lots of people don’t. I’d venture a guess and say unless you’ve dealt with pretty serious depression, you can’t possibly have a frame of reference that gives you anything close to a proper understanding of why someone would commit suicide. Acknowledging that is a fine thing to do.

Calling it stupid is not. Not in this context anyway. It’s a dismissive and overly simplistic way to address a very complex and serious issue. And when someone you know is suicidal, dismissiveness and oversimplification could very well mean the difference between them surviving and not.

I actually really like the analogy I used when I started this blog: if you don’t understand what it’s like to want to commit suicide, then here’s what you need to do:

1) Find a stove.

2) Turn it on.

3) Wait until it’s hot.

4) Put your hand on it.

Taking your hand off is suicide.

That’s the principle people need to understand when thinking about suicide. You consider suicide when you life has been painful enough for long enough that you can’t take it anymore. It’s not rational, it’s not reasonable, and it may not, in the grander scheme of things, be smart. When you’re in pain, though, you just want it to end. You just want to take your hand off the stove.

When that’s understood, then we can have a reasonable discussion about the rest of the nitty-gritty details. Not before.


7 comments on “Suicide and The Hot Stove

  1. Pingback: Collected Analogies | Research to be Done

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  4. I think the best way of saying it I’ve ever heard and what I always like to use when talking to “those” kind of people.
    Suicide is a reaction that happens when stress levels are so high they outweigh the ability to cope.

  5. The fact that you wrote, “I wish I had spoken up at the person,” rather than “…to the person,” is probably an indicator that you made the right choice after all.

    Not that I don’t sympathize with where you’re coming from, of course. It would have taken every ounce of will for me not to have kicked this person in the shins.

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