Let’s talk about suicide

Suicide is one of those taboo subjects. Why can’t we talk about it like anything else, and what might we gain if we could?

When I’m healthy, I prepare for bad times. I try to exercise, eat right, get health insurance, etc. But how do I prepare for psychological stress, or difficult times that are out of my control? Meditation, reading books, journaling, and talking to friends help. But someday none of that may be enough. In my moments of deepest darkness, where will I turn?

In my second year of college, I thought of myself as emotionally in control, philosophically iron-clad, and generally doing great. Then my first girlfriend dumped me. I tried to ignore my feelings, to dismiss them as irrational, but I couldn’t. On a rational level I knew most of my life was still fine, but that made me feel worse. Was I so weak that a single dump could hurt so much? What other parts of my personality were self deception? In the most random moments, like doing my homework or walking around campus, I rage or grief overwhelmed me. One night, I listened to a Schubert opus, crying almost the whole hour. I knew my friends and family would try to support me, but at the same time I felt alone with my pain. Even if I talked to them about what happened, I felt just as distraught soon after. At some point I stopped discussing it because I kept retreading the same ground. I didn’t want to be a burden. I thought about death and the freedom that might come with it. It wasn’t an acceptable answer, and yet it still kept cropping up.

Eventually I decided to see a therapist, and together we worked through the issues. What if I hadn’t?

I recently read Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans, and while it is full of snake oil, there’s also plenty to learn from. In one section, Tim discusses battling depression. His theory is that when people seriously consider suicide, they think they’re alone, or their pain is too great to bear, or people won’t care if they’re gone. But they’re wrong. People do care, and when we’re at our most lucid, it’s easy to see. Once we’re in a downward spiral, though, all bets are off. Tim makes some concrete recommendations on how to break out of this pattern, one of which is an anti-suicide pact.

As I read the stories and advice, I immediately thought of my family and closest friends. How awful would it be if they died tomorrow? How would they feel if I did? I had to do something. On the strength of that emotional response, I emailed my brother asking him if he’d be interested in signing a non-suicide pact with me:

On a more serious note, there’s a section that proposes making a non-suicide pact with someone you trust and care about. I don’t think either of us is at risk at this point, but figured we should discuss and consider doing it. Never know what tough times we might face in the future…

A few days later, he sent me a draft. After a few iterations, we both signed.

The most important message in the document is that he and I will always be there for each other in time of need, and we gave our word that we’ll keep living. It’s an explicit obligation to communicate, to be supportive, and to care. When we are in our darkest hour, we’ll know there’s at least one person who cares us, and who we should care about.

We wrote it in pseudo-legalese since that felt right to us. Some pieces may seem far fetched, like the clause that says cryonics is okay, but for us that mattered. Other parts may feel tongue in cheek, but rest assured, that’s our way of being serious.

Write a non-suicide pact with someone you care about! For me, just having the conversation was an important and meaningful experience. Check out our pact here and feel free to plagiarize as much or as little as you like. Change the style, change the content, but have the conversation.

Shortly after we signed, I discussed the concept with a friend. She was concerned that for some people, talking about suicide isn’t easy, and could end up hurting them. Clinical depression is a real, complex, hard thing. There are no easy solutions, and having one conversation or signing a piece of paper won’t necessarily help. But it’s never too soon to tell someone you care about them, you’ll do whatever it takes to help them, and you hope they’ll be there for you. We have to discuss suicide with all our authenticity, empathy, and understanding, or we’ll fail the people who matter most.