Suicide is a very sensitive topic. It is something that is prevalent across societies and cultures. Recent data show an increase over the past few decades-a sad reality of modern times. According to one estimate in America one person commits suicide every 14 minutes. In this article I seek to take an objective look at suicide. First part takes at philosophical arguments for and against suicide, the next part presents the legal and public policy view, and finally I present my own perspective on young suicide.
As with all things philosophical we begin with Plato. Plato deemed suicide as an immoral act except for in four situations:
· If the mind is corrupted beyond redemption
· If suicide is decreed by law
· If the individual is cornered by fate with no other option
· If the individual is feels shame due to some immoral act.
On the other hand his pupil Aristotle held a contrary view and considered society completely immoral. He argued that the individual had a duty towards society and abandoning society could not be morally justified thus suicide by extension is immoral. Now a counter argument to this is that even society has a duty to the individual, and when a person is abandoned by society even by sheer ignorance it gives society no right over the individual and the individual no duty towards society hence justifying suicide. Then there is the Stoic view where suicide is not only permissible, but also desirable in certain situation. In one line: “Live as long as you ought to not as long as you can”. Finally there is the Libertarian view that the individual owns the body and has all rights over it, and this seems to be the view that informs much of policy today. However the concept of owning one’s body is also dubious. Now we can go back and forth on these philosophical arguments for an eternity and never arrive at a conclusion.
The reality today in the Western world is that suicide is acceptable, and the choice is that of the individual. Countries like Belgium already allow for physician assisted suicide for individuals apart from those who have a terminal illness. According to law those who feel they have lived a “full” life, and have no “strength” or “will” to carry on may choose to end their life with assistance of a doctor. This is only allowed after a due process of counselling and therapy. Even Canada is debating a similar law. Towards other end of the spectrum the Indian parliament passed a Mental Health Bill that decriminalises suicide (yes attempting suicide was crime up until now and a punishable offence). It is now considered a cry for help, and the victim has the right to seek all the assistance that is required. Overall, the tendency is to put individual rights first, and make suicide more acceptable.
The incidence of suicide has been rising among the young in many societies across the world. It often happens that a person is feeling disheartened, rejected, lonely, depressed, or cornered by fate, and is driven take their own life. This is very unfortunate. It can be hard to cope with daily life without constant reward or positive stimulus in the day. There is nothing wrong with the person rather it is how the brain’s reward system works. It gains from small consistent rewards eg: food. It is evolutionary brought about by constant tinkering by Mother Nature. There is no escape.
I have my own perspective on dealing with oneself and overcoming the reward system:
· Whenever you are feeling down try to get to the real cause of your misery. Be honest with your feelings and thoughts. Do not suppress them — they will only influence you further. Do not turn to cigarettes, alcohol or any other substance to suppress your thoughts. It will only calm your nerves, make you drowsy at best, but the noise in your head is going to continue. Crying on the other hand helps-it helps you vent out emotions, and allows you to think rationally.
· If you are feeling frustrated, and little things bother you more than they should ask yourself a simple question “Am I hungry?” if the answer is yes then it might be time to get may be a chocolate bar. The little uptick you get from consuming some food can help you feel better (a little chocolate goes a long way). There might be an acute pain bugging you-take care of it. This might feel small, but negative feelings can feed into each other. Our brains are excellent at weaving narratives and creating causal connections. Fight you frustration before you end up with a depressing narrative in your head, a story you might repeat to yourself time and again unnecessarily.
· It may be bad — for now. Your biggest judge nothing or no one, but time. Embrace uncertainty. You never know what opportunities time will bring. Our lives, and much of history has been shaped by large, unforeseen events. These events do not follow a pattern they are essentially random. Uncertainty is like the wind it’s your choice to be a flame or a fire.
· Be more perceptive of others. It can be hard at the break-neck speed of modern life to pay heed to other people’s matters. Being perceptive not just to your family members or partner, but to others in your social network helps a lot. It may be that a person you know is looking for an outlet. You being nice and an intent listener can help the other person restore some trust in society, and other people.
· Appreciate the tailwinds you have. It is human nature to put more weight on losses compared to profits. In the same way we tend to ignore the advantages we have, while feeling bad (excessively so) about the struggles we have to face. Learn to appreciate what makes your place in the world possible. It can help you feel good about yourself. But remember someone else’s large seeming problems do not belittle yours — it is the hedonic treadmill there is some sort of scaling involved.
In the end I would like to conclude with words of Salman Rushdie (though not in the spirit they were written) that you are the sum total of what went before you that the chances you are here in the moment you are miniscule, and that your very existence is no less than a miracle. There are people whose lives you have touched, and there will be more. The world will not be what it would be had you not been there.
I hope this helps shed some light on the very sensitive issue that is suicide, and may be provides a perspective or a framework to think about it.