Suicide. Is it a selfish act?

In the wake of the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, the comments on social media as well as real, in-person, comments of shock and sadness had been quickly followed by comments of personal attack against the deceased. I know what you’re thinking – It has been over a year since their deaths. True. But I needed to sit with this for a bit. I wanted to really sit with it and not post something only to have it get lost in the noise. And how timely that when I pick the draft of this blog to review and finally submit, it just so happens to be Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.  It actually kicked off on September 10th with Suicide Prevention Awareness Day.  It’s the first time I’ve heard of this awareness month or day. But it’s pretty apt considering. So I hit the draft button again to sit with this blog a little bit longer.

According to the World Health Organization, 800,000 people take their own life every year. Digest that number for a bit. There are eight hundred thousand people every year who die by suicide! That’s astonishing. We’re not even counting those who attempted suicide and survived. To give you some context here, my hometown of Jersey City, NJ had a population of 265,549 in 2018 with a few other neighboring towns (Newark – 282,000, Elizabeth – 129,000 and Paterson – 146,000) totaling up  to get a population size of about 800,000. Denver, CO had a population of 716,492 in 2018. Picture that. By numbers, whole cities can turn into ghost towns due to suicide alone. I also learned that suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds. Okay. Sorry for the side step here, but I wanted to share some information that I learned about this really important issue. So, back to the topic at hand…are people who commit suicide selfish?

“People who commit suicide are so selfish. They don’t even think about the family they are leaving behind.” This statement, comment, sentiment, whatever you want to call it, was plastered on social media when we seemed to be hearing about another notable person’s suicide. It was also mentioned out loud by a random co-worker at my office who said it as though he was personally offended and disgusted by these celebrities who took their own lives. So let’s just take a step back for a moment and think about that statement. Someone has committed suicide (and based on what we learned from the WHO, 800,000 people commit suicide every year) and survivors judge the deceased by saying he/she is selfish. Are you confused by that statement and that behavior? Are you bothered by that behavior? I know I sure as heck am confused, bothered and down right angry at the notion of someone calling the deceased selfish. But who truly is selfish in this scenario? The deceased or the survivor who makes that comment? Before we settle on an opinion, let’s talk this out. Why is committing suicide a selfish act? I guess we need to start at the word. Selfish. What does that mean? Well, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it means

1) concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others; 2) arising from concern with one’s own welfare or advantage in disregard of others. 

The Oxford Dictionary has a similar definition. 

(of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.

So, I guess technically, a person committing suicide is being selfish in that he/or she is thinking of him/herself, according to the definition of the word. But that does not account for the entire situation. And, if we’re being honest, don’t we all always think about ourselves? Isn’t that our innate survival mode and our obnoxious ego just kicking in? We are always thinking about how someone treats us, speaks to us, looks at us, how we should look, how we should react, how we should behave, how we should show up, whether or not what we want to do will make us feel better, or worse, or worthy, or inadequate, whether that person has a grudge against us and is plotting our downfall at work or at church, whether we are stupid, smart, pretty, etc. We are all always focused on ourselves and therefore are all selfish. Surface level, I’m sure 90% of us are 100% selfish. But again, that’s all surface level. Now let’s go deeper.

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