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Escaping Life by Suicide

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My view of suicide is that it always follows a certain numbness in mind, combined with a feeling of hopelessness, worthlessness, and something that often happens due to a clinical depression which forces a person to take such a drastic step. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), suicide was the eighth leading cause of death for men and the sixteenth leading cause of death for women in 2004.

The US Department of Health and Human Services reports that suicide is a complex behaviour. It is usually caused by a combination of factors. Almost all people who kill themselves had a diagnosable mental or substance abuse disorder or both. The majority had a depressive illness. Early recognition and treatment of depression is the most promising way to prevent suicide.

People, who are driven to suicide or show inclinations towards it, are invariably in need of close attention and care. In fact, it is a good idea to have several suicide intervention centers where there should be trained counselors to talk with a depressed and grieving person and help them overcome their hopelessness by providing compassionate listening.

On the other hand, the concept of physician-assisted suicide, or euthanasia, is something that is essentially debatable. To declare it as right or wrong is not so easy, as there are many factors that lead to it, which is quite relative in its nature.

A terminally ill person who is unable to breathe or perform any natural tasks without an apparatus or is constantly kept on life support system with no hope of recovery is someone who might wish to end his life by asking help from the medical professional. It may be painful for him to live like this and watch his loved ones suffering due to his painful situation.

Here the medical ethics and conscience, along with moral dilemmas, come in between when one is planning to carry out such decisions. I think euthanasia is rightly called ‘mercy killing’ and I would openly support it when such a need arises.

The Christian view of suicide is that a person who commits suicide will ultimately be in Hell because one’s life is the property of God. The Bible says that by committing suicide, a person has rejected salvation through Christ. Considered more than the act of committing suicide, it is the rejection that expedites their journey to the fires of hell.

There is a slightly variant dimension of suicide in the popular one-act play Night, Mother by Marsha Norman. Briefly, Night, Mother hosts two characters on stage, Jessie and Thelma. Jessie Cates is in her late thirties to early forties, and lives with her mother, Thelma.

The play opens with Jessie asking her mother where a handgun is kept. Jessie finds the gun with Thelma’s help and quietly announces that she is going to kill herself at the end of the evening. This announcement sets off a furious struggle with her mother Thelma, who uses every strategy she can conjure up to talk Jessie out of her plan.

As the evening progresses, Thelma becomes so desperate that she resorts to telling Jessie the truth about a number of issues that have affected Jessie’s life. A lot of family secrets start spilling out from Thelma’s mouth.

This point in the play reaffirms Marsha Norman’s declaration, which she made when her play was revived on Broadway in 2004. “I don’t think that the play is about the right to die or about death at all. Instead, it is about secrets, about what hasn’t been said during life.”

Night, Mother is a distressing American play which has a bruising impact on its audience. It is not a sentimental drama that justifies suicide by asking, “Whose life is it anyway?” It is a stirring paean to a person’s right to die with dignity and touches some raw nerve with its honest portrayal.

Jessie is an overweight, shy loser who suffers from epilepsy and whose husband left her a long time ago. She has a teenage son who is a thief and a drug addict. As she declares her decision to die she says, “And I can’t do anything either, about my life, to change it, make it better, make me feel better about it. Like it better, make it work. But I can stop it. Shut it down, turn it off like the radio when there’s nothing on I want to listen to.”

Her mother Thelma is a plain countrywoman – garrulous, selfish, and ineffective. Both their lives are defined by shopping lists, television shows, junk food, and small-town gossip. Thelma says, “I don’t like things to think about. I like things to go on.” It shows Thelma’s lack of expectations as a simple countrywoman who is not inclined to deeper sentiments.

Jessie is introspective and prone to feeling things more deeply. She uses the metaphor of a bus trip to describe the reason for killing herself and the lack of hope in her sterile and lonely life. She states that it does not matter if you are fifty blocks from your stop when you get off because for her the stop will be the same right now as it will be in those fifty blocks/fifty years.

While watching this play one gets a mixed feeling about Jessie’s life, apparently it seems an unbearably desolate life. As she sees it, her life is “all I really have that belongs to me” and she is entitled to end it. She never had much going for her in life and she thinks there is no reason to believe that things will change. “I’m somebody I waited for who never came and never will” she says dispassionately. “I’m not going to show up. There’s no reason to stay.”

This is the most significant line in the play that defines the state of Jessie’s mind and why she wants to end her life. Still, one wants to stop her from escaping life, because despite living a miserable life, Jessie was more in need of being heard. She desperately needed help, self-actualization, and someone to give her a hug and tell her that everything will be all right one day.

Suicide is a major and preventable health and social problem. A prompt intervention is highly recommended when a person loses hope and thinks that suicide is the only solution for the situation they are facing in life.

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About Nazia Mallick

  • Thank you for a thought-provoking article. We lost a parent to suicide and the “suicide survivor” guilt we (now adult) kids have experienced ever since is the kind of collateral damage that doesn’t show up in statistics.
    I disagree with your opening sentence, however; from personal experience, I can tell you that at least some suicides come from rage and self-loathing. Rather than numbness, there is uncontrollable, unbearable anger and self-hatred. It is the ultimate destructive act, and some suicides, I believe, act from that motivation, at the very end.
    I appreciate your mention of “the Christian view of suicide,” but also take exception with this generalization. After the suicide in our family, one pastor insisted on the Biblical interpretation that you cite, that any suicide is bound for Hell. Fortunately, a more compassionate (and, I think, more knowledgeable) member of the clergy took exception with that interpretation, and cited numerous pieces of scripture indicating that was not necessarily true. He assured us that, no, not all Christians believe suicide equals damnation. I’m not expert in Christianity, but I know what I choose to believe. (I also wonder where the clerical compassion was in telling someone kids, less than a day after the death, that their parent is going to Hell.)
    Finally, I’m left unclear on your personal thoughts about suicide, Nazia. I’d be interested in how you feel about it, morally, after your research and, obviously serious consideration. Again, thank you for your article.

  • Nazia Mallick

    Hi James

    Thank you for your comment.

    I empathize with you in your tragedy, which I know, must have been extremely hard to bear.Especially for a kid.

    I accept your objection to my opening line. However, the numbness that I mentioned is about an individual reaching the point of utter despair that often results in certain numbness of mind and spirit.
    I agree that most suicides come from self loathing and rage, and this is the stage when a person going through such anguish needs support and intervention.

    As for my personal opinion, let me tell you that I do not believe in condemning a person who commits suicide. I pass no judgement.
    I just feel exceptionally sad for the one doing it. This is something that is highly preventable.

    Several years ago, I was a volunteer at a ‘suicide intervention centre’ and having dealt with few crisis calls,I have come to know that often when someone talks about committing suicide, they mean it! We must never ignore such talks as ’empty threats’.
    Such a person needs quick help.


  • James A. Gardner

    Nazia: Thank you for your response, and for your work with suicide intervention. I have the utmost respect and appreciation for those of you who provide a lifeline for innumerable people in crisis.