By Brad Hearst
Disclaimer: The topics discussed in this article directly exclude anyone age 25 or younger. The ideas shared are referencing adults who have fully developed and matured.
Definition of Selfish: [sel-fish] adjective – devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare etc., regardless of others. (1)
When we talk about suicide and the loved ones we have lost professionals will recommend avoiding the use of the word selfish. They explain that suicide is never a selfish act. Their suffering became too great for them to handle and they succumbed to the battle against suicide. Most of the time this is probably the case. The struggle with mental health is an incredibly difficult challenge people face every day, but does this mean the final decision to take one’s own life isn’t selfish?
The rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until they reach the age of 25 or so. In fact, recent research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brains rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgement and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part. (2) It is for that reason I believe they should be completely left out of the discussion.
Saying that suicide is never a selfish decision may help us cope with their passing to suicide but is it true?
Unless a note is left behind a survivor is forced to grieve without answers. Even if a note is left behind given the nature of the situation one can’t fully believe every word inscribed. Instead we struggle with our emotions and question every conversation leading up to the moment of their passing. This makes it hard to put blame on anyone other than one’s self.
After years of struggling with the grief and guilt I started to question all of it. Why are we as survivors not allowed to put blame on the person who took their own life. Are we doing it for our own wellbeing or is it just another part of the stigma that suppresses the real conversation we all need to be having?
My brother passed away to suicide. He left behind children and a spouse to live the rest of their lives alone. He would no longer be there to be a father figure, supportive husband or provide financial stability. To me that seems like a selfish decision. He had struggles with a variety of different things that could be related to complications with mental health but choosing to leave them behind is a one-sided decision. He walked the line of full mental development because he was just shy of 27 years old when he passed.
It’s for that reason I propose, is passing away to suicide sometimes a selfish decision?
As a spouse if I lost my wife I wouldn’t know what to do with my family. My world would be flipped completely upside down. Trying to take care of the kids alone would be an impossible task. For those that have lost a spouse to suicide one of the most challenging things to do would be laying alone in bed at night with just your thoughts. After a day of working, taking care of the kids and managing your grief I would imagine it would be difficult to not think that there was some selfishness involved in their loved one’s final decision.
We often become consumed with the one who passed away that we forget about the people left behind. As a survivor myself it can get frustrating when the conversation is centered around what they did, why they did and not around how it impacted everyone else. We need to make sure we take time and talk about the stress it put on our family, the on-going pain it has caused my mom and siblings. Let’s also talk about his son who is now growing up without his father.
The time has come where we need to refocus our attention on the aftermath to emphasize the devastation it creates. Enough sheltering ourselves from the harsh reality that suicide can be selfish, and the people left behind are the ones that truly suffer. There are tons of reasons that can create an internal battle that leads up to someone passing away to suicide. After their passing that struggle is then passed to all the friends and family as they journey through life without answers.
Those unanswered questions impact everyday life from day one on through our last days. Part of the stigma is sheltering ourselves from reality. Parents who chose suicide and leave behind young children to grow up without support can certainly be interpreted as selfish. As a parent when you chose to have children you are taking on a lifetime commitment to always be there for those children. Stepping out at any point, for any reason, is in breach of contract. We all face battles everyday as parents, but it is not fair to the children or your obligation as a parent to abandon them.
We make a commitment to our spouse that we will always be there through thick and thin, good times and bad. Leaving a spouse behind to raise a family alone is a selfish decision. No matter which spouse it is, each of them play a key role in a family. Without both the family will never be whole. People can step in and try to replace the role but there will always be that underlining impact created by their passing.
Before you go and get upset about the use of the word “selfish” understand again I am not referencing anyone younger than the age of 25. Nor am I saying this is 100 percent the case. What you need to understand is that it is okay to feel that anger, frustration, pain and feel that your loved one’s decision to pass away to suicide was selfish. Was it the key contributor to their decision? Probably not. Just don’t be afraid to say what you are truly feeling because it will only hinder your grief process and perpetuate the stigma. It’s time to talk about suicide without filters.