In his New York Times column, David Brooks writes about suicide – and the challenge of interrupting the “idea or story to bring them to the edge of suicide and to justify their act.”
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As someone who has spent a good amount of time in Army-sponsored classrooms (trying to learn through mass-education how to intervene), I thought Brooks’ column was particularly helpful. It clarified for me the strongest counter-narratives out there, which he gained from Jennifer Michael Hecht’s book Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It.
Her two planks are simple, but powerful. The first is that “Suicide is delayed homicide.” She relates that suicides can be networked in a sense, that they often cause others to consider it a potential alternative to their maladies. Celebrity suicides can cause an uptick in numbers, like Marilyn Monroe’s overdose, which preceded a 12 percent increase in suicide rates. Hecht says – if you want our niece to make it through her dark nights, you have to make it through yours.
Brooks writes, “Her second argument is that you owe it to your future self to live.” She cites a 1978 study which tracked down 515 people who were stopped from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge (something I’ve learned is the world’s #1 site for self-murder…32 people jumped last year). Decades later, Hecht wrote that “94 percent..were still alive or died of natural causes.” As Brooks put it – “suicide is an act of chronological arrogance, the assumption that the impulse of the moment has a right to dictate the judgment of future decades.”
Brooks concludes with a powerful thought: “as our friend Nietzsche observed, he who has a why to life for can withstand any how.”
Having read this piece – I feel like reading this column would have been the vast majority of the suicide prevention training one would need. The counterarguments. It answers the most critical question – well, it helps to answer the most critical question – which is: what do I say to someone who feels they have nothing to live for?