Suicide Is Not Selfish, Wanting Someone To Live In Pain Is

Preston Mitchum responds to all those who took to Twitter yesterday saying Robin Williams took the easy way out.

Trigger warning: This piece contains discussions of depression, mental illness, suicide, and suicide attempts.

Oscar-winning actor, Robin Williams, was found dead in his California home yesterday, from an apparent suicide, according to investigators. He was 63 years old.

“This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken,” said Susan Schneider, Williams’ widow.

Once information was released of an apparent suicide, it didn’t take long before Twitter was abuzz with “but he’s a comedian,” “suicide is never the answer,” “suicide is selfish,” and “pray your pain away” mantras as solutions to depression, mental illness, and feelings of suicide.

Saying “suicide isn’t the answer” is easily one of the most insensitive statements made by people who have minimal understanding of the intersections of depression, mental illness, and constant feelings that the world would be a better place without you. Is depression proof-positive of suicide attempts or successes? No. However, the two can be inextricably-linked.

Unfortunately, there is still linear-thinking when it comes to suicide and those who may attempt it. Even on Twitter, people were very vocal about their feelings of suicide:

All too often, there is a deflection when it comes to honest discussions of suicide and attempts. Suicide is not for the “weak” and it is not for people who don’t know how to cope. In fact, many people who commit (or attempt) suicide do so because they genuinely think life—and the world—would be better without them. This article is not advocating for suicides, but instead, it is a plea to have an authentic discourse when it comes to depression, mental illness, and suicide. Depression is nuanced and is not as simple as 2+2 =4. It is difficult, it is complex, and even though it hurts, our conversations must be too. Take, for example, a formulaic expression mentioned last night:

Depression—and the thoughts that may flow therefrom—is much more complicated than having a bad day. And like other mental illnesses, depression shouldn’t be trivialized as someone simply needing to smile, cheer up, or otherwise realize they should be happy to be alive. Being alive is hard.

Society must do more than tell people to pray away their depression and thoughts of suicide. Pray all you want but depression should be treated with medical care, too, like any other illness or disease. The problem with depression is not that some people have it; it is with forcing a depressed person to believe they have a “spiritual problem” for believing their conditions can be solved with therapy and subsequent medication, and not prayer.

Suicide is not selfish. Considering suicide is not selfish. You, in fact, often think of everyone and anything. Wanting someone else to live in pain is selfish, regardless of how much you think mentioning family, friends, and other loved ones will help. And it is the epitome of selfish to deny someone’s choice because of your personal feelings of their choice. Many victims of depression feel there is no other choice, and in the extreme, depression is painful.

There has been a frightening tendency of society telling people that a smile will make depression, mental illness, and thoughts of suicide fade away. Can it temporarily? Perhaps. But it is a constant battle. And the tricky thing about depression is: You don’t know what it feels like until you feel it. And even then, you may be confused about it.

We must begin having more nuanced conversations related to mental illness and suicide. Yes, people understand that you are attempting to help, but referring to someone as “weak,” “unable to cope,” or “selfish” will never solve thoughts on suicide.

If you are reading this and considering suicide, or know someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. We all need support.

Preston Mitchum is a regular contributor to Role Reboot. He is a civil rights advocate and legal writing professor in Washington, DC. Preston has written for The Atlantic, theGrio, Huffington Post,, and Think Progress. Follow him on Twitter here.

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