Please Stop Calling Suicide Victims Selfish or Weak

Soon after news broke about the death of Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington, amid the flood of condolences and the raw expressions of grief and shock—came the others; the ones who are never far, always hiding just out of view, ever ready to crawl from out from the cracks.

In moments like these, they surface to offer flippant, callous, armchair sermons about how selfish suicide is, about how cowardly the dead person was, about why he or she should have thought of their children, spouses, loved ones.
They add insult to fatal injury by heaping shame upon a suffering that had already proven to be too much to bear for someone.
These people somehow feel fine critiquing dead strangers, before they’ve even been buried.

I’ve come to realize that there is only one kind of person who says things like this about those who take their own lives: a person who has never been where Chester Bennington was in his final moments, or where Chris Cornell was, or where 121 people in the US are every single day—where many are in the seconds it takes for you to read these words. The people who say such things, are those who’ve never (because of mental illness or acute trauma or severe addiction), been pushed to the precipice of their very will to live. They are people who (fortunately for them) have the luxury of their ignorance, who’ve never walked through this unrivaled internal Hell and wanted nothing more than to get out.

When you are in that desperate, frantic, lightless moment of despair—reason fails. There is no processing of things that seem so clear to people sitting calmly in parks and at desks and living rooms offering detached, knee-jerk commentary; those in their right minds, unclouded, lucid, and sober. That is what mental illness does, that is what addiction does, that is what depression does: it convinces your head that nothing matters, that this terrible moment will not pass, that nothing will get better, that you are fully, irreparably, and permanently f*cked. It doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t require objective proof, and it has no need for logic—you just feel it. In those moments the only thing you want is escape—and the choices people make in those moments are beyond what any of us have the right to criticize from outside of it.

I’ve never battled substance abuse or addiction, but I have carried depression for a couple of decades that has at times been terrifyingly heavy. And despite prayer and counseling and meditation and medication, there have been moments when the sadness became so overwhelming that nothing helped; not my career or my family or all the objective data I had that everything was good and that I should just feel better. I wouldn’t have said I was suicidal then—I just didn’t want to live. What got me through and what gets some people through when others fall is one of the greatest mysteries of this life. Some people make it and some people don’t—and the former aren’t any wiser or stronger or better, just very fortunate.

Suicide isn’t cowardly.
It’s not weakness.

It isn’t selfish.
It’s born of a hopelessness that can imagine no other way out.
It is a thick, pitch black haze created by powerful personal demons that prevents you from seeing light in the moment.

People like to say that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and they’re right—but those standing in the darkest places can’t see that from there.

When someone takes their own life, we can view it as a tragedy for their loved ones, as a reason to mourn their leaving, as a squandering of what that life may have one day become, we can even be really angry at the senselessness of the loss.

But we should never use the moment to insult the dead by trying to shame them after they’re gone. Believe me, they really wanted to stay.

They did the very best they could in the worst seconds of their lives. They were as brave and strong and selfless as they were able to be in that moment.

There but for the grace of God go the critics.

May you always be such strangers to the dark.

Friend, if you’re struggling with depression, addiction, desire to self-harm, or suicidal thoughts, talk to someone. Help can be found here and  here and here and here and here now. You are worth fighting for.



Order John’s book, ‘A Bigger Table’ here.


372 thoughts on “Please Stop Calling Suicide Victims Selfish or Weak

  1. Only thing that has kept me alive is the hope that I might see the end of the world with my own eyes, and relish at the destruction of the world that has made me feel this way.

  2. I suffer from severe chronic pain. Crippling pain that will never get better. As I age, it will only get worse. Not all problems are temporary. Sometimes, there is no light at the end of the dark tunnel.
    I think about suicide every single day, because it feels like the only way to stop the pain.
    But I’m a coward. I can’t do it. I’m afraid to do it. People who commit suicide, to me, are not weak or cowardly. They had the guts to do what I can’t. I just continue to suffer.
    Thank you for letting me get it off my chest.

    • Yes, u r so right. I get annoyed when I hear this. Sure, a teenager takes their life over a love breakup, that is a temporary problem. But, as u say, some things cannot get better, mental illness, disease, disability, getting old and feeble. It can’t always get better !

    • Shannon you are stronger than you think . I commend you for enduring pain. I lost my son , he took his life. It has been 9 years, 5 of it I spent self medicated. I look for hope and slowly getting back my joy. Miracles happen daily, and you are next. God Bless you, praying for you

  3. Your Sweet words are very encouraging. I sense that your understanding is “real”.Living in constant pain, I totally believe it.I need to be stronger to take care of my mama.Thank you for your messages. I hope that passing these links helps others, because I know the mindset of seeking the strength to leave this world.

    • I’ve been dealing with depression and thoughts of the ramifications if I did kill my self. My wife separated from me, I’m battling a drug addiction and it seems like there is no one to talk to or that I can confide in. I have a son and if it wasn’t for the thought of abandoning him I think I wouldn’t be here right now. Recently I’ve been thinking maybe he’d have a better shot at success without me. Sometimes I think I’m just feeling sorry for myself but the weight of everything, real and imagined, makes me want to rip my soul out. Thinking about it makes me so tired and scared. So yeah it may be a selfish act but tell me,how long can you live feeling the way that I or others feel on a daily bases?. Today I’m alive and that’s all that matters.

  4. The most incomprehensible, vicious thing we do to those left behind after a suicide is judge the person who took their own life. No one can understand it because we aren’t there and we didn’t walk in that person’s shoes. I was incredibly affected by the suicide of both Chris and Chester because they are two icons of my kind of music. I saw them both in concert. I bought their music. I saw the two of them express their friendship and love for each other. I cried my eyes out over both deaths and talked to my kids about both suicide and how important it is to pay attention to the people we love for as long as we have them. Then I read some online posts about their deaths and cried all over again. The judgmental slurs and ugliness were painful to read – because I know that none of those people had any idea how many suicidal people would read those posts and have their worst fears confirmed. We are better than this, at least, we should be.

  5. Firstly, I apologize for this long post. Thank you so much for this post. It truly is not a selfish act in the eyes of the person contemplating suicide. It is also not a phrase, which I was once told it was by a Doctor. I should know I have attempted suicide in my past and now and then think about it. When I attempted suicide I was in high school. My parents were in medical debt as well as having their account on lock down due to helping my oldest brother stay out of jail due to his credit card debt. On top of everything else this was during the recession. I couldn’t seem to get a college scholarship, nor a part time job with very limited hours since I was only fifteen.

    I had a very small group of friends who slowly, in my mind, abandoned me for boyfriends and pregnancies. By the time I got to graduation, I had zero friends for they were all in the special school for those who were pregnant teens. I also thought about how much a baby would love me, but I hadn’t even kissed a boy much less had a boyfriend. I secretly took more ibuprofen then I said I was going to take each month during my period from my Mom’s medicine cabinet. I did this for several months saving them up until I thought I had enough. At this point I thought my parents would be better without me another financial burden, another failure who couldn’t even help to pay for college. I had zero friends who would miss me. On a weekend my parents were raking leaves and I took all pills. I waited and waited in bed. I could hear my parents talking through my window and my Mom was saying how she wished I was there to help them. Then I got up and threw up in the bathroom. I was pretty dizzy and weak rest of the day but raked with my parents. My parents still don’t know about this nor does my Mom know how much saying she needed me helped.

    As an adult now I have also thought about it. For me what helps is to get outside so I don’t feel trapped. I told a past fertility specialists that yes I had once depression and suicide attempt during the whole interview process and she told me that is must of a phase since it was back in high school, which is why she didn’t make it past the interview process. At the moment my husband and I have been trying for more then a year to have a third with two miscarriages. I have been told by others with fertility issues that my miscarriage aren’t valid because I already have kids. I am also told the whole god has a reason for it speech which I don’t believe either, nor that I am not trying hard enough, or praying hard enough or anything else that some religious people seem to say. What I am, is struggling, and grieving.

  6. We might think some people have it all and are living the perfect life.
    But it turns out….no-one’s life is perfect and everyone has struggles of their own.

  7. Thank you so much for this.

    Isn’t it more selfish to expect them to live in a world of never ending pain and darkness, so that we don’t have to deal with emotions that will come with their death?

    Suicide isn’t ALWAYS a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Sometimes it is in fact a permanent solution to a permanent problem. Depression and anxiety are permanent. They never go away. Even with treatment and medication. Sometimes we just get real tired of fighting. Of trying to live up to the expectations of others. Or ourselves. And death feels like the only rest available.

    It’s a complex situation.

    • Yes! Thankyou! Exactly. Suicide isn’t any more selfish than eating, or breathing, or claiming any other commodity of value that people do every day without a second thought. Everything we use, purchase, or consume is thereby taken away from another human or animal that might need it! We don’t call each other selfish for eating… why for suicide?
      Likewise, it is MUCH more selfish for me to insist that somebody must live through unending mental torment just so that I will not be sad. As a society, if somebody has excruciating physical injury we wouldn’t dare call them selfish for accepting morphine at the hospital. We would offer that willingly. What’s the difference for mental torture?

    • We never know what is going on in someone’s head and they can be hurting. Pay attention to loved ones! My son was suicidal at 13. He said his faith in God is what saved him but I know others with faith who did not see a way out other than to end their lives.

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  14. It would be terrible if we offended a dead person by criticizing their suicide. Ask the children left behind if they think the manner in which their parent abandoned them was cowardly. Do you think they ever wonder why their mother or father couldn’t stay in therapy or try a different medication?

    • What a rude response. If you think that suicidal people haven’t tried staying in therapy or trying different medications, you don’t know depressed people. Sometimes you really do run out of options and you feel awful, awful, awful all the time. While we might like people to stay alive for their children, sometimes they genuinely can’t. I wish things were as easy as you seem to think they are.

  15. Thank you for this, John.

    As a transgender woman…I am one of that 41 percent of us who have attempted or succeeding in committing suicide…because of this society’s unbearable cruelty…and the hell that is gender dysphoria.

    Both of my attempts were pre-transition, the last being 24 years ago now. But boy, especially here in North Carolina…with the unbelieveable level of cruelty…the inability to find decent work, because nobody that is in a position to hire people will refrain from discriminating against trans people…

    I have given up looking for work outside of the home…consigned to make a substandard living on what my small home business can generate…because I have a very old car, and cannot afford to fix or replace it if it breaks down…and I cannot afford the gas to go to job interviews where I KNOW I am just going to be turned down for a job I am fully capable of doing because I am trans…and my state government refuses to protect me from discrimination.

    It sucks being trans in North Carolina, and it feels like nobody gives a damn.

  16. I am old and I have spent many years fleshing out the reasons I suffer from Depression. I have endured years of talk therapy and prescription drugs. I am old enough now that I can end my life without dire affects on who I leave behind. However, in recent years I have learned that Major Depressive Disorder can be overcome relatively quickly with the world’s willingness to look at psychedelic drugs again this far away from all the negative publicity the sixties
    wrought. In the last few decades, psychedelics were used in clinical trials to help people who were suffering from a fatal disease. These people were very afraid and clinicians found that psychedelic drugs could open a new door into their brains that brought them peace. Next, psychedelics were used to enable the depressed to move beyond their hardened egos into a place that offered peace and an escape from the years of depression and anxiety. The results seem to be lasting and do not require numerous sessions. If you cannot get into a clinical trial (the government is very stingy with these highly controlled drug) you can find a “guide” who will sit with you and keep you safe. I’m going to do it. There’s no easy way to kill yourself or I would have done it years ago. I want to see if my last two decades can be different. I urge you to look into this. MAPP is a site online that is kind of a clearing house for clinical trials. Take a look.

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  18. As someone who spent the majority of his life suicidal and depressed, surrounded by people affected by suicide and having had several dear friends commit suicide, I have to disagree with you here.

    In those moments, all a suicidal person thinks about is themselves, how bad they have it and how bad their life is and how nobody truly loves them. While they device their plan to take their own lives, they think of how that car could kill them, not how the driver could get hurt. How that electric socket next to the hospital bed could kill them, not how the person on a ventilator in the next room could die too. How that fall from a bridge could kill them, not how the cars below could end up in a pile-up.
    Least of all they think of how it will affect the loved one that will find them afterwards.

    Does that sound like anything but selfish to you? Suicide is the penultimate form of selfishness, with the only thing more selfish being murder-suicide.

    I can agree that it is not weakness, but it sure is selfish!

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  20. thank you for your words…I decided to take my life. I believed it was finally over. only to wake up in ICU begging my sister to just let me go. I have struggled for many years and wanted the pain of depression to just end… it goes on. Not as badly as those days but I am always aware that in just one moment the blackness may come again. You have so carefully explained the darkness and I hope it reaches those who have judged. thank you

  21. I can have my own opinion of this as the child left behind after telling my father I was no longer going to allow his sexual abuse of me. I was telling. He shot himself that day. He was absolutely selfish and left me with a horrific amount of guilt. My cousin shot himself in front of his parents because they wouldn’t give him money to go get high yet again. Both were forms of control and a way out and yes, absolutely selfish on their part leaving absolute destruction on the families left behind.

  22. I agree with the title of this article. So I clicked on it and read it; I wanted to have something I could point other people to.

    I was disappointed. I found the article riddled with false premises, circular reasoning, poor definitions, begging the question, faulty generalizations, arguing from silence, post hoc, non sequitur, and arguing from emotion, just to name a few. Arguing from emotion makes for a good article for those seeking camaraderie and fellowship, and maybe that’s even the purpose of the article, but it’s no good as a resource for those with questions.

  23. Yes. However, I do think that people shame those who die by suicide out of fear as much as out of ignorance. It’s a way of keeping suicide at a distance, of not having to face the possibility that it could be personal, it could happen to someone close or to themselves. I’m not justifying bad behavior or excusing it. I’m offering another way of looking at those who shame those who have died by suicide and those who are suicidal. Thanks for the call to end one of the aspects of shame around suicide/suicidality.

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