Let’s do more of the same. Forever

This post is a response to RO’s comment under the previous blog. The response has become too long to put it as a comment. I also thought that the issue raised deserve posting as a new blogpost.

Let me start with a couple of points. First, I don’t aim to answer all the points, I only focus on those which I find most important. Second, I acknowledge the arguments made. They are at the very least worth debating. Here is my response, in which I also offer some response also to Mary’s comment under the previous post.

1. There is a difference between a campaign and a talking support, like the Samaritans’. I would not offer my ‘strategies’ as strategies of talking, also for reasons that RO explains, but more importantly because I think any such conversation must be seen and done in context without a set agenda. But there is a difference between talking to an individual and sending a campaign message to ‘no one’. The comparison is flawed.

2. I find the current strategies lacklustre, probably to the point of being useless (note the comments in the third response to my post). And so, if we really think that it’s worth having a suicide prevention campaign (which is not obvious at all), perhaps it’s worth basing it on what people say. And, importantly, offer a response to what people say. You see, I reject the idea that the only way to prevent suicide is to offer more euphemising, more going round the bush. I think that telling people they will no longer love anyone is better, though perhaps it is hard-hitting. Same with telling people that suicide is not a gift. so, perhaps, along the Samaritans’ line – you might want to kill yourself, but at least stop thinking you’re doing anyone a favour, you’re not.

3. Does the sentence ‘suicide – it’s the end of everything’ echo what people think? Maybe. Maybe for some. Except RO offers an opinion, I offer hundreds of suicide notes which contradict that opinion. What I offer is not based on what ‘I think’ or on ‘my experience’. It is based on research. Time and again, those writing suicide notes write them in a way suggesting that they will have a life after suicide. That they will participate in their family’s affairs, that they will care for their loved one. But they will not.

The second commenter makes a different point. What if for some people suicide-as-end is a source of relief? By implication, such an argument might suggest that a message I propose might be encouraging people to commit suicide. I have no good answer to that – research is needed. However, it is now accepted that talking about suicide does not prompt people to kill themselves.

4. Fascinatingly, I am yet to come across a challenge to the ‘There is hope’ message. And yet, you could argue that a response to it could be ‘No, there f…ing isn’t, good bye’. Can it not be seen as urging people to see the despair in which they find themselves more clearly? In my view it can!

More generally, you can always turn a slogan against itself. But the ‘hope’ slogan has the suicidological imprimatur, so it’s OK. And if people turn it, that’s tough.

You see, I think that the messages such as ‘It’s OK to talk’ are only irritating and patronising. They assume that people are stupid enough not to see that it’s ‘OK to talk’. Still, they also have the seal of approval of suicidological celebrities. So, they’re great.

5. As I said in the post, I have no idea whether what I suggest would work. If anything, research would have to be done into responses/reactions to, perceptions of, and at least perceived usefulness of what I suggest. But for pity’s sake, let’s at least pretend to assume that the mainstream suicidological views could be wrong, at least in some respects. The assumption that you can’t do it things differently, no matter what, is nonsense.

But there is a different agenda as well. I (and others as well) find suicidology incredibly full of itself. It’s been saying the same things for decades. Only the suicidological celebrities are changing. I find it extraordinary how persistent it is in following the same grooves, trying very hard not to look around. If there were a competition for a motto for suicidology, my entry would be: Let’s do more of the same. Forever.

6. My final response goes to Mary’s comment. Access to quality, free mental health care, together with financial support for those in need doesn’t need debate. It is an obvious course of action.

  1. I really appreciate you taking the time to respond. I was not aiming to compare individual approaches with societal strategies, but I think that the mechanism of change (which is to counter the shame and guilt people have) could and should be a feature of both individualised and societal anti-suicide interventions, and so I think the hard-hitting approach would risk making people feel even worse.

    Mary’s comment made me wonder whether someone’s suicide note mirrors one’s thoughts at the time, or how much it was influenced by other purposes, such as to communicate/provide comfort to loved ones, or to leave a certain legacy/image? In which case, would interventions based on what people said in their letters simply target the message they felt they needed to put out into the world, rather than their actual inner thoughts? I think this is my cue to read some more of your work Dariusz!

    I completely agree that something needs to be done differently, with a focus on what works, rather than what ‘sounds right’.

    1. Dariusz Galasinski

      Thank you for your comment.

      The problem of ‘sounding right’ has many sources. Suicide is euphemised in so many ways that ‘we’ are hardly able to speak about it directly. For example, ‘die by suicide’ is one such example in which the agency of the person killing themselves is taken away, as if suicides happened to people. And suicides don’t happen, people don’t just die. People actively do things in order to kill themselves. Still, the suicidological community seems bent on promoting it (in my view it’s unhelpful). What works then seems to be of secondary importance, while getting the euphemisms right seems more important.

      The point about notes’ communicative purposes is very well made. Notes are not a ‘mirror to one’s mind’, they are not simply an expression of one’s emotions, feelings, mind or whatever else. Notes can be written to score, to blame, to hurt. It’s hard to think that a note like:

      ‘You’ve got what you wanted.’

      (a real note) is anything but laying blame, leaving the addressee with a feeling of guilt. Yet, it seems literature on suicide notes seems to be largely oblivious to this. It continues to make Leenaars’ assumption about mirroring the mind.

      And yes, talking about suicide can be hard, it can give rise to feelings of shame. But does that mean that we should avoid it at any cost? I am not so certain, especially that there is evidence that suicide is more and more acceptable. As we strive not to offend (or cause pain), our conversations become more and more anodyne, and, in my opinion, this is at least one source of the growing acceptability of suicide. And so, perhaps we should ask ourselves a question of what is more important: not offending anyone or getting people not to kill themselves.

      To stress two reservations. I accept that the opposition I created might be problematic and perhaps there is a way of avoiding one, but I just don’t see it. I also accept that above are my opinions. I have no evidence that euphemising suicide results in more people thinking that suicide is OK. Still, I think it’s a possibility, and yet, it seems that suicidology is completely uninterested in even contemplating it. What matters is to get the language right. I find it very unhelpful.

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