I agree that suicide can sometimes be rational, but I think you severely overestimate the frequency with which it's safe to assume this. Of the three people I know who have been involuntarily hospitalized for suicidal tendencies, all of them ended up glad of it, and none of them attempted suicide in response to recent negative experiences.

Allowing people self-determination may be a good general heuristic for increasing utility, but I think that this is a situation where, with limited information, we are usually best off defying that heuristic. There will almost certainly be cases where this prolongs the life of people who would be better off dead, but this has to be weighed against the people whose lives are worth living which would otherwise be lost, and I think we have adequate evidence to conclude that they're far greater in number.

Those are my last thoughts on this matter as well.

How would you talk a stranger off the ledge?

by MoreOn 1 min read23rd Jan 201297 comments

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Last month, two people far at the periphery of my social circles have threatened suicide. Seems like a sign for me to learn some ledge-fu.

I reviewed the stuff I'd learned back in high school ("Listen." "Be supportive." "Don't argue." "Etc etc etc.") I have trouble believing that this would work outside of movieland, especially on strangers. More so, in person I'm an awkward, fidgeting introvert---the impact of everything I say is thus diminished, and I sound very insincere or clinical, like I'm following a bad movie script, when I say anything like, "You are not alone in this. I’m here for you." or "How can I best support you right now?" I doubt that this would sound any better in writing.

I suppose I could split my question into two related ones: what would you say to a person threatening to commit suicide, 1. in person, and 2. in an email?

I'm looking for out-of-the-box ideas that don't rely on charisma or compassion shining through. Personally, if I ever need to talk myself out of suicidal thoughts, I apply the "bum comparison principle": if my life is so crummy that I'm willing to commit suicide, then I should be willing to just walk out on everything I value and drift off in a random direction, survive by dine-and-dashing out of cheap restaurants and wash dishes if I get caught, maybe take odd jobs or hitchhike or gather roots and berries or blog from public libraries. I don't see this possibility in a negative light, and yet I still haven't done it. To me, it means that however bad my life may seem, I'm still too attached to it to walk out; therefore, suicide isn't on the menu.

People have different reasons to want suicide, and I understand that what works for me with my first world problems probably won't work for a person who is in too much physical pain from an incurable disease. To the best of my knowledge, the two people I mentioned earlier are both unskilled laborers who had lost their jobs, one of them so long ago that he's no longer eligible for unemployment benefits. I don't think I'll meet these particular people again, but I'd appreciate everyone's thoughts on what I could've said if my brain hadn't frozen.

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