Suicide Prevention, Part II: Encouraging People to Live May be a Form of Suicide Prevention

Usually, a person who wants to commit suicide is not thinking rationally, clearly; his or her mind is clouded by emotional distress. The reason is that it is instinctive, even unconsciously rational, for the human creature to want to live, to gravitate toward being. That is why, according Viktor Frankl, the eminent psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, there is no good reason to end one’s life.

Suicide is a negative act that ends the possibility all positive acts. It is the wrong answer that ends any right answers to a problem. It is the ultimate choice against ending all choices. It is an act against oneself, because true self-love will always care for the self it loves. Frankl writes,

“[I]t is our duty to convince the would-be suicide that taking one’s own life is categorically contrary to reason.”

If a person is in despair, contemplating suicide, not knowing why he or she should stay alive, then that person needs to be given reasons to live, to be reminded constantly that life, despite the emotional distress of the present, is a great good to be cherished and preserved. There are, for instance, other persons to encounter in love and service. There are also projects to complete and possibilities to actualize in the future, even if a person does not clearly recognize them in the present. There are, in fact, always good reasons for a person to live, even if he or she, at the moment, may not recognize them.

At the end of virtually everyone of my university classes I have taught in the greater Philadelphia area for almost 20 years, I constantly remind my students to choose life over death; “to say ‘yes’ to life, in spite of everything,” to borrow a phrase from Dr. Frankl. I do that by enthusiastically saying to them two words: ‘Stay alive!’ To be, to stay alive, to exist, is, in the final analysis, as Frankl says, “nothing other than a decision.”

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