Right to die?

There’s been a lot in the news recently about whether people should have the right to die when they choose. The news stories always focus on people with incurable illnesses, locked in syndrome, degenerative multiple sclerosis. I’m very much pro-choice, people should be allowed to do what they want within reason, it’s their life. Something happened on Twitter last night though that really made me question the extent to which this applies to mental health. Should someone who is acutely suicidal just be allowed to get on with it or should we (both personally and as society as a whole) intervene?

Rather than get into big sweeping generalisations, I’m going to talk about my own experiences. I’ve been that acutely suicidal person with an absolute desire to end it. I tried and it’s only through intervention from friends and the medical profession that I didn’t succeed. At the time I resented it hugely. I thought dying was the only option I could face and I couldn’t understand why people wouldn’t let me go for my own sake.

Now I see things somewhat differently. While I am not entirely jubilant at life all of the time, I am at least interested in seeing how it pans out. If I’d been allowed to do what I thought I wanted, I’d never have met my boyfriend, got a puppy, had the chance to start my own business. I look back and I’m grateful that people intervened when they did, they gave things a chance to change.

I’m not saying that things will change for every suicidal person with a mental health condition. However, bad brain chemistry, call it what you will, does make you see things in a distorted manner. This can make you feel and think things are one way when that isn’t entirely the case. How do you determine when a decision is what someone really wants or if what they want can be changed with the correct help and treatment?

I don’t know the answer. I’m just glad that people did intervene and give me the opportunity to get to where I am today.

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2 Responses to Right to die?

  1. Pandora says:

    Gah, that was a bad situation 😦 Having been placed in the same one several months back, I know how difficult it is. I hope you’re OK.

    My view on this is that if depression/mental illness/whatever it is is long-term treatment resistant, then suicide is kind of acceptable. I mean in the sense that all medications and therapies have failed – consustently, and for for years. The difficultly is in determining how many years. I’d go with decades – but that’s easy to say.

    Like you, I’ve been to the very brink, and have recovered. But when depression returns, so does the suicidality, and that’s when recollection of the better times fades, and I convince myself that they cannot return, not this time.

    And that’s precisely why intervention is sometimes warranted and necessary: people who can get better don’t realise that they can, and need help to do it.

    If a person feels the same in 20 years hence, with no respite at all, then things might be different – but in this case, you did the right thing, and I hope over time the person involved will come to realise that.

    Take care

    Pan xxx

  2. JuliesMum says:

    I agree, I think there’s no single answer. I think one person’s depression is different from another’s, and it would probably be impossible to write down a single formula that suited every single case. Perhaps even 20 years isn’t long enough for some people… and maybe it’s too long for others.

    Take the two people I know best who have had suicidal intentions or made suicide attempts. With my daughter, intervention is a no-brainer. She is only 16: I don’t think she can possibly make the decision to take her own life at this age. She’s having a horrible time, but I think she will get better, even if she doesn’t always believe that. I can’t imagine anyone arguing against intervention in her case. I may feel exactly the same in 20 years time (gosh, I hope it isn’t still an issue then!)

    My father on the other hand might be an argument against intervention. As a younger man, he suffered from untreated mental illness for decades, and growing up I became aware that he had drawn up very detailed preparations for his suicide (though subsequently he seems to have decided against it after my mother fell ill and needed round-the-clock nursing). After struggling with this for some time, I realised eventually that it really was his own decision. He had had long enough to think about it and to consider the consequences to everyone else. If he had decided to go ahead then I would have had to respect his decision and his right to choose.

    I’m not sure how I would begin to identify what it is that makes me feel so sure that intervention in one case is justified but not in the other. Obviously, I might be confused by my own relationship to the people involved, but I’d like to think that it was more to do with their relationship to their illness. In one case, I don’t think my daughter has had a chance to experience mental health yet, in the other I think my father knew his illness all too well and was probably approaching the decision very rationally.

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