X Close

What I’ve learned about suicide There's an increasing tendency to trivialise this desperate act

Suicide risk: Julian Assange. Credit: Oli Scarff/Getty

Suicide risk: Julian Assange. Credit: Oli Scarff/Getty


January 12, 2021   5 mins

They say there’s nothing worse than burying a child. I wouldn’t know, as for two weeks after the suicide of my son Jack in 2015, I mysteriously lost the use of my legs and lay in bed sobbing and starving until I hallucinated — so I wasn’t even at his funeral. On the upside, I lost a quarter of my body weight. On the downside, I lost half of my heart.

Always somewhat detached, I wasn’t broken by the loss of the person I loved most in my life, as is the case with many parents in a similar situation. If anything, it had the effect of making me even more self-contained, or “sociopathic” as unhelpful husbands have invariably put it during domestic squabbles.

I even tried it on for size a few times myself; the onset of tinnitus in the winter of 2017 seemed as good a reason as any, so I took too many sleeping pills before and after Christmas. Evidently, both attempts were unsuccessful. My fabled capacity for taking drugs saw me awaken both times with nothing worse than a mild headache, and a typically immature reaction: what a waste of good sleeping pills, which could have been abused with alcohol to lubricate a few fun nights.

During a Twitter spat a few weeks ago, a number of disturbed people sent me Photoshopped images of my son in various degrees of deathly contortion. In the photos, ranged in age from angelic toddler to the handsome young man he was when he died by hanging at the age of 29. Many of my friends were shocked and reported these people to Twitter. But I felt only mild curiosity at what kind of mind would mistake such a strange action for acceptable behaviour. I even “followed” a few of them in the hope of finding out

I am a robust soul, and not one to throw up my hands, clutch my smelling salts and fall down in a swoon when faced with discussion of suicide. And yet even my cold blood has flared up recently for it seems to me that suicide, the last refuge of the desperate, is becoming the currency of the scoundrel ­— and a fast way to shut down debate.

Only last week, Julian Assange was saved from the tender mercies of the American penal system when a judge concluded that subjecting him to incarceration in the US could result in his suicide. He has made no attempts on his life during his spell in Belmarsh. But the scourge of the Western war machine and seducer of Swedes has been spared the American system because he claims to have suicidal thoughts ‘hundreds’ of times a day.

Perhaps I’m being cynical. Perhaps Assange is in a bad way. I do know what that’s like, after all. But I can’t shake the feeling that this latest ruling is symbolic of a creeping tendency in society to allow suicide to be weaponised. Indeed, worse than Assange’s foot-stamping insistence that he could commit suicide if he’s made to go to America (which, of course, no one is allowed to contest), is the incredibly nasty way the threat of suicide is now being wielded by certain institutions charged with the care of fragile children.

I’m thinking of the transgender-affirming Tavistock Clinic and charity Mermaids. Last month, the BBC’s breathtakingly arrogant over-ruling of the Samaritans guide on responsibly reporting suicide was noted by James Kirkup. This holds that journalists should “steer clear of presenting suicidal behaviour as an understandable response to a crisis or adversity”. Yet when three High Court judges ruled last year that children aged under 16 will need court approval to access puberty blockers, the reliably biased state broadcaster saw fit to run an article — since edited — claiming that “Doctors and parents have told the BBC the ruling could cause distressed trans teens to self-harm or even take their own lives”.

The implication was clear: do you want to be the villain that makes a child want to kill themselves? Yet there’s something creepily unsettling about adults championing the idea that children can be driven to self-destruction by their genitalia. It seems strange to place death alongside sex in such an over-heated way — especially from professionals who have sworn to do no harm. “Let us mutilate these children or they’ll die” sits strangely alongside the Hippocratic oath.

To make it even more heartbreaking, the anxiety-signalling is a distraction from the reality of suicide, now the leading cause of death for men under 50; in part, I suspect, due to a growing sense of alienation and boredom — and the rise of super-strong skunk. Paradoxically, at the same time, there are calls in the West to liberalise restrictions on “voluntary” euthanasia — even though it could be used by waiting inheritors to urge the elderly to do “the decent thing” and die before they become a burden. Surely it’s no coincidence that in Belgium, where liberal euthanasia laws mean that even children can request a lethal injection, one national newspaper recently found that 40% of its citizens would consider reducing the country’s health costs “by no longer administering costly treatments that prolong the lives of over-85s”.

Before the pandemic, the UK was actually relatively jolly: currently 109th in the global suicide chart. (The Swedes used to be near the top, but turned it around in the 20th century, perhaps as a result of Abba winning the Eurovision Song Contest.) But now many of us sit alone, masked, muted and miserable. Those like me, free to work on a balcony overlooking the sea, are few and far between. Millions of my fellow citizens now feel incarcerated — and unlike Assange, they don’t get a round of applause from Pamela Anderson every time they dare to question their current situation. It’s a good job key workers don’t threaten suicide if their conditions don’t improve — but then, the rules for those in showbiz have always been different, and Assange is nothing if not a diva.

Either way, the reality is that calls to suicide helplines have risen by a third during lockdown, while half of people generally feel that their mental health has suffered. The Office for National Statistics also reported that rates of depression have doubled from around one in ten people before the pandemic to almost one in five. And I worry that in a society where suicide is increasingly evoked as a reasonable reaction to people not getting their own way, it will be increasingly hard to know who to take seriously. I’m pretty sure my son intended to kill himself, as he made such a good job of it with very limited resources. But even when you’ve stared suicide in the face, let alone attempted it yourself like I have, it’s still impossible to fully understand its meaning, especially when it looms over someone else. The balance of a mind needs to be quite seriously disturbed before the issue even arises, so it’s hard to know exactly what people who attempt it are feeling. Maybe, with ineffable sadness, they simply want to be seen.

With suicide, there is no certainty — its very nature calls out for examination. And because of this, we should still be free to question the veracity of the claims without being made to feel as though we have blood on our hands.

After my son killed himself, one of the first things I did was go to volunteer at my local MIND shop. Every day as I walked there, I felt him walk beside me. He sat with me in the alcove where I steamed hundreds of pounds worth of clothes a day, to be sent to the shop floor to raise funds which would hopefully encourage people like him not to lose all hope. The charity shops are all closed now, and the income which helped the likes of MIND to ease the burden of the burning house of mental illness has vanished. From this scorched earth, it’s all too easy to imagine how suicide could spring up to spirit away unknown numbers of our loved ones. In the meantime, we must not diminish its cruel impact by allowing it to be used as a bargaining chip when all rationality fails.

You can call Samaritans for free on 116 123, email them at jo@samaritans.org, or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.

Julie Burchill is a journalist, playwright and author of Welcome to the Woke Trials, available now. Her latest play, Awful People, co-written with Daniel Raven, comes to Brighton Pier in September 2023.

BoozeAndFagz

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

100 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
G Harris
GH
G Harris
3 years ago

Julie Burchill, whether you agree with everything she writes or not, is a phenomenal, extraordinarily brave writer.

So few like her able to put you through the emotional mill in just a few hundred words.

ravenjulie59
JR
ravenjulie59
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

Thank you, G!

J StJohn
J StJohn
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

I can put myself through an emotional mill. Is she helping anyone though?

juliabaytree
JH
juliabaytree
3 years ago
Reply to  J StJohn

Explaining, at the very least.

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago
Reply to  J StJohn

Not one of your downvoters there, just so you know, but that’s not her job.

Personally, the way she writes makes me think of things I might not otherwise think of or, more pertinently, be comfortable thinking about but should be and that, to me, is the mark of a really great writer.

Stainy
Stainy
3 years ago
Reply to  J StJohn

I am really am sorry you lost your son. The article helped me. I am on a watch for one of my sons being at real risk at the moment. It is always a help to be spoken to by a rational adult as an adult.Thank You.

Adrian
Adrian
3 years ago
Reply to  J StJohn

Putting people through an emotional mill is helping them.

Helen Murray
HM
Helen Murray
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

Astonished that JB seems fit to judge Assange as a Diva and emotional blackmailer. He has been kept is solitary confinement for a very long time with a real threat that he will be extradited to the US and imprissoned for life. How would JB cope with that, how would any of us? Very judgmental and inappropriate JB.

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago
Reply to  Helen Murray

I completely understand your point of view and it was not something I was personally entirely in agreement with either.

Along with a good many apparently, Julie Burchill is clearly not a personal fan of Assange, but she was using him amongst other examples to make the point that the threat of suicide on its own should not be enough to stymie due legal process.

As I said, I don’t read these kind of things simply because I know what the author is already going to say or because I assume they’re always going to agree with me or me with them, but in order to have my own views challenged on occasion when I do.

You never come away from her stuff with a tidy, neat conclusion and nor, I suspect, are you ever meant to.

Stuart Bennett
SB
Stuart Bennett
3 years ago

Those who dismiss suicides as weakness or a failure to take responsibility for oneself are simply demonstrating a lack of empathy and a failure to understand the depths of hopelessness a person has to fall to in order to carry that out. If you never know what it’s like you can consider yourself very fortunate. Depression rewires the brain in such a fashion that you can’t see the exits that would otherwise be available to you. Those who paint it as some kind of intellectual or moral failing only demonstrate their own.

Ian Barton
IB
Ian Barton
3 years ago
Reply to  Stuart Bennett

Absolutely – and we shouldn’t forget that choosing to end one’s own life is frequently a highly rational choice for those people with terminal illnesses.

If the UK were more open to accepting this conversation, then it might take a more informed and nuanced view of the subject of suicide generally.

Just changing society’s approach to a process of managing the initial onset of peoples self-terminating thoughts as personal choices – with more respect for the individual – may actually prevent “less-necessary” suicides.

J StJohn
AM
J StJohn
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

This article isn’t about people with terminal illness.You’re changing the subject.

mike otter
MO
mike otter
3 years ago
Reply to  J StJohn

If we can get people to understand living wills/advance decisions it will make it easier to get them to understand suicide

Ian Barton
IB
Ian Barton
3 years ago
Reply to  J StJohn

Not my intention – if we can create a situation where suicidal thoughts are considered to be tragic but rational, then maybe others would come forward earlier – and get better help.

Stella Williams
SW
Stella Williams
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Not sure in what sense utter despair leading to suicide could be considered a ‘rational’ response? They do not come forward because they cannot! They have no hope nor are able therefore to think there is anything that can help.
Terminal illness is a very different issue – as is the whole concept of state supported euthanasia

Ian Barton
IB
Ian Barton
3 years ago

Considering suicide when “suffering from utter despair” is a perfectly rational response if the person involved can’t see another way out from their suffering.

Certainly not all people in despair “cannot” come forward.

We need people to feel more comfortable discussing these suicidal thoughts earlier.

Stuart Bennett
SB
Stuart Bennett
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

I fully support right to die, a persons body is their own property. I think forcing people to suffer long slow and painful declines and loss of faculty due to illness or old age is barbaric.

The original statement was referring to suicide in the general sense.

Unknown Anonymous
Unknown Anonymous
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

I agree – and respect for the individual is key. I was badly bullied as a child, and seriously considered suicide. I got to the point of identifying the building I planned to jump off. And yet I actively decided not to ask for help, because I understood very clearly that as a twelve-year-old I would have no rights, and adults would feel free to lock me up and trap me in a situation I considered worth than death, while telling me it was for my own good.

Even now I’m an adult, if I were to consider suicide again, I don’t think I would ask for help. The risk is too great.

If society were prepared to accept people’s right to take their own life, so that the suicidal didn’t have to fear imprisonment, I wonder how many people could be saved. Because right now it is simply unsafe to ask for help.

Janet Inglis
JI
Janet Inglis
3 years ago

This is a brilliant piece of writing so evocative of your spirit, strength and grief. The bigger message, beyond your own awful experiences of suicide, is so beautifully presented. The truth told with bravery and wit.
It’s why I love your writing.
You give us all a piece of yourself every time.
❤️

ravenjulie59
JR
ravenjulie59
3 years ago
Reply to  Janet Inglis

Thank you, Janet – what a lovely thing to say!

Jonathan Andrews
JA
Jonathan Andrews
3 years ago
Reply to  ravenjulie59

Your writing is inevitably interesting. You’re a remarkably fine journalist.

Stella Williams
SW
Stella Williams
3 years ago
Reply to  Janet Inglis

I agree with this wholeheartedly! You are an inspiration Julie – your honesty and lack of fear – you don’t beat your breast ever or ask for sympathy you feel what you feel and use your experience to make things clearer for anyone who chooses to read your writings – I just loved this – thank you for it.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

We’re going to have an awakening of sorts about suicide because the response to this pandemic is going to cause more of it. It’s occurring in the US and there has been a dramatic spike in suicidal thoughts among the young. In Japan during October, there were more suicides than there have been total covid deaths, and this is a culture in which suicide is not stigmatized.

Meanwhile, I could not help but notice this about the nasty people who made contact with the author: Many of my friends were shocked and reported these people to Twitter.
What, if anything, did Twitter do about it? I can’t prove it but “nothing” is likely more accurate than not. How interesting as we enter the great purge of modern times that a political viewpoint can get you banned, but being the worst kind of human being in attacking a person you don’t know merits no response.

Maria Bogris
Maria Bogris
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

The only reason I haven’t yet is because it would be letting the pathetic quaranteamers win…and I’m not sure that’s enough anymore…

Blue Tev
Blue Tev
3 years ago

If 75% of suicides were women, do you think an article like this could be written without constant references to the issue of gender and the cruelty of society towards women?

Those evil, horrible people sending those photographs of your son would be rightly vilified, thrown out of their jobs, and very likely be in jail if they had send something similar about someone’s daughter. And that is the problem with suicide: it is treated as a joke, something trivial, precisely because of the gender identity of the victims.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
3 years ago
Reply to  Blue Tev

You may be right. But is this topic really a good place to start complaining about feminist bias?

Blue Tev
SM
Blue Tev
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I know one person whose wife walked out on him and his 2-year old daughter when he was jobless ““ and turned up 2-3 years later when he had got into a well paying job, to demand alimony.

And, when refused, coincidentally also ended up demanding sole custody for the now 5-year old she had deserted. After manipulative court cases (which left him penniless and having to quit his job), laughably false allegations of physical abuse, one day he went to the school ground to find his daughter missing.

His wife had accused him of sexually abusing his own daughter, and Social services took his daughter away without even bothering to inform him.
I lost touch years back and hopefully things ended for the better, but cases like him are the reason suicide stats are so skewed in terms of gender.

He is someone’s son too, and the reason this happened was because feminists like this author couldn’t care less and would actually support his wife, every time.

John Jones
JJ
John Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

For some people, it’s never a time to talk about feminist bias.

Maybe that’s why we never talk about it.

Kiran Grimm
NS
Kiran Grimm
3 years ago

We are often told that the rate of suicides among young men has increased substantially in the last few decades (“…the leading cause of death for men under 50”). I have never come accross a study which accounts for this phenomenon in a convincing way and I wonder if any serious and determined investigation has ever taken place.

All too often young male suicides are explained from a therapeutic and feminine perspective ““ the well-worn trope: “men must learn to be more open about their feelings” is trotted out as though the problem were understood and a solution had been found.

Alan Girling
AG
Alan Girling
3 years ago
Reply to  Kiran Grimm

Yes. Men are not women, men process their emotions differently, but also, ironically, women actually *attempt* suicide more often than men worldwide, they are just unsuccessful, so the suggestion to be more like women and all would be well would seem to be very bad advice. Also, the gender stereotypes are rooted in biology. Men who show their vulnerability in the ‘feminine’ way soon find women are no longer attracted to them. Inability to find a mate is a further source of suffering.

Kiran Grimm
NS
Kiran Grimm
3 years ago
Reply to  Alan Girling

Yes, a female friend of mine was always banging on about how awful it was that men “kept their feelings bottled up” ““ in this patriarchal society of ours. Then one day her husband broke down and cried over some major family tragedy.

She was so shocked that she completely failed to provide the care and support that she claimed any man would earn if only he had “the true strength” to lower his emotional defences. In spite of herself she responded to his tears as weakness not strength.

The moral is that women in general (in spite of their vaunted verbal communication skills) understand action better than words.

Gary Cruse
GC
Gary Cruse
1 year ago
Reply to  Kiran Grimm

The movie Tootsie is a life lesson that what women think they want is not at all what they welcome.

Gary Cruse
GC
Gary Cruse
1 year ago
Reply to  Alan Girling

My cousin went to the pharmacy and bought a large amount of OTC sleeping pills. Like the rest of OTC’s snake oil, they didn’t do a thing to suicide her. I suspect the ratio for attempted and successful suicide between men and women is radically different.

Katy Randle
Katy Randle
3 years ago

A timely article. From this scorched earth, suicide WILL spirit many away; the hell of it being that currently, many truly do not care. The fact that lockdowns make impossible the very things that can lead out of depression – social contact, face-to-face interactions, meaningful work, helping others, makes not a jot of difference to those pressing for harder and harder restrictions. (I’ve been re-reading Johann Hari’s excellent “Lost Connections”, and it’s left me even more depressed due to this realisation.)

Those of us who experience our connection with the rest of humanity denied, our yearning for any human contact spat on as selfishness, and who experience friends who previously expressed much concern for mental health problems turning their backs and saying “Just deal with it”, will find it an increasing temptation.

From my heart; if you are a lockdown zealot, PLEASE consider that continued failure to weigh their potential harm against their benefits may well end with someone you know committing suicide. If you start to think of this, thank you.

James
J
James
3 years ago

Sorry for your loss, and the terrible trolling. Excellent piece, which I hope will be widely read.

Soozy Sue
Soozy Sue
3 years ago

Such breathtaking clarity on both grief and the issue of suicide. Thank you

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago

First of all, my deepest condolences for the loss of your son. No one should have to suffer that pain.

One thing that you didn’t mention, but which needs to be at the centre of this discussion, is why suicide is predominantly a problem affecting young men. I can’t help but think that this issue would be taken far more seriously If it were young women dying disproportionately.

But just like other problems that affect men more than women, this issue never gets traction in the main stream press, which is far more concerned with the fact that 2.8% of those who lost their jobs during covid were women, while ignoring the fact that 2 of three people dying from it are men.

The fact that we ignore or trivialize death when it affects men mote than women casts the idea of “male privilege” in rather a harsh light.

birgittegoe
birgittegoe
3 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

Women speak up for women. We have several good reasons for that.
Why don’t men speak up for men?

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  birgittegoe

When men speak up for men, We’re accused of being misogynists. Any man who dares interrupt the continuous harangue from feminism by pointing out that actually, men are also harmed by gender stereotypes, often stereotypes promulgated by the same feminists who claim the moral high ground, are told that they have no right to speak.

Gary Cruse
GC
Gary Cruse
1 year ago
Reply to  birgittegoe

Because we are then condemned for oppressing everyone else. Men are all latent, if not actual…but give it time, rapists.

Ocxl Ocxl
OO
Ocxl Ocxl
3 years ago

Thank you for an inspiring piece of writing, I have lost 4 people, close to me, to suicide. Perhaps I might volunteer for my local MIND shop, they are a nice bunch of folk.

Nigel Clarke
NC
Nigel Clarke
3 years ago

Good piece. I nearly lost my daughter. I’m sorry you lost your son.

Re Assange…

It could be that the only sure and valid legal way of dis-allowing the extradition to the US was to assert that suicide would be the outcome. Whether or not it actually was/is.

We are all reeling in some way from the effects of repeated lockdowns and other restrictive edicts imposed on us that are having deleterious effects on the mental health of the population.
Now imagine being locked-down for as many years as Assange and with the threat of life imprisonment hanging over you, in effect a lifelong lockdown. Whether you like him or not, would suicidal thoughts have entered your mind?

Pete Kreff
PK
Pete Kreff
3 years ago
Reply to  Nigel Clarke

It could be that the only sure and valid legal way of dis-allowing the extradition to the US was to assert that suicide would be the outcome. Whether or not it actually was/is.

That might be a sensible legal tactic for a defendant or his legal team, but it should not be the modus operandi of a court judge. The judge can’t lie about the reason for his ruling.

Now imagine being locked-down for as many years as Assange and with the threat of life imprisonment hanging over you, in effect a lifelong lockdown. Whether you like him or not, would suicidal thoughts have entered your mind?

But the unpleasantness of the punishment, whether it’s prison or any other punishment, is part of the deterrent. Do you think Assange was unaware that his actions would be deemed a serious crime in the US, so if he was “unlucky” enough to fall into the hands of the US justice system he was likely going to face a long, long stretch in prison?

My last point about Assange (and I’m not some Assange hater, I have kind of mixed feelings about his whole story, but I just find the legal aspect interesting): you talked about Assange’s many years of “lockdown”, but that was entirely voluntary. It was his freely taken decision to enter the Ecuadorian embassy and apply for asylum. It wasn’t part of any punishment, it was motivated by his fear of punishment. But fear of punishment is part of the accepted deterrent function of punishment.

Lindsay Gatward
LG
Lindsay Gatward
3 years ago
Reply to  Pete Kreff

Lets hope The Donald pardons Assange who has done more to reveal the deceitful workings of the Deep State than just about anyone – I am sure proper judges sometimes manipulate their rulings to give a just result the same way that biased/political judges do for an unjust result although the later do it as a matter of course – It does seem likely Assange’s continued detention is to ensure his availability for the inevitable appeal that the Biden administration will be particularly keen on particularly as they are the epitome of the Deep State.

Pete Kreff
Pete Kreff
3 years ago

Trump won’t pardon Assange because that would make him look unpatriotic. No chance at all, in my opinion.

Gary Cruse
Gary Cruse
1 year ago
Reply to  Pete Kreff

You were right, and for the correct reason.

Bob Kellett
Bob Kellett
3 years ago

In any survey of favourite poem’s Not Waving but Drowning by Stevie Smith always appears high on the list.

Surely this is because a lot of people, for whom life may, at that moment, not be a bed of roses, maybe can see that it never was and never will be. They may identify with it strongly, even though many would no doubt fall into the broad category of people for whom when asked: “How’s everything going?” automatically reply “Fine”. Males in particular are always expected to put a brave face on things, even when they consider the situation (life?) to be hopeless.

The assumption that we are asked to accept is always that a suicide is just going through a bad patch and that more understanding and communication from those around (and maybe some happy pills) would have got them through it.

In the case of youth suicides we often hear:”But (s)he [most commonly he] had his whole life ahead of him.” Surely that’s precisely why he did it.

Condolences to JB for her earlier loss – there’s no diminution of that – but what a fine writer she is turning out to be in this later flourish of writing. Frank, bold and fantastically well crafted.

mike otter
MO
mike otter
3 years ago

One of the best non academic pieces i’ve ever read on this subject

Toby Josh
0
Toby Josh
3 years ago

It’s heartbreaking to read of the author’s loss. It’s hard to imagine how one would deal with such tragedy. I hope she doesn’t try to take her life again. I hope she reads this and knows that her countrymen are here for her x

Virginia McGough
VM
Virginia McGough
3 years ago

A profoundly moving article. You and your son are in my prayers.

Mark Lilly
Mark Lilly
3 years ago

God poisons everything. For goodness sake, leave her out of it.

peter lucey
peter lucey
3 years ago

A moving and insightful essay, thank you. Loved ones left in suicide’s wake suffer so much. (A suffering never experienced by me).Suicide can, terribly, be a permanent solution to a temporary problem; but it is hard to assist someone in crisis, when their mind is beset. They are so alone, and often in the darkest hours, when the spirit is lowest. The Samaritans are always there, of course, and I’d like to mention http://www.lostallhope.com. That site has no easy answers but is also there 24×7. (It has helped me, once, sleepless in the early hours)

Joelle Mann
Joelle Mann
3 years ago

The information on Voluntary Assisted Dying (aka euthanasia in some countries) is incorrect. The article says” ..there are calls in the West to liberalise restrictions on “voluntary” euthanasia ” even though it could be used by waiting inheritors to urge the elderly to do “the decent thing” and die before they become a burden.” This is not in any way backed up by figures from countries were Voluntary Assisted Dying is legal, such as Belgium, Switzerland and in nine US states and the District of Columbia. From 2002 to 2019, 22,000 people have chosen to die this way in Belgium. It will become law in New Zealand in 2021, and in Australia it has been legal in Victoria since 2019 and will be in Western Australia in 2021. In the UK, one person every week (i.e. 52 people a year) chooses to go to Switzerland because they can afford the 10,000SF it costs. If it were cheaper many more would go. This is why the law in the UK needs to be changed. It is a fact that many people die sooner (and some by suicide) because they cannot have legally assisted dying.

Tim Bartlett
Tim Bartlett
3 years ago

Is suicide a rational reaction to intractable problems, or a failure of imagination and agency over one’s own situation? Is it taboo and to be punished, or a symptom of mental illness to be treated? All or none of the above? Mostly as a society we treat it like a herd of Bison watching a fellow being picked off by Lions – ‘thank God it wasn’t me’ before moving on without much further thought.

I would have thought it’s cynical use as a political tool as documented by the author will probably be condemned by most though. It probably won’t stop them unfortunately.

Alison Houston
AH
Alison Houston
3 years ago
Reply to  Tim Bartlett

I have had severe depression and suicidal thoughts, twice in my life and I would say it is like being possessed. For me, the suicidal me was not quite the whole person, which is probably why I am still here all these years later. For others, who are ‘successful’ for want of much better way of putting it, I guess there is no chink through which the old self, the more rational, conscious mind can communicate with that part which the devil, for want of a less religious way of expressing it, seems to have taken hold. On the other hand I am a religious person and I would say that in the aftermath of such an episode the deep peace and balm that bathes the mind is God.

I assume suicide is more common among people who use drugs, because it is easier for that possession to take place completely and the chink that allows the old self, the reason and cheerfulness in, to be completely closed off. The sense of the deep peace and love and salvation, of the Lord, I suppose can also be confused with the high of whatever you have swallowed or injected and thereby diminished as a commodity which can be bought.

Nigel Clarke
Nigel Clarke
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

Many of those drugs are ones that have been prescribed.

Toby Josh
0
Toby Josh
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

I hope you are never afflicted again.

Tim Bartlett
Tim Bartlett
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

Thanks for your, and Susannahs below, perspectives.

Bengt Dhover
Bengt Dhover
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

That was an interesting way to view the drugs/suicide connection. I had never thought of it that way, but it does make a lot of sense.

Susannah Baring Tait
Susannah Baring Tait
3 years ago
Reply to  Tim Bartlett

I am one of the world’s eternal optimists. However, back in the early 90s and living abroad, I was being bombarded by disasters and events beyond my control; at a time when my husband was totally absent in terms of emotional support as our marriage was also falling apart. For once, I felt completely unable to cope and just so desperately wanted it all to go away and be left in peace. The hunger for peace became almost overwhelming when, one night, lying restlessly in bed, it began to consume me. Suddenly, there seemed to be a brilliant but beckoning light behind my eyelids urging me towards it. I have never felt such an overpowering urge to follow something before. I could feel the end of all my problems if only I could pass into that light. And I could feel that extraordinary peace already washing over and enveloping me. The intensity of this feeling was incredibly seductive. I realised it meant my death and that presented no problem at all. At that point it hit me that so often suicides are presented as running away from their problems – thus an implied cowardice ““ but what if they were happily running TOWARDS this peace instead? Obviously, I didn’t follow it through, but I came exceedingly close. The thought of the effect on my daughters brought me back from the brink. But I have never lost either that image or the intensity of that feeling. It gave me a completely different perspective into the minds of some suicides. I wonder if anyone else has experienced this.

Toby Josh
0
Toby Josh
3 years ago

As a younger man I had to confront death on one occasion, without preparation. My first thought was for my parents and those who loved me, and I felt so sad.

birgittegoe
birgittegoe
3 years ago

I have. I know how it feels. That longing …
Luckily (my daughter was 12) I managed to stay here.

J StJohn
AM
J StJohn
3 years ago

Against a grim backdrop of rising suicide rates among American women, new research has revealed a blinding shaft of light: One group of women ” practicing Catholics.
https://www.latimes.com/sci

Dr Anne Kelley
DK
Dr Anne Kelley
3 years ago

A thoughtful and thought-provoking article, which only someone who has been enmeshed in suicide has the authority to write. Julie Burchill is one of our best writers, always honest, intelligent and witty. We should nurture and value her!

Fi Copmere
FC
Fi Copmere
3 years ago

Only the individual knows the circumstances and sum total of events that leads them to suicide or attempts at suicide. Mocking professionals for rationally considering suicide as a potential outcome in a series of unpredictable events is not helpful, the professional would probably be slated if they did not list suicide as a potential outcome in balanced risk analysis of their patient/client. Please do not judge the virtues of one person voicing suicidal thoughts versus another. There is no hierarchy in suicide.

morgangenevieve
GM
morgangenevieve
3 years ago
Reply to  Fi Copmere

The point is that certain organisations stare that suicide is a risk without any consideration of the evidence

juliabaytree
JH
juliabaytree
3 years ago
Reply to  Fi Copmere

The very reporting of suicide as a way of dealing with pain is like a beckoning finger to some young and seemingly desperate individuals. We should be very careful what seeds we sow.

Andrew McGee
AM
Andrew McGee
3 years ago

What seems to me to be missing from this is the acknowledgement of the hars fact that suicide is a personal choice. The right to end one’s own life is fundamental and must always be respected. Sometimes that means that we should NOT put great efforts into preventing suicide.

A little more rationality is called for here.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew McGee

More effort needs to be put into understanding a persons thought process, which sometimes makes perfect sense e.g. terminal illness.

Pete Kreff
Pete Kreff
3 years ago

A very thought-provoking article, thank you.

The recent ruling by a judge that Assange could not be extradited to the US because he would be at a higher risk of suicide led me to do a little (half-hearted) internet research. I looked for information about the relative suicide risks in prisons in the UK and US. I only found one study, which indicated that the rate of suicide in prisons in the UK is higher than in the US.

Of course, you can make allowance for the fact that Assange is not a US citizen, so that would perhaps add to his mental anguish. But he’s not a British citizen either (as far as I know), and I’m pretty certain he’s not Ecuadorian either.

If I was facing a long prison sentence in the US I would be so terrified of the prospect that I would certainly consider committing suicide. How often and how seriously I would consider it I can’t know (nor could a judge, I’d suggest, unless I had made several highly convincing but ultimately unsuccessful attempts on my own life).

But surely that’s one of the reasons why I wouldn’t commit a serious crime in the US, or anywhere else – because the punishment if I was caught simply outweighs any reason for committing the crime. After all, the idea of spending years in jail is supposed to be scary and off-putting – this is the deterrent function of prison and punishment in general.

Wouldn’t there be an argument that Assange must have known what punishment he would likely face in the US if he was prosecuted there, so he must have weighed up the pros and cons of his actions (it wasn’t a crime of passion, a momentary loss of judgement – buy he must have known it would be treated as a crime in the US) and he decided that it was worth it. Now he’s using the prospect of that very punishment as a pretext for not having to face the punishment.

Or have I missed something?

(Sure, you could say his actions shouldn’t constitute a crime so he shouldn’t be extradited to the US. But that is a different argument from the suicide argument used by the judge.)

Dan Poynton
Dan Poynton
3 years ago
Reply to  Pete Kreff

You seemed to have missed many things on this issue, Peter – but the one that bothers me the most is how the US seriously believes they could justifiably try an Australian for treason. And you seem to be saying that Assange should take responsibility for the danger his freedom and very life are in due to this travesty of justice being perpetrated by the US.

Gary Cruse
GC
Gary Cruse
1 year ago
Reply to  Dan Poynton

I have no truck with Assange. Did you know the US jailed, and may still hold IDK, as Israeli for spying on America? I used to be proud of this country, but now I am ashamed and approaching alarm.

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
3 years ago

Thankyou Julie for writing about your experience in such a n open and courageous way.
I believe that for many who commit suicide there are two deeply existential reasons involved. The first is the question of identity which I think hit men particularly. The drive toward sexual equality has been good in many ways but there have been negative unforeseen consequences. One is that some men have found it difficult to feel secure in their male identity. What was definite in terms of roles is now blurred. Men were wired to be breadwinners, authority figures, decision makers and family leaders. But all this has gone. Most men have been able to navigate this huge change. But some have found it very difficult, and when this has been compounded by unemployment, divorce often leading to unfair settlements including withholding regular access to their children, diminishing sexual ability and loneliness, it has led to suicide.
Secondly there is what is called “cosmic loneliness”- that sometimes terrifying and profound sense of being alone even in a crowd. It’s knowing that ultimately you are on your own in an uncaring Universe and that life is sliding inexorably to the darkest loneliness of all. It’s impossible to comprehend what that feels like for a person driven to suicide unless you have stood in that place yourself. Poets can sometimes put it into words.
“They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars – On stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places”.
Robert Frost.
For some years I served as a chaplain to a psychiatric unit in Liverpool. I was often humbled by the sheer courage and resilience people showed as they lived with psychiatric illness every waking minute of every day. Some times a person would say “I wish I had your faith Father”. In the conversation that sometimes followed I tried to talk about being able to experience in the deepest part of your being the love of God the Father and to know without a doubt that you are His child. In terms of identity there is nothing to surpass knowing you are a child of the living God and that whatever happens you are in His Hands. In the words of Mother Julian of Norwich ” all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well”. That truth will also do a lot to assuage the cosmic loneliness within us. The Universe belongs to God who knows and loves you as His child and it’s filled with His presence so that there is nothing that can separate you from Him, not even death.

JGM
J
JGM
3 years ago

Julie Birchill I am sorry you lost your son. Feels a bit small to add that you have been one of my favourite writers for over 20 years – I am one of those readers that think I know you but I don’t. I do however know the impact of suicide and the complete lack of a satisfactory conclusion. Life is rubbish sometimes and thank god we can share it

Joe Blow
JB
Joe Blow
3 years ago

A moving and insightful piece. Her experience is unimaginable, and distressing try to imagine.
I admired Birchill before this, for her ability to be insightful, incisive and funny (a rare blend). I admire her even more now.

Styff Byng
Styff Byng
3 years ago

This is an incredibly powerful piece.

stevewhitehouse62
SW
stevewhitehouse62
3 years ago

i hate the fact i have to debate a superstition..grow up if there is a big man in the sky u can all sit back and relax..its if there isn ‘t u all get up set about , so stop ruling over us or dictating to us and all go to ur gods

Mark Birbeck
MB
Mark Birbeck
3 years ago

Apart from the fact that she can write about suicide and still make me laugh at points, as usual with Julie’s writing I’m struck by the uneasy combination of emotional insight and sensitivity and a kind of caustic cruelty towards people she has no time for. Other people in the comments have taken up the political and legal aspects of Assange’s case but he has suffered in the extreme and deserves compassion as much as Julie’s son does.

Alex Delszsen
AD
Alex Delszsen
3 years ago

I had You Tube on automatic and woke up to a video that I am sure is not in Burchill’s queue, but Assange is struggling. See a video with YanisVaroufakis, Roger Waters and Ken Loach, u.a., called ” What’s next for Assange.” Not too long. And btw, left and right think the media is owned by the other side, so to be sure, we are all being played.

Pete Kreff
Pete Kreff
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Delszsen

And btw, left and right think the media is owned by the other side, so to be sure, we are all being played.

Or maybe none of us are being played?

And even if someone is trying to play us, haven’t we all heard, countless times, the warning: “Don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers?” That even applies to stories with no evident political significance, so isn’t it our fault if we’re not more cautious about believing stories with a political slant?

Peter KE
Peter KE
3 years ago

Good article even if sad for you. The Tavistock Institute, BBC and Asange are all a disgrace.

Drahcir Nevarc
RC
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago

“suicide, now the leading cause of death for men under 50; in part, I suspect, due to … the rise of super-strong skunk”

Very incisive observation.

Nigel H
NH
Nigel H
3 years ago

I feel that the only people who can actually write sensibly, and probably rationally, about this topic are those that have been either”¦.
1)In the depths of despair and felt that it was an appropriate reaction to their circumstances.
2)On the receiving end of a very close one succumbing to it. (me)
Thank you Julie.

stevewhitehouse62
SW
stevewhitehouse62
3 years ago

its painless and brings on many changes..

Gary Cruse
Gary Cruse
1 year ago

Resign my commission?????

stevewhitehouse62
SW
stevewhitehouse62
3 years ago

its a choice and who r we to debate a choice…religion seems to be the main atagonist

Ralph Hanke
Ralph Hanke
3 years ago

I’ve often wondered if suicide is really about power.

If I believe I have the power to overcome a situation I am in (depression, losing a loved one, or whatever), then why would I contemplate suicide?

On the other hand, if I believe I am powerless to overcome a debilitating and painful illness, for example, then I can see wanting to check out.

simelsdrew
simelsdrew
3 years ago

How do these changes improve society? They don’t; they make the society more dysfunctional….

Douglas Redmayne
DR
Douglas Redmayne
3 years ago

Sorry to hear about your son but this has nothing to do with allowing physician assisted suicide which is a matter of freedom for the individual.

londonbluefish
AM
londonbluefish
3 years ago

.

Last edited 3 years ago by londonbluefish
Dan Poynton
DP
Dan Poynton
3 years ago

It is widely known that it’s notoriously hard to kill yourself with sleeping pills, no matter how many you take – and you’re calling Assange a “diva”? [Yes, I have no right to imply you were being a diva in your suicide attempt, but equally you have no right to use a man who faces life-long solitary confinement in a US prison, and the unbearable emotional torture that entails, as a comparable example to the Tavistock/trans ones. Please have some empathy as one who has suffered too]

Mark Lilly
ML
Mark Lilly
3 years ago

So, is this woman still working? The last piece I saw of hers was decades ago when she self-described as a ‘Stalinist’ [sic] and went off on a homophobic tirade. Bigoted, boring, bad.

Jonathan Andrews
JA
Jonathan Andrews
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Lilly

You on the other hand never thought or said anything daft. An example to us all

Pete Rose
PR
Pete Rose
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Lilly

“Hank Williams said it best, he said it a long time ago;
Unless you have made no mistakes in your life, be careful of stones that you throw.”

H H
H H
3 years ago

Ironic given your previous comments on male suicide. I think there’s a fair chance Jack would still be here if not for you and your toxic viewpoints.

Geraint Williams
Geraint Williams
3 years ago
Reply to  H H

What a deeply unpleasant comment.

Nick Lyne
Nick Lyne
3 years ago

It’s always about Julie.

birgittegoe
birgittegoe
3 years ago
Reply to  Nick Lyne

You just log in to find a reason for writing a nasty comment, don’t you?
Have a wonderful day.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
3 years ago
Reply to  birgittegoe

There are always a couple like this; not quite on the Twitter scale but odd that people should bother.

londonbluefish
AM
londonbluefish
3 years ago
Reply to  birgittegoe

.

Last edited 3 years ago by londonbluefish