Streams

Reasons to Live

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Jennifer Michael Hecht teaches poetry at The New School and is the author of Doubt: A History and  Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It (Yale University Press, 2013). She offers a secular rationale against suicide.

 

Guests:

Jennifer Michael Hecht

Comments [42]

Amy in Poetry from Brooklyn, NY

I know I'm late to the conversation, and yet, I'd like to respond to some of the negative comments. I don't agree that advising people to stay alive for others -- loved ones and strangers and the future self -- is tantamount to slavery. I don't think that a person who speaks about the history of suicide has to be a psychologist; rather, a historian will do. I'd like to point out that a short radio segment that involves responses to both an interviewer and callers will not be as orderly as a book on a subject, though I thought Ms. Hecht spoke eloquently, easily drawing upon the philosophers and writers who had written against suicide through the years. Of course, there are many people who are without family, a physical home, and friends, such as those who are in homeless shelters or on the street, but that doesn't mean that the act of killing oneself would leave no trail. Those who work in shelters are helping to prove that all lives are worthy of our attention and care.

Jennifer Michael Hecht wrote an article for The American Scholar about the soldiers and vets issue: http://theamericanscholar.org/to-live-is-an-act-of-courage/#.VAfWcChOTzI

Sep. 03 2014 11:18 PM
Lieo

This was such a ridiculous segment, and I completely agree with the comments that described the author's arguments as circular, and inane. And how dare this author, with no expertise/authority on mental health fix her lips to say that suicide is a form of homicide. Absolutely ridiculous.

As if those with depression need more blame and shame in their lives.

And I will add, there are many people, who are depressed and suicidal, that don't belong to a family/community that wants/needs them to "stay". Indeed, that is part of why they are depressed! A lot of people are isolated, alone, poor, anxious...you name it. Conditions that do not change, and do not make life decent enough to continue. I don't at all suggest suicide as an answer, but the idea that "it gets better" or "everyone has a reason to live" or "everyone has loved ones" is simply not true and incredibly dismissive of some real problems and pain.
Having worked with homeless men, I know its the case, very well.

Dec. 15 2013 09:53 AM
Ed from Larchmont

One of the funniest moments on Brian Lehrer took place about six months ago when he was speaking to the parent of, or a person, who suffered suicidal depression. I just pictured Brian Lehrer comfortin this person: "Now it's true, there is no God, and no life but this one, and this is one of suffering and disappointment ..." Wow, that wouldn't comfort much.

(Of course we don't believe otherwise out to get comfort, but because it's true.)

Dec. 14 2013 06:46 PM
Bob from Philly

RE: Rebecca from Nassau County
In my business I used to privately say that certain of the most creative clients had 'bent chromosomes.' When I myself was diagnosed as bipolar I did some research. On the dnalc.org (DNA Learning Center) website it points to the possible gene and chromosome source of bipolar and schizophrenic disorder.

Dec. 14 2013 12:36 PM
Pat Reilly from earth

This might have been asked already, but what does "secular" have to do with it? The only reason some people don't kill themselves is the dogma about what happens in a supposed afterlife? That minority (I hope) doesn't have nearly the moral range of issues to consider as the so-called "secular".

Dec. 13 2013 02:03 PM
Rebecca from Nassau County

Seriously? Like it is a rational choice and if only the victim understood the impact on friends/family/community? Not in my family, where mood disorders have been prevalent for many generations and only recently have people opened up to talk about its prevalance rather than be ashamed.

I was 17 when my father -- a member of the clergy, no less -- successfully ended his life.

In the many years since I have had to continually wrestle with the fact that I was one of the few people who were actually surprised (others were shocked and saddened, but not surprised) that he died in this way. Growing up at a remove (my parents divorced when I was very young, due in large part to his untreated mental illness, hindsight being 20/20) I was one of the few who didn't actually know that he had suffered crippling bouts with depression since his teenage years.

Years of my own research and therapy as well as knowledge about the mood disorders manifest in his family helped me come to terms with what others found "inevitable."

There have been far too many successful suicides through various branches of my father's extended family for it to have been some kind of flawed moral choice; typically one male per generation skipping around the family tree and seemingly always among the brightest and most talented.

About the only thing that ended my anger about his refusal to "stay" (though of course never the sadness) was the insight that in his state of mind he was not seeking actually to end his life, only the pain that he had endured (seemingly, though "rationally" it had come and gone) for so long.

Mental illness runs in families just as other physical illnesses do. You wouldn't blame someone who died due to a hereditary disease for not being strong enough to "stay."

Dec. 13 2013 01:03 PM
Terry Sanders from NYC

Nowhere in this discussion did I even hear mention of 'quality of life'. The author doesn't appear to differentiate the life of an individual who is depressed, and can be helped, from another whose life consists of incurable, tortuous pain and infirmity. How incredibly shallow a discourse.

Dec. 13 2013 12:21 PM
Steven Rudin from massapequa park

After I saw the aftermath of a colleague's suicide, many years ago, I put up that psychological fence that the Ms Hecht is talking about. I have gone through some difficult times. But I made it! I'm now in my 60s, with four grown children, and 5 little grandchildren. And I am married over 45 years. I often think of my colleague, who was only about 35 when he took his life, and several others who didn't make it this far. I am very fortunate to still be here.

Dec. 13 2013 11:51 AM
marcia from teaneck nj

I thought it was a surprisingly shallow discussion, for smart Brian Lehrer. The person who commits suicide does a very hostile thing to his or her loved ones. Be aware of how angry at the person who commits suicide you feel.
Death is one's choice, not acceptable if mental illness causes it because a good therapist (hard to find) can help immensely. No mention was made of Death with Dignity, the right of terminally ill people to take their lives when they decide.

Dec. 13 2013 11:29 AM
Bob from Philly

Didn't listen to the show & didn't read the book. But been there, done that -- twice -- and am still here, thankfully. Life has a purpose.
SIGNS: a disconnect from everyone & everything; manic/depressive behavior manifested by anger/rage vs listlessness & excessive use of drugs and alcohol; not taking prescribed medications; excessive sleep/staying in bed at home; no desire to engage in outside activities; unwillingness to accept help; others
CURES: Support network of family, friend(s) and and/or professional(s); positive reinforcement; professional help/guidance & prescribed medical cocktail that works; removal from anything/everything that may be considered stressful and cause of depression; music; a good, daily routine or change in routine for the better; rewards for small successes; take life one day at a time, hour by hour is OK too; other.

Dec. 13 2013 10:58 AM
Carl Morano from New Jersey

It's absurd to think that we don't own our bodies and that we "owe" it to family and society that we live. That's called slavery and slavery must be condemned and any all contexts. Sorry.

Dec. 13 2013 09:49 AM
Donald J. Sepanek from Bayonne, NJ

The phrase "boot camp for the soul" isn't exactly secular. Otherwise, a great show which may probably be saving lives right now.

Dec. 12 2013 06:15 PM
James from Brooklyn

Re.:

"garbuz from Queens
To James

Nobody cares if you're an atheist or not. Really. Even God doesn't care."

Not sure if you are joking (which would be odd with a topic such as this) but in case you wrote that seriously I'll say that I included that information in my post because the entire premiss of the interview (and book) is a SECULAR position against suicide. I wanted to clarify that I am disagreeing with the author's conclusion on this topic while agreeing with her view (seemingly) on religion in general.

Dec. 12 2013 01:12 PM
Sanych

@ Chantal

There are many signs - just keep looking for them.

Talk about your feelings with your family and friends - they love you.

Get help.

Don't listen to or read comments from idiots (this means you, Tony).

Dec. 12 2013 01:05 PM
Tony from Canarsie

Chantal from ny / dc -- In that case, definitely DON'T read Ms. Hecht's previous book, "Doubt." ;-)

Excellent book, btw.

Dec. 12 2013 12:06 PM
Tony from Canarsie

Ed from Larchmont -- Frankly, I don't find Chesterton's adoration of authority to be much of a virtue.

Dec. 12 2013 12:02 PM

So many soldiers were ....what????
Strange place to end.

Dec. 12 2013 12:01 PM
Chantal from ny / dc

I can't believe this. I've been listening to Lehrer everyday since I was in middle school. I'm in my second year of law school now. I've been so depressed and suicidal this past semester. I spent all of last night and this morning crying and couldn't get out of bed to study for finals. I finally turned on the radio at 11:30am and this show was on. I really can't believe it. I really hope that you're all right and it does come to an end, because it is incredibly difficult to imagine, but I have no choice but to take this as a sign. Thank you and I'm looking forward to reading this book.

Dec. 12 2013 12:00 PM
Arthur Vincie from Brooklyn, NY

Why are we surprised by the spike in vet suicides? We ask moral people who want to serve their country to do abhorrent, amoral things in the name of two+ unwinnable wars, and then wonder why they might feel betrayed and upset enough to end it all?

Dec. 12 2013 12:00 PM
J Renaud from Portland, Oregon

Here are 14 things YOU can do for someone who is suicidal.

1. Stay close at all times. Suicidal people rarely hurt others.
2. If you think you need help – get help.
3. As you’re able, remove any weapon from the room or house. Throw them out a window if you need to. Same with alcohol and / or drugs.
4. Respect them. They’re doing hard work staying alive and they’re probably terrified.
5. Feed them protein. Low blood sugar is your enemy.
6. Do not give them alcohol or non-prescribed drugs (& only give as medically prescribed).
7. Let them listen to their favorite music with headphones.
8. Listen to a comedy recording or simple and absorbing audio book. Listen together. Listen to online recordings of rainfall.
9. Let them take a shower – the cooler the better. Ask them to leave the door open. Tell them the truth – you’re scared too.
10. Get peer support. If they’re a Vet, get a Vet. If they’re an alcoholic, get an alcoholic. If they’re a
11. Did they take their meds? Do they have a sedative to take? If not and they’re not drunk, try 100 mg of over-the-counter Benadryl – it has a sedating effect and calms agitation common with schizophrenia.
12. Be with other people. This can be stressful to a person who is depressed or manic, but can sometimes calm them. Know the 24 hour restaurants in your area, a hotel or hospital lobby, a fire station or even an all-night gas station.
13. Take a walk with them. Wander – don’t march. Let them lead. Uphill is better than downhill. Tire them out.
14. Let them sleep if they can.

http://www.mentalhealthportland.org/?page_id=50#Suicide

Dec. 12 2013 12:00 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To James

Nobody cares if you're an atheist or not. Really. Even God doesn't care.

Dec. 12 2013 11:59 AM
Anon E. Muss from NYC

The world we live in is a very difficult and complex place. I have struggled for a number of years with thoughts of suicide. Thoughts of my loved ones, especially the women in my life, have kept me from doing anything rash.

Would that I could rid myself of those feelings that crop up almost daily, but that is not the case. I am not miserable all the time by any means. Just troubled by the challenges of trying to navigate a world that doesn't value people who don't make tons of $$$$$.

Depression is a B**** and so is life. Time and time again I get knocked down, but I keep getting up. I am grateful for this.

Dec. 12 2013 11:59 AM
Susan from Manhattan

No matter how much you love someone, you can't keep them from killing themselves. Sometimes, your love doesn't mean anything to them. Or, it's an annoyance. As someone who has been suicidal, it's just a kind of exhaustion that sets in. The world seems tiring. Even love seems tiring.

Talking about it sometimes doesn't help. It's very heavy.

I actually think that altruism, stopping thinking about yourself, helping someone else, or even an animal, can help people feel better, when there is nothing else that will.

Dec. 12 2013 11:59 AM
Anon E. Muss from NYC

The world we live in is a very difficult and complex place. I have struggled for a number of years with thoughts of suicide. Thoughts of my loved ones, especially the women in my life, have kept me from doing anything rash.

Would that I could rid myself of those feelings that crop up almost daily, but that is not the case. I am not miserable all the time by any means. Just troubled by the challenges of trying to navigate a world that doesn't value people who don't make tons of $$$$$.

Depression is a B**** and so is life. Time and time again I get knocked down, but I keep getting up. I am grateful for this.

Dec. 12 2013 11:57 AM
lizzy from NYC

My brother committed suicide because he was gravely ill, and his illness was draining his finances, impacting his young son's future and care. There was no cure, no solution. Yes, it was a nuclear bomb on our family, but if he were living now, the misery would be increasing, as opposed to our grief and pain lessening with time due to this loss. I think you should address suicide due to terminal or chronic illness.

Dec. 12 2013 11:57 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

"Where there's life, there's hope." Suicide is a surrender to extreme pain and hopelessness, whether real or imagined.

Dec. 12 2013 11:57 AM
James from Brooklyn

The right to take your own life is an innate human right. For the terminally ill you should have the right to end your life in the manner that you choose. Everyone will die. You are not doing anything that will not happen eventually but rather avoiding pain and suffering that if not for modern medical intervention would never take place to begin with.In this respect, we treat pets and animals with more dignity than we do ourselves and other humans. BTW - I am an atheist.

Dec. 12 2013 11:56 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

I haven't read this book but the author sounds like a dilettante. Maybe this is a good buy for the teenage "goth" family member but for mature adults the decision to take your life or not is a wholly personal one. There is no real moral argument against suicide, it's a choice, and the selfishness of others should not factor into the decision.

Dec. 12 2013 11:55 AM
Ana from LES

I wish we had known that my nephew was depressed. We lost him to suicide last December.

Dec. 12 2013 11:55 AM
J Renaud from Portland, Oregon

Silly discussion. The majority of suicides stem from untreated mental illness and untreated addiction / alcoholism. This is ambulance-chasing philosophy, and by co-oping / intruding into FACTS, these wandering academics downplay truth.

Dec. 12 2013 11:54 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

From a purely scientific and secular POV, the universe and life itself has no purpose or meaning. Life is just a bunch of mutations to adapt to changing conditions in the environment. It's only when man became a toolmaker and got to the top of the food chain, that he could control his environment to a certain extent that we began to have taboos and "religion" to give some hypothetical meaning to life itself. To give it "purpose" and "meaning." Increasingly they made suicide a taboo as it became a threat to the existence of the tribe. If we all gave up under difficult conditions, the tribe would soon disappear. Certainly in Judaism "life" became very central, but still we had the experience of Masada.

Dec. 12 2013 11:54 AM
Tom Sheckler from Park Slope

About suicide and anger turned inward: as a therapist I would sometimes ask: "Whose doorstep do you want to deposit your body on?"

Dec. 12 2013 11:54 AM
Miscellaneous from NYC

I think Ms. Hecht's argument is circular. You don't encourage people who want to die to stay alive because they should stay alive.

The only argument I can think of - apart from religious reasons - to stay alive is if others are dependent upon you. Otherwise, one's "check-out" date is his or her own business. People who commit suicide do so because they are feeling a kind of pain other people cannot feel, and having someone - psychologist, family, friend - tell you it will get better doesn't make it better.

The only reason I am now alive is that I don't want to hurt my husband; otherwise I'd be out of here so fast you'd need the Cern supercollider to track my speed.

Dec. 12 2013 11:54 AM
Jenny from NYC

These arguments don't necessarily work if you're suffering major depression to the point where you're in great pain. It's not that you want to die, it's that you want the pain to stop and you can't really think of anything else. Certainly the community argument doesn't help there.

Dec. 12 2013 11:54 AM
J Renaud from Portland, Oregon

Silly discussion. The majority of suicides stem from untreated mental illness and untreated addiction / alcoholism. This is ambulance-chasing philosophy, and by co-oping / intruding into FACTS, these wandering academics downplay truth.

Dec. 12 2013 11:53 AM
Anna Dagmar from New York City

Boston-area singer-songwriter MEG HUTCHINSON has an AMAZING SONG about this. Apparently she met a man who helps stop people from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. He has three questions he always asks if he sees a person about to jump:

"Where are you going?"
"What are your plans for tomorrow?"
"Can we make some?"

It is such a moving song. And I think it speaks to what you mention about your "future self."

Thank you for this program and your research.

Dec. 12 2013 11:52 AM
Sanych

I know the exact answer from somebody who sometimes has suicidal thoughts, if I tell him that he "owes" something to his family, community, etc.:

"F... you!"

Dec. 12 2013 11:50 AM
Melissa from Manhattan

What does the author think of physician assisted suicide for the elderly? In my mind that is a completely separate issue than what we generally refer to a suicide.

Dec. 12 2013 11:50 AM
Steve

I don't believe in god. I infer that oblivion awaits us after death. While I don't relish every day I spend on this rock, I am fairly risk averse and, because of that, I don't want to cash out on an oft-disappointing, oft-miserable experience for likely -- literally -- nothing ... especially when I have moments of happiness and joy that may not assuage underlying negativity, but they certainly feel nice and I'd like to experience more moments like that.

Dec. 12 2013 11:47 AM

An apartment that doesn't cost $3017/mth, THAT'S what helps you to "stay"!!

Dec. 12 2013 11:47 AM
Ed from Larchmont

On the other hand, Chesterton said that "most modern philosophies ... if carried to their conclusion ... lead to madness and self-destruction", so the problem can be one's philosophy also.

Dec. 12 2013 08:48 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Psychology has returned in some degree to support of the virtues. Virtues do at least three things: they make a person agreeable to be around; they give a person the discipline needed to accomplish goals; and they make the person happy. Religion aside, the following of virtue is a way to avoid suicide. (Virtue is no longer a banned word.)

Dec. 12 2013 08:32 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.