Jennifer Michael Hecht —
Suicide, and Hope for Our Future Selves

Stay. That’s the message that philosopher, poet, and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht puts at the center of her unusual writing about suicide. She’s traced how the history of Western civilization has, at times, demonized those who commit suicide, and, at times, celebrated it as a moral freedom. She has struggled with suicidal places in her life and lost friends to it. As a scholar, she’s now proposing a new cultural reckoning with suicide, based not on morality or on rights but on our essential need for each other.

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is a poet, philosopher, and historian. Her books include Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It, Doubt: A History, and Who Said.

Pertinent Posts

For World Suicide Prevention Day, a story of a son's loss of his father by suicide. The writer Eric Marcus talks about family silence, learning to share his story, and discovering compassion for his father and healing for himself.

Selected Readings

Poems and Prose on Suicide

Read excerpts from Jennifer Michael Hecht's book, Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It, the original essay that she wrote following the suicide of a friend, and a few poems she read for us.

» On Camus and The Myth of Sisyphus
» "On Suicide"
» "No Hemlock Rock"
» "Men Wept"
» Conclusion from Stay

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On Being always makes me think. If I were younger I'd be on your door step begging for a job. I have been in many a dark holes and have struggled with how to find a way out. This program helped me rule out suicide, at least for now. I know it would hurt a lot of people but I've struggled with depression for so long that it's often felt like the only way out. I'm good, I'm okay.

Hey. I'm glad you are out there somewhere. We're in the same boat. I think it's a big boat and the passengers do not know each other very well. However, it is nice to know I'm not alone because of people like you and its really nice to have a great On Being team to some time guide our ship in the right direction. Let's hang in there together. All the best.

The analogy of us being in the same boat, although strangers, struck me. It's comforting to know the boat's not leaking.

We love you

I find music healing and a refuge from this world with many dark people like Trump.

A pure heart shelters love and light, not hatred and darkness. Ostad Elahi

Thank you so much for writing this. It's very moving and will help others who read it. We can do so much just by being brave enough to tell the truth about how hard things can be. And sometimes we can get a lot of hope and help by hearing about the struggles of others.

Thank you for providing this. I enjoyed listening to Jennifer Michael Hecht.

i love the work you are doing...but find this page is so chaotic that i dont think it helps your excellent work... to get so much up visually makes nothing reallly have value.... just a thought.

i rarely click thru things even tho i interested--poartly becuaes there is too much time to get to each article... you get there and it is yet another click and wait... with all the hi tech i am sure you can think this thru with more grace... maybe younger folks love the jumble...!!! best and thank you.

Suicide is a greater killer than car accidents among our young people? I had no idea. I am so glad to see in the first comment that the listener has given suicide a second thought. I do hope that this person decides to stay with us. They have something to contribute, even if it is not apparent to them at this moment. How does the line gets darkest just before the dawn. I have found this to be true. Somedays clouds, somedays sunshine, somedays partly cloudy. We all have dark times when things just don't make sense...sometimes extended periods. I do find it difficult to understand how anyone could get though a dark time without some type of faith though. It seems that there were many undertones of faith in Jennifer's comments. I believe that the Psalms and Proverbs of the Bible can provide a good foundation to help us understand how to navigate the deep waters. Also, just watching the movie "Its a Wonder Life" once or twice a year is a good reminder of the void that would be created if we decide to "check out" before our time. This topic is a serious matter. For those of us that are parents, we need to keep the lines of communication open with our kids. Talk about good things, not just about how screwed up the world is. More than anyting, we should listen...really listen. Not continue to tap way on the key board with the occasional fake nod of acknowledgement. Life is hard and we all need someone just to listen to us occasionally. Also, focus on the good things helps as well. Appreciation and gratitude for what we have can help give us a different perspective. Not just the fleeting material stuff, but the friendships, our pets, the ability to see, hear, talk, walk...the list goes on. I am inspired by people that find a way to see the joy in things even when thay have lost something very dear to them. Ever received a smile from a person in a wheel chair? That is an inspiration! Never give up. You are here for a reason. And stay away from 24 hour news channels...that will make anyone want to jump.

Some major depressions lead to psychosis which, by its definition, is not rational, and therefore reasoning or pleading cannot be effective and at that time, protective, psychiatric locked ward admissions are essential. We must realize reasoning by or with the suicidal person will not be effective.

Thank you for saying this. I was looking all over to see if I could find exactly what you are saying. The implication that there is an actual "choice to stay" that the suicidal person is disregarding can be insultingly simplistic.

I think this is an important point, that in the depths of depression and suicidal ideation, a person may not be moved by these important and true arguments against suicide. This is based on my own experience of a serious suicide attempt after months of feeling convicted that it was the absolutely right thing to do. I look back on that time and see how disconnected I was from reality, and so I don't think this conversation could have pulled me out at the time. However, if the idea that we are interdependent and grateful to each other for staying alive even in extreme pain was more a part of our cultural conversation, I think it could help some people stay out of the pit of suicidal ideation, could give them a reason to talk about suicidal feelings sooner. These ideas are important to me now, as a person who is not at all suicidal currently but aware of the killing nature of my own depression. I am committed to asking for help as soon as I have any ideas that my own death is a good idea because I can no longer say to myself that it doesn't matter. As to locked wards, I do agree that there is a point where people may need to be protected against themselves, but too often this kind of paternalistic treatment takes away whatever remaining sense of reason and agency a person has. A suicidal person may need help with rest and medication, but eventually they will have to engage that reason and sense of agency to fully recover.

perfectly said.

In all arguments, the premises of which are axioms ("by definition"), the validity of the arguments depends on the truth of the axioms. Even in inductive arguments, this presents a problem if researchers and clinicians depend on concepts that require subjective judgments, and which cannot be shown to be universally true. In psychology, several scholars in the field have recently warned that much of Western psychology reflects, at its root, potentially distorting cultural biases among researchers asking the questions, designing the studies, and interpreting the results, thereby threatening the validity of many judgments in psychology.

In particular, if one is labeled psychotic for making value judgments about life, in the absence of evidence of objective life values (What would these be? Patriotism? Prioritization of family? Adherence to some biological urges, like the survival instinct, but not others, like the urge to procreate? Who decides?), then, minimally, the accuracy of a definition of psychotic depends on the beliefs, values, and perceptions of the assessor. Even if we all agreed on some value claim, this wouldn't make the claim true. Worse, these impressions, validated by little biomolecular causal evidence, can then be used to deny citizens of their rights and freedoms. Because a professional decided, according to the ever-changing DMS classifications and definitions, what constitutes "rational" thinking. Dangerous.

Thank you for the show today. My father committed suicide a little over a year ago, and I am still going through the anger stage. It was very good to hear that I am not alone in my feelings. I really enjoyed hearing all the great information this morning! Thank you!

I tried killing myself twice while growing up. I have a theory about the undeveloped frontal cortex, which is probably irrelevant here. My parents never really spoke about my attempts; instead, they talked around it. I had no thoughts of what my death might have done to them; I just went on living my life. It wasn't until several years ago (decades after my own youth) when I read a blog post by a parent whose college freshman child had killed himself that I actually grasped the impact of suicide. Not thinking my life meant anything made it impossible to know the true consequences, but seeing the impact of someone else's suicide on someone else's parent really clarified the issue. Maybe that's the way to go in prevention.

No! No! No! No! Suicide is a moral right! Your life is your business. Not mine. How dare any decent moral code coerce (or worse, threaten) you into living if you don't want to!

On the other hand, if you have the legal and moral right to die, every day you don't die tells you something. The only restriction I would put on choice in dying is a legal waiting period . . . say, 3 days . . . and that should be relatively easy to waive.

Your decision to die is NOT a public matter. It is a private matter. And if we had the moral and legal right to die, maybe we would talk about it more . . . and do both the living and the dying better.

Nothing is a private matter. We are not isolated individuals; all people are connected to others, and all our actions affect others. So we always have to consider the effects of our actions on others. Without that, human life is impossible.

Ron, you are way off base. Yes, we are all connected, but when in the space of suicide there appears to be only one way out. No matter what you say will change that perspective. Considering others isn't possible in that space. How about just HEARING--actually hearing--the person instead of telling them something.

Suicide may actually be their path. LET THEM TRAVEL IT if that's what needs to happen. Who are you to tell another what their path is?

Kirk you're on base, mate.

To say it's a private matter is like saying we have the right to deny the web of life. But that's absurd. Deny reality all you want. It doesn't change the facts of connectedness of all life on earth or the facts of the 600,000 years of evolution of the premier species. This creation supports and nurtures us even though we're largely unaware of that. If you don't know about this connectedness it's because you haven't opened your own heart to find the connection to the heart of this world. All of us have that. All of us are supported by the unconditional love that grows the trees. Let's get the bigger picture before it's too late.

Gary, I was nodding in agreement with you right up until "All of us are supported by the unconditional love that grows the trees."

Good point, Kirk. I've fought suicidal thoughts for many years. Perhaps I should simply exercise my private right, leave my two teens fatherless, my wife a widow and my 65 employees to find new paths for themselves and their families when the company I started craters. Private matter, my ass.

Mr. Perrow, In my 20s, I felt and thought as you did. I'm not 20 anymore, and I no longer feel that suicide is a "right." The perspective and experience of living another decade or two can alter your thinking, and I can see now that, when I was 20, I was wrong.

Kirk, I'm with you.
To be honest, I'm surprised to see the other comments uniformly challenging yours. On Being seems to attract a relatively thoughtful audience willing to challenge conventional wisdom. I suppose suicide is one of the last moral issues regarding which there's still across-the-board consensus.
I'm not suggesting we shouldn't support the people in our own lives, or work to create a world that others will be less likely to want to leave voluntarily. But in the current world as it is, there are simply a lot of people who feel jusifiably hopeless, and it's incredibly insulting to those people to suggest their feelings aren't valid, especially if one isn't willing to personally ensure that person's life improves.


I have always believed that Suicide is a prerequisite for life. Life does not begin until you consider taking it from yourself.

True! Yet my take... Life does not begin until you commit to it. Beauty, fear, ugliness, confusion, horror, bliss, disgust, exhaustion, hunger, love, humor, shame, rage, repose, foolishness, lust, all of it. Whatever will come. Maybe that's why suicide is a prerequisite, in a way, because when I finally turned away from it, the turning marked a commitment to whatever life is going to bring after all.

Wow. _/\_

Every Sunday morning I "worship" by lying in bed an extra hour absorbing your show on my clock radio. This morning's show brought me to tears. Recently (after suffering over a year) my 22 year old son was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. He is angry, depressed and frustrated. He often talks about dying and suicide. We have been to many doctors and are both frustrated by the lack of relief.
As he stands in front of me, tears running down his face, telling me how worthless and useless he feels and how much pain he is in, my words of love, empathy and support seem so small.

Your show gave me words. A very powerful gift. Thank you! Sam

Socrates makes the author's point far better than she realizes. He was not compelled to suicide by state; he was given a choice: exile or suicide. The choice of suicide over exile was precisely because we are connected and need each other and the moral choice is not to leave for ourselves and others.

Exile was the worst possible punishment.. he could not live a life worth living without the polis he has grown up in and in which he was a citizen. Suicide was preferable to exile exactly because we are connected and need each other.. which i believe is the author's point.

What about the person who doesn't feel connected?
Connectedness works both ways, and I'm not sure we should be able to tell someone who feels they are truly disconnected that they are otherwise, especially if we're not willing to back it up by ensuring they are connected with a meaningful enough community that makes them feel sufficiently connected to keep themselves alive.
Sorry for the repetition, but I think it's easy for people who feel adequate connection/meaning in their own lives to tell others they essentially need to stick it out for other people's sake. I'm no social-darwinist libertarian. I get that we live in an interconnected world. I just think people should have the option to disconnect if they choose to.

For me, I am in tuned with what is bring said here with Jennifer and Krista. I have definitely been in dark places and have learned to respect my future self. For me, I can appreciate pain as an impetus for growth even if our culture only pays lip service to it (if that). But there is a different and more important focus...... No one owes a decision to "stay or go" to anyone.... Really, not even God. If you have kids, you will definitely want to stay around and fight through any urges to leave the planet unnaturally. (In fact, if you have kids, there are a lot of responsibilities you should consider). But the notion that someone ought to stay for the sake of community???? Or because we need to have everyone communally involved in the living experience? That is just not right. We get choices. Self determination is critically important. If someone's pain is too much to bare, I respect their individual right to make a decision. If its my friend, will it piss me off? Hell yeah, but I just don't believe we are required to be communal. Sharing our private thoughts is only something we should do if we feel compelled. The fuzzy areas involve young people who are in pain and feel isolated. But there will always be pain in each and everyone or our lives.... Death is a part of life and should not be looked on with complete disdain. The idea that EVERYBODY has a responsibility to extend their life as long as possible, despite their emotional or physical condition is also very selfish.

Arguments against suicide always fall short for me. What I seldom see addressed in the suicide discussion is the most important point that we were all born into a world we didn’t ask for. Either we have the freedom to leave this world that we were pulled into or this life is a trap. One of those must be true. Tell me which.
The worst I hear is when suicidal people are guilt-tripped and labeled selfish. The selfishness of people who want to leave the life they never requested is not greater than the selfishness of people who demand that they stay. The condemnation of the selfishness of the suicide is a terrible hypocrisy. Remove the log from your own eye.
Another ridiculous argument I hear usually goes something like this: “Man A wants to kill himself. Man B has it harder than A, but B remains alive. Therefore A should remain alive.” False. B’s persistence does not compel A’s persistence. It could instead be true that B should kill himself too and would be foolish not to.
The only instance I can think of where I’d say someone is obliged to remain alive is a parent who created a new dependent life. The parent should first see that the dependency is addressed before the suicide occurs. I would add that the creation of that unrequested life in the first place was a presumptuous act indeed.
Camus did speak of this a lot in his book, but many words do not an argument make. For those that fear death it may be convenient to imagine Sisyphus happy, but the convenience of the idea does not compel the truth of it.
Speaking personally, I think about suicide a lot. I’m a single 45-year old man who currently has a comfortable life but a tortured past clawing out of the twisted reality that my family and the Catholic Church brainwashed into me in my youth. I never had kids primarily because I don’t believe in bringing new life into a life I don’t believe in myself. And this crazy modern world is another reason I don’t want to have kids. Frankly, I distrust in the integrity of the persuasion made against suicide by mothers who need to believe that the life they nurture was worth creating.
I remain alive mostly because of the inertia of the chemical processes that comprise me. I still have the revulsion of being a corpse that evolution programmed into me. And I’m a bit afraid that death wouldn’t remove my susceptibility to feel pain before it removes my ability to correct it. Another thing that keeps me going is the idea that life is fairly brief compared to the vast eternity of time and it will soon be all over anyway. There’s no need to hasten an exit that could come soon enough.
If I tell you I want to die, will you tell me I underestimate what I mean to others? First, I’m not sure I do underestimate it. And second, why should I care? I’ve spent plenty of time in this life giving without getting in return that I no longer owe it to anyone to stay. The world has gotten more than enough from me. People who really cared would understand and let me go.
Will you tell me I underestimate what the future holds for me? I’m 45 and I’ve done and considered much and I’ve seen the remarkable consistency in my life and it’s already half over. I’ve come to understand things quite well. I think I do have a pretty good I idea what the future will hold. It will hold same it always has, but now more tired and old.
If you genuinely like your own life, then fine. If you want to request that I “stay” you can. Don’t think I’m obliged to honor the request, though. A person like me isn’t going to be convinced by hypocrisy or poor reasoning.

I heartily agree with you, sir. Well said. People like us need to speak up in the face of absurdity more often. Thank you.

I've been thinking about something you said, that "we are all born into a world we didn't ask for." I am not convinced that somewhere along the way, as the cells are dividing inside the amniotic fluid of a warm mother's body, that is the case. Are you sure that you accidentally, by some twist of random fate, happened upon this world? What if something else was the case - that you did, in fact, kick and fight your way onto this planet, pushing and shoving others aside to occupy the vessel you now occupy?

I guess I am a believer in a collective soul, too, and sometimes, when I think of death, I wonder if the remnants of my spirit will remain intact, or dissipate into the realm to then fill a potato somewhere in Idaho. Or a horse. Maybe even a bird. And, while I'm at it, why not all of these?

Mary George, as I understand conception my father’s sperm that carried half my DNA did function to fight its way up a stream against some resistance to fertilize my mother’s egg. And then the molecular engines inside the egg followed their programming to assimilate the sperm to complete my DNA. Then more molecular engines caused the cell with my DNA to replicate to 2 cells, 4 cells… etc. Eventually some of these cells specialized to form my brain. The sugars and oils in the brain caused the brain engine to start running. This caused my awareness and sensations and thoughts to emerge. I would say this emergence of awareness is when “I” began. So my consciousness and free will (to the extent I have free will) did not precede my existence but rather followed afterwards. As such I don’t think my existence is a choice I was capable of making.

You mentioned your belief in a collective soul. I think you’re implying that something non-physical about me preceded my life and so chose it. I have no sense that this is true so I don’t believe in it. While I can’t tangibly refute an intangible idea like an eternal soul, the fact of its intangibility means that it’s merely guessed at, so the idea doesn’t carry much weight with me. It sounds to me like an idea that’s often believed in because it works for some people. As I mentioned before, I don’t believe the convenience of an idea compels the truth of it.

Middle Aged Guy:

Ideas here are seldom proposed for the sake of convenience, and the hammer certainly cannot come down conclusively with such plump, vigorous subjects like ensoulment or death no matter how expertly we dissect. These are rather heady, elusive and subjective matter, better left to those esoteric few who claim to own the turf. So for the rest of us deliberating outside the courtroom, taking on the question of Camus – this time head on, in the context of today’s rising rate of suicide – is an opportunity to encourage dialogue and understanding.

Ensoulment, as I mentioned earlier, and you mirrored, is very much a mystery. Cameras inside a mother’s uterus at six months show eyes blinking, thumbs being sucked, and twins touching each other’s faces, holding each other’s hands. This tell me that these yet unborn are thinking and feeling human beings. As a mother who gave birth to four babies, each of whom cried immediately when born, I know what I felt: a huge wave of empathy after giving birth, holding this wailing little thing, holding him close with congratulations and welcome and joy because he had made the journey, had struggled hard to get here, and victory was his. All that crying did him good, too; he needed to expand his lungs, get the fluid out and begin to breathe. Whether or not he is crying with the sheer joy of making it here, or wailing because he’s mad as hell and hated coming out through such a tight, distressing chamber - “God help me, where am I going?” - is anyone’s guess.

Because here you are, kid: life is going to shuffle the cards and deal you days of such crap you wonder why, why, why, even get out of bed. Because the bills aren’t going to be paid. Your favorite aunt is dying of cancer and your Dad was just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The taxes are overdue and you forgot to call your divorce attorney back yesterday and the refrigerator is leaking water. The dog barfed on the rug again. Your favorite pair of pants tore and someone who you thought was a really good friend turned out to care less about you. Oh. And you have to close your business and look for a new job. Is this what our days are designed to be like? Hell, yes. Sometimes they’re just a goddamn mess and there’s no better place to be than under the covers.

So some other day you get out of bed. Again. Get the slippers on and make the coffee. Look at the funny email a new friend sent. Skip the world news today and say a quick prayer for Syria and Crimea. Check your account balance. Count the days til the mortgage is due. Listen to the birds sing and stare a minute too long at that surprising aberration of mud brown underneath the maple. Purple crocus. Stunning. Then go upstairs and shower, scrub your head hard as you ponder the day, decide to get a newspaper and re-read the job listings at the diner. Consider asking your wonderful sister for another hand-out. Decide to make a pot of chili for dinner and let it simmer on the stove for a few hours. Smell that cumin and peppers and those spicy, hot jalapenos. (Who needs scented candles?) Play chase with that cute, bad dog and take her for a walk. Scrub the shower and do the laundry. Sit on the couch with the tv off and read a good book. Put a piece of Italian chocolate into your cheek.

Maybe it would feel incredibly cool, moist and quiet getting dirty, fat and round, growing under the blue sky in some potato field in Idaho. I’m not convinced that aspiring to anything of the like would be preposterous. For now, I just try to live my days with the headaches and stress, sleepless, dejected and tired, knowing there are things in this world – people, especially – that will make some of these days good.

Mary George, this site and this world is full of ideas that are proposed for convenience rather than honesty. Your dismissal of that fact is one of them. I am here in this silly world because of the arrogance of people like you who presumed to drag me here. I or anyone else has every right to leave the world without criticism. Your long expositions of teardrops and daffodils don’t change that.

No one presumed to have dragged you here. Yet if this is your conviction, with which you then extrapolate to “a silly world” of “arrogance,” well, it seems you are now caught in your own web, glum and stuck with circuitous replies that oddly voice the same, self-serving “convenience” that you attribute to others. It appears this discourse carries as much weight as a feather on a pond.

I love all the things you said, Mary.

MAG - your words really resonate with me. Thank you for being so eloquent and thoughtful. I wasn't able to come to grips with my beliefs that cohesively, and you have done an amazing job articulating my feelings exactly. I wish you well.

the socrates and hemlock story is totally irrelevant, yet you mention it several times.

On some deep level I understand that suicide is not an option for me, but at the same time there are moments where it looks like a way out from the weightiness of the trials and tribulations of life. Several months of unemployment resulting in complete bankruptcy, caring for an elderly parent who neglected me as a child, and a seeming impossible journey into the world of being an artist all converge to make life feel more like something to be endured than celebrated. We need to teach our children survival skills, so that when the hardships of life surface (and they inevitably will) they have some degree of coping mechanism. To my mind, that's what community is all about. We all need to feel like we belong-

Please don't determine for all what you feel for our own life. Contrary to societal belief, certain kinds of people feel repulsed when continually reminded they must "belong". Belong to what? Being common and average and like everyone else? This is not a personal thing so don't take offense...... I understand that most people are brainwashed into thinking if they don't want to belong, they must be evil, anti-social, and perhaps this leads them to thinking they ought to die. All I ask is to make room for individual perspectives .... the world over.

It’s hard not to talk about suicide without beckoning Camus. The age-old question that underlies the theme “Is life worth living?” has been repeated throughout literature, because life imitates art. However, as I’ve aged a bit now, and have visited that premise on several occasions now as a female writer, I have come to the conclusion – and my last protagonist illustrates this – that the timeless question has been historically addressed by men, for men. Indeed, women who commit suicide do so at one-quarter the rate of men, despite the ironic twist that we suffer from depression at twice the rate.

Allow me the opportunity to project through my current pregnant character: she has a Darwinian and physiological predisposition, like most women, to pro-create. Her genetic profile has been adjusted and fine-tuned to persevere, to struggle, survive and transform for the sake of her newborn. She cannot indulge herself with the question “Is life worth living?” It isn’t in her vocabulary.

It seems to me there is something awry in proposing this discussion with equal footing for men and women. Given the ironic statistics, the math just doesn’t work. Some elusive elements of gender-related factoring could well be worth finding and examining, to open the discussion wider for men and women, selectively, who leave those of us behind wondering what we didn’t see, and how we might have helped – if said help was able to have prevented such loss.

I'm not sure where to begin. Although I think that people who are suffering in any way merit our concern and help, it seems quite selfish to hang on to anyone who is in constant pain, whether mental or physical or in cases where one is threatened with a loss of all dignity. I remembering hearing a father talk about a son who suffered daily and I heard in his writing his reluctance to let him go but his desire to see the suffering of his son stop no matter the cost to himself. To my way of thinking, that is love. Perhaps it's time for a discussion of Jojo Moyes' book "Me Before You."

I chose early on to not kill myself because of what it would do to others. Never have I received from anyone the same kind of love and consideration. Furthermore, in our society, which treats money and wealth as god almighty, it doesn't help to hear constantly how little value you have...even to the point that if you are poor you don't deserve to have a refrigerator.

It is also very lonely to not be able to talk about one's desire to die. It is unacceptable and not safe. Even the comments on a recent article about suicide, there was an expression of vitriol against these "losers." Our society does not want to hear about any pain or misery you might have, especially if there is no cure for it. No one wants to listen, even if it does help a little, if they have to hear the same thing day after day. I know it's hard because I do that for others. But there is a paucity of people out there who care enough to do even that.

Until we have a society that can value people, I for one think we need to start by taking the stigma away from suicide. We need to honor the courage it takes to face death. We need to be available to find out why one wants to die; to be willing to listen at length; to offer help; to understand from their point of view.

And finally, we need to be able to offer continued sustenance, if not help in the form of relief, to those who suffer if they are going to be able to make a healthy choice to live. I just don't see that happening any time soon in our society.

Thanks for posting this. You said what I was thinking much better than I could have.

I listen On Being each Thursday. Hope for our Future Selves is the first program I've listened to three times. Coming from an island (West Indian) Caribbean perspective, I've absorbed this as more fundamentally a continental dilemma; meaning, the birthing American mythos of the buccaneering individual who can go forth, thrive and do it alone. Jennifer Michael Heft, offers a refreshing counter point for the communal self.

Not surprisingly, most of her supporting cast on the argument are European sourced. I recently wrote and published on Medium a "manifesto poem" on the power of the individual Self, which may be a useful anthem on the unique sacredness of the individual to stay. This is contrasted with Entity - a manifesto poem on the communal Self - earlier published.

Wishing strength to everyone.

I was so grateful to hear this show today. 10 days ago I started putting the plan together to end it all. Thankfully already had a session with therapist scheduled. Will listen to the program again and start looking for Jennifer's book. Thank you so much for the help !

I lost a friend. He was not a poet, artist, painter. Like my close friends. He was just a regular guy. We were students together from grade school. He helped me get a job. He took a gun and killed himself. I've been told he was very inebriated when he did that. That was a long time ago, but it hurts, it really hurts. I'm a bi-polar depressive. I will live. I will not leave my children as a suicide, and I have to paint. Yes Jesus was a suicide. Camus saved my life.

I'm glad some people were helped by this program. Unfortunately, all I heard was one more person demanding that I go on, no matter how hard it is for me, because the rest of you NEED me. Swell. What about what I need? Everyone has their hand out for my help; who is there for me? When I say I've had enough, that will be it, and everyone else can find someone else to lean on. I'm tired of holding myself up, and the whole world besides. I do NOT owe anything to the rest of the human race; not unless they acknowledge that they owe ME something too. And they do not.

Ruthann, whether you're still here or not, I HEAR you. I really know of what you express.

I was severely disappointed in the "Hope for Future Selves" show.

My first objection is that none of what I heard is new. During the years when I worked as a crisis interveniton volunteer, the connectedness of which Ms. Hecht spoke was an important facet of most conversations with people who were contemplating suicide. I fail to see her addition to what us amateurs were doing 20 years ago.

Second, she failed to display any grasp of the idea that not all suicides are alike. There is a world of difference between the case of (say) a 16 year old who is despondent because his girlfriend dumped him and a 65 year old who has no close relationships and who feels increasingly alienated from the world around himself. In the former, one can say with confidence that suicide is an unwise course of action. In the latter, a claim that suicide is unwise is difficult to make. Add in things such as poverty or illness, and such a claim becomes both absurd and cruel. A more sophisticated approach would be to leave the question of "to be or not to be" alone and to focus attention on when and by what means it is appropriate for an individual to end their life.

My beloved 29 year son died by suicide and your thoughts touched my heart. However, with your very public voice, may I ask that you do not use the terminology "committed suicide"? It is judgmental and antiquated in light of what we know of mental health and suicide. That term perpetuates the stigma associated with mental health issues and resulting suicide that keeps us from talking openly of this public health epidemic. When someone dies of any other disease we don't say "They committed cancer, etc." Our loved ones did not commit a crime but ended their lives out of perceived hopelessness and a mental pain that exceeded their human capacity to bear it. We need to come out of the darkness and say "died by suicide" instead. Thank you.
Janeen Norland; mother and field advocate for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

The transcript and the audio don't match up. The podcast sounds like it starts in the middle of the piece.

It surprised me that your otherwise deeply moving and thoughtful discussion of suicide never once mentioned guns. How could that be when study after study shows that having a gun available multiplies the incidence of suicide by three? Certainly such heartbreaking data cry out for a discussion of gun legislation as well as of suicide hotlines.

I've recently been dealing with my own deep depression and thoughts on death. This interview has been incredibly helpful as a reminder that it's often impossible for me to see beyond my current feelings-- even when I think I am capable. Thank you.

I found Hecht's book incredibly frustrating to read. This interview was only slightly less frustrating to listen to. However, I am comforted slightly by some of the comments on this page. Hecht and her adoring fans completely miss the mark, but some of the criticisms here nail it.

Life as a human is largely about suffering. Anyone who doesn't realize that is not paying attention. As beautiful as some moments can be, the inevitable suffering remains. For someone who has suffered with guilt, regret, disappointment, and self awareness for decades, beginning when it all first developed in the childhood mind, suicide may be a sensible thing to contemplate. Suicide isn't always about the easy diagnosis of severe depression, PTSD, adolescent angst, etc. Sometimes, it is merely the result of being alive for too long.

I thought a lot of her context was that life IS difficult, and it IS full of suffering. You can use that framework to say, as you did: Life is full of suffering, and therefore I choose not to stay. What she is saying is; Life is full of suffering, and therefore, let's please help each other struggle through it together.

I appreciate the thoughtful response to my comments.

Her opinion sounds nice in theory, and the human potential for such widespread compassion may be there. But reality is a rude slap in the face. This is the world we happen to live in. And our priorities as a society are painfully clear.

When I grow too complacent in my delusions of knowledge and wisdom I listen to your show. On Monday morning I listened to your conversation with Jennifer Michael Hecht. On Tuesday morning I was extended the opportunity to share some of its wisdom with the members of my Toastmasters group in a speech followed by participatory dialogue as each member was given the opportunity to share the their opinions, thoughts and experience with suicide. Some members expressed that it was the most powerful meeting they had attended. A small step towards opening up dialogue, for sure, but indeed a step for which we all now owe you thanks.

I appreciate the fact that the name of this series is On Being, not On Doing. Western cultural emphasis on measurable achievement transforms a career in the service profession into a never-ending gristmill that overwhelms its most dedicated of recruits, resulting in role fatigue that frequently gives birth to suicidality,- as the statistics about suicide among therapeutic practitioners attests.

It was disheartening to listen to Ms. Hecht's insistence that being important in the lives of others is the standard which can transform my isolation into purpose. For many in the helping professions, being needed is itself the quicksand that sucks us down into the pit. If I had my way, it would be an OSHA violation for any mental health provider agency to attach a productivity quota to the work done by its clinical and medical staff. Good people are leaving the profession In order to avoid becoming a statistical death themselves.

I was suicidal as a teenager. Those same thoughts came back to me as i was an unemployed father of two, well into my thirties. I had enough perspective at that point to not act on anything, but it didn't make the impulse feel any less real. Yet at the time, I was grateful to know to share my depression with others, and i did pass through that season of my life.

I found this show to be so reasonable and encouraging. It makes me think of how i will approach the subject with my children as they get older. I am so glad that our society can speak about this openly. This topic was taboo for me as a kid. I won't pass those same taboos along to my children--i hope to converse with them on the topic.

A lot of the commenters who disagree with Ms. Hecht find something distasteful in her assertion that being needed is a sufficient reason to continue living. Those who feel that this is unfair may be struggling with the difficulty that is needing others. You are needed; you also need. If a person is beset by the imbalance of meeting the needs of others while feeling others aren't meeting their own needs, there is a problem. What this problem consists in is bound to vary, both in terms of perception and actuality; but what seems clear is that Ms. Hecht is being heard as saying that this particular problem of perceived or actual imbalance is never sufficient justification for suicide. I'm not sure i could say that suicide is never justified, especially since there are cases of extreme and unstoppable pain. But I think she may be right that an imbalance of needing others to being needed by others is never sufficient justification got suicide, no matter how great the imbalance. I'm trying to figure out why I feel this way, and I think it's because I'm uncomfortable with the idea that the need I have for you and that you have for me are things that exist in a market, especially a market in which poverty justifies nonparticipation. I don't think our need for each other works like that.

Like Krista said, our full expression of true love/appreciation is the whole of the matter. Body or not isn't the point.

Suicide does have its place in Nature.

And the excruciations caused by suicide are potent medecines for evolution.

Interview Raymond MoodyMD, Gary E R Schwartz PhD, etc.

To ‘On Being,’
Re: to the recent show with Jennifer Michael Hecht and her book, ‘Stay,’ I had some observations to share. Though a part time university philosophy instructor for 30 years, most of that time has been as a licensed behavioral health clinician in trauma. While I appreciate some points Jennifer offers, it would have helped some of us to acknowledge the nature of suicide in relation to those who suffer beyond the level of ‘impulse.’ For these people, there is pain that transcends the “need for each other.” Unfathomable, indescribable pain that one wants to escape at any cost, even of life. To ‘consider the impact on others!’ is a fairly tired and glib cliché in suicidology. To suggest that these people “choose” to feel this way, and to consider cheering up by perhaps ‘playing a video game’ as a distraction is a bit of an insult. Nothing romantic or philosophical about it; it just hurts that much.

Five years ago today, I witnessed a friend's suicide as I tried to stop him, to slow him down, to give him the pause to think about what he was doing. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about him and what I could have said differently or done differently that day that may have kept him from making a mistake that would affect so many people. I'm still dealing with a lot of guilt for not being able to stop him. Thank you for for this show and it's timing, I feel like it came when I needed it the most.

Thank you. It's been over twenty years since I last battled suicidal thoughts, and your show reminded me of how grateful I am to have had excellent help in staying alive. Two thoughts from those days: One friend told me I couldn't kill myself because if I did, I wouldn't find out what comes next. Another friend said that when people told her to "put it behind her" (abuse), her reply was, "I didn't put it behind me; I stand on it." My wish for this world is not to take away anyone's pain, but to help one another to stand on it.

A big piece that is missing from this discussion with Jennifer and her work seems to be any deep acknowledgement of the intense suffering that one is feeling when suicide feels like a legitimate answer. The lack of this acknowledgement is a great void in this program.
Another important piece that is missing is that our culture doesn't safely allow one to discuss suicide or the fact that one is having thoughts and serious considerations of suicide. Even in supposedly safe environments such as therapy it can often feel unsafe to talk about suicide because of the labels that then get attached to the person. Jennifer seems to encourage that conversation be allowed, but she herself, even after all her research still can't comfortably talk about suicide! Calling it "IT" and stumbling over her words. I listened to the unedited version and was surprised by what appeared to be her uncomfortableness with talking about her own thoughts of suicide.
I do agree with Krista's reflection that the conversation about suicide needs to open up as it has with bullying. And an important part of that is creating truly safe environments where people can talk about the pain they are in and say the word suicide without others flinching. As family and friends, we need to expand our capacity to hear this from people we care about and others in our close and also greater communities.
I encourage On Being to have this be the start of ongoing conversations about suicide and our cultures ability to have open conversations on this critical matter.

I am sorry that Ms. Hecht has lost loved ones to suicide. I am sorry she has coped with suicidal thoughts. I appreciate her good intentions in trying to encourage people to avoid dying by suicide. Judging and shaming those who die by suicide, and judging and shaming those with suicidal thoughts is not the way to attempt to prevent suicide.

Regrettably, Ms. Hecht uses stigmatizing and disrespectful terms and thoughts about those who die by suicide in her attempts to stop suicide. Currently, it is preferrable to use the phrase 'died by suicide' rather than terms like 'committed suicide' and 'murder'. She has read some of the history about sucide. She manages to repeat a few of the facts and misrepresent others.

Sadly, she fails to grasp the distinction between rational and irrational suicide. Rational suicide is an individual choice. The vast majority of suicides die by irrational suicide (with underlying mental challenge). Irrational suicide has nothing to do with choice. Those who die by irrational suicide do so without the ability to reason. Had Ms. Hecht completed a bit more research, she may have come across the idea that those in the throes of suicidal ideation have tunnel vision. They are simply unable to grasp the consequences of their deaths. They are escaping pain. Talking, ideas, and compassion certainly may help. All of Ms.Hechts moralistic bullying of those with mental challenge and suicidal thoughts is pointless. Worse---her baloney takes progressive talk about suicide prevention and mental challenge backwards into darkness and shame.

Just because Ms. Hecht has managed to thus far quell her own demons does not give her the right to judge others. I regret that this person receives a stage to spread her woefully mistaken ideas about suicide. Also, she makes money on the backs of those who die by suicide while shaming them. She seems impressed with her own intelligence, her awards and her books; and her own abilities to dodge suicide's allure---but she fails to grasp that irrational suicide requires understanding and compassion---not stigmitization, judging, shaming, and blaming. Irrational suicide is a sad tragedy without blame, and without shame. Avoiding suicide is not as simplistic as eating a donut or writing a poem.

I think your interview with Jennifer Michael Hecht was very insightful and open. I lost my beloved son to suicide on August 21, 2010 and my life changed forever. I could relate to so much of the conversation about the aftermath of losing someone to suicide. It is unfathomable and horrifying.

I am now a suicide awareness activist. Please watch my speech at a suicide prevention conference in Belfast N Ireland in November 2012. I do want to point out that when we say 'commit' suicide we are harking back to the time when suicide was considered either a sin or a crime. Please in future say 'died by suicide' or took their own life. Thank you.

I loved this interview and loved reading Hecht's book. That said, I was disappointed that the perspective and arguments about suicide were exclusively Western in scope. I would have appreciated a conversation with more cultural breadth. There are parts of Asia where the suicide rate (especially amongst young adults) is off the charts. Suicide is the leading cause of death amongst Asian American women between the ages of 18-30. While suicide may have universal, even biological, tendencies, society and culture, as Hecht herself argues, figures into how one confronts self-killing. Moving beyond a particular scope would have enriched this program.

It seems like the most productive discussion about suicide would be to question how the values of our society contribute (or not) to whether suicide seems like the best option for some. The next question would be: what can an individual do to support values found to decrease suicidality.
My own answer to the first question would include our valuing what a person does (doing) more than the person (being). Another would be the original mistake of thinking we can know that some people are good and some are evil, or bad, illegitimate, wrong, invalid. To put it in simpler words, judging people. Lastly, our culture values material success more than compassion, so people who are in pain feel quite alone and forgotten.
My own response to the second question is to rid my mind of as much judging, blaming, shaming as I can possibly find. I try to value every person I meet as much as I would Buddha, Jesus, Mohamed or Alanis Morissette. I work to find accessible methods to relieve people's suffering and bring them to people who need it.

This interview was a stunning narrative on the interconnection of all human beings. A profound production... thank you!

I found this episode difficult to listen to knowing how many people are suffering who do not have support or a network, who feel completely "outside the camp." In a rather fragmented, individually oriented society such as ours, this is not uncommon. I just listened to a lovely teaching on the weekly Torah portion by a rabbinical student

The broadcast focused on two main aspects of suicide. One aspect being how committing suicide is sometimes celebrated as a moral freedom and seen as something people have the right to do when they decide to end their current suffering. The second and main aspect discussed is how demons and the devil have been associated with suicide, committing the act is looked down upon and seen as a very selfish escape from a situation that may soon change and get better.
The broadcast was a very interesting look at suicide in the human and humane context, which is a commitment to live, and a commitment to other human beings. One quote that really stuck out was “sometimes to live is the real act of courage.” This really is a deep way to look at suicide and the comment when really thought about is a powerful one. Another related comment I found powerful was "Your staying alive means so much more than you really know or that anyone is aware of at this moment." The broadcast does a good job looking at suicide as something that places far more burden being left on the loved ones and the pain and anguish families deal with.
Jennifer states that suicide is usually always impulsive which she gave the example about the suicide fence at the Golden State Bridge, if a person couldn’t find a way to get over the fence they usually went home instead of going to another bridge. Another example was about the contrast of feelings and mood. We have fallen in and out of love with the same person, we have yelled at family and friends and said we would never speak to them again, even though most of the time that only lasts a short amount of time.
Jennifer says, “We have many different moods that profoundly change our outlook and it’s not right or fair to let the worst one murder all of the others.”
Although I do not personally deal with depression I have experienced how difficult it can be to communicate and get through to someone who is severely depressed. One idea mentioned by Jennifer to help people who often fall in and out of depression was, when your in a time where you feel happy write yourself a letter that reminds you that happiness is possible and to not do anything crazy because you want to experience this happiness again. When your feeling down look at the letter to remind yourself this will only last short term. “Remind your mood that the other one exists.”
This was an interesting and enlightening look at the views of suicide from the aspect of the people left behind.

A comment in response to the idea of writing yourself a letter for times when depressed or suicidal … That is a lovely idea but, as a very aware and informed commenter commented above, at those times (more during deeply serious suicidal depression, where a person is very close to completing a plan), such a letter means nothing. Because at such times, often one's thinking capacity is very filtered (I agree that this piece really doesn't address what often happens to the thinking capacity of someone who is genuinely planning or considering suicide) and hence it is very easy to dismiss things that even we have written to ourselves, when they are entirely the opposite of our experience at that time. Also, reading all of these arguments / suggestions is also likely only to help people who are not in the depths of suicidality / on the edge but rather be concepts that may help people not get that far, perhaps, if they hear them in advance. However, I do wholeheartedly agree that the availability of skilled and attuned therapists can be invaluable (and access to these needs to be worked on, as well as 'safe' non-hospital environments where people could stay, without necessarily having to be subjected to pathologising and heavy medication - which may actually just delay the realization of how a person got there and lead to continuation of a cycle of suffering). Even if nothing that is said in a therapy session that seems to get through, simply being able to talk about what is happening and - hopefully - agree and plan to wait another day, or two … and perhaps another day or two … can at least help create some space where hopefully the tunnelled thinking passes somewhat and then there may be space for stepping back a bit from the edge and hearing other options…

The broadcast was a very interesting look at suicide in the human and humane context, which is a commitment to live, and a commitment to other human beings. One quote that really stuck out was “sometimes to live is the real act of courage.” This really is a deep way to look at suicide and the comment when really thought about is a powerful one. Another related comment I found powerful was "Your staying alive means so much more than you really know or that anyone is aware of at this moment." The broadcast does a good job looking at suicide as something that places far more burden being left on the loved ones and the pain and anguish families deal with.
Jennifer states that suicide is usually always impulsive which she gave the example about the suicide fence at the Golden State Bridge, if a person couldn’t find a way to get over the fence they usually went home instead of going to another bridge. Another example was about the contrast of feelings and mood. We have fallen in and out of love with the same person, we have yelled at family and friends and said we would never speak to them again, even though most of the time that only lasts a short amount of time.
Jennifer says, “We have many different moods that profoundly change our outlook and it’s not right or fair to let the worst one murder all of the others.”

This interview was very interesting and had a lot of good points in it. I felt that Jennifer Hecht brought up some good issyes that relate back to suicide. Suicide is a hard thing to talk about and even deal with. There are so many different questions to why do people do this? what drives them? But learning from the interview that as time goes on, the rates of suicide have gone up; mostly in college students and even adults. I know life can be very hard especially when you're young; your still trying to figure life out and sometimes it just takes longer to get a grip on life and figure it out. but in time it'll happen, just wait. I liked in the interview that Jennifer says "give your future self a chance", very true statement. we only get this one life; lets try and make the best of it and make ourselves happy as possible. Life has so many great things to offer; maybe sometimes we are blinded by negativity, but the bright light is there.

One of my favorite quotes from the interview was "Others see things in us that we can't see in ourselves". That is so true. I can say I look at myslef and I just see a person, just me; but ithers see something more than that. They see a lover, a friend, a brother, a best friend, a son, etc. And I myself look at other people and say the same thing. My best friend the other week called herslf fat and not attractive, I said I see someone beautiful and amazing. We are blind in whaat we see in ourselves because we live and see ourselves everyday; others don't. But the moral of the interview was that suicide isn't the answer, yes we can do it but its not worth it. Life has so musch to offer and as people we need each other. I don't like sucide, thankfully I never knew anyone that went through with it bacause as being still in the land of the living, its harder for us to understand than the person that is already gone. When bad things happen in life or we are feeling down we all just have to remember that there are more days ahead of us and we don't know what the future holds, so just hold on and wait for life.

you're asking for cultural resistance, not to suicide, but to depression. This is an interesting question.

I don't think I am. I do think depression can be altered by cultural changes, but not by individual cultural resistance. I don't think depression is a choice, but I think suicide is - maybe not all the time, but enough of the time to make it very worth talking about. Thanks for writing.

Had i wished I heard this a couple of weeks ago prior to a friend taking their life.

Re: communal understanding of the impact of suicide.

Awareness of how my death would impact others is the only thing which has kept me alive. If I were not married with kids I would not be alive.

I would like to hear Ms. Hecht's thoughts on having children (she has two). She says that life is "not impossible to bear, just almost impossible to bear." Into that reality she has forced two new beings who, she will argue, have a moral obligation to not kill themselves. I am not being flippant. Ms. Hecht is a very clear thinker, and I am sure she has given serious thought to this subject. If anyone can point me to her writing on this subject, I would be grateful.

Hi Charles, thanks for your comment and question. I think I have two answers for you. The first is that while life is full of pain and struggle, it is also full of beauty and grace. Part of why I write poetry is that I don't think it is quite possible to describe that balance in prose, but somehow that balance sustains. For me, any given day is a real challenge and also a theater for exquisite moments. To invite two small people into that party is strange but not unreasonable. The second reason is that I live by hope and with the expectation that in the closest and perhaps the largest relationships with humanity, love and humility can make things sweet enough to be worth all the struggle. Having the children, I can say that they bring me insight and meaning, and I think I can say that despite the real difficulties that they have already faced, I've given them enough love and respect to allow them to be glad to be here. I do try to be a clear thinker, but I think on this question and other weird human matters, it's okay to go with your gut sometimes.

Hi Ms. Hecht, My father was a Jewish atheist physicist, too!! My husband had a lifelong struggle with depression and committed suicide. I think my husband may have been partly inspired by his Catholic upbringing, because he seemed to think he was "sacrificing" himself in the sense that we would be better off without him. I don't have a single Judeo-Christian thought in my body, so the sacrificial lamb business does not resonate with me. But your suggestion that we basically just need each other is profound. That is the truth. It did feel like someone I knew committed murder, afterwards. And now there is just a huge lonely emptiness, that I'm not sure he could fill even if he was here, because he didn't want to be here. But there's no hope for fixing it now, is there. So, I agree, don't do it, and the person who does has ripped the social fabric for many others.

Thanks for sharing this. It's interesting to think about the Catholic idea of sacrifice in this context. A lot of suicide notes mention feeling like a burden and the realization of how much a burden suicide can be can keep people from the brink. Your insight that the notion of self sacrifice varies culturally is a good one. And the feeling that someone you knew committed murder is also very compelling.

When my baby brother died by suicide, after going crazy with grief I then sought to understand WHY James A. Kasmir, a 53-year-old entertainer went on a drinking binge and put his head in a noose he had wrapped around the door of a bedroom in the home of an old friend, who found his lifeless body pressed up against that door on Feb. 11, 2015.

Since 2005, my brother had worked with Straight Up [a youth development project for ages 12-25 made possible through funding from Ventura County Behavioral Health Department, Alcohol and Drug Programs] and was known as a "good guy, an accomplished musician AND magician, a fine teacher, improviser and friend. The kids and teens who learned theatre from Jim will never forget his style and his generous spirit."

Straight Up promotes the need for "social change regarding prescription drug misuse and other concerns using improvisation and interactive techniques to engage discussion, explore issues, and develop personal and community solutions to these issues".

The files my brother wrote on a Straight Up computer and had wanted to publish on their blog as 'Anonymous' have been published at Kindle to further that initiative: "Family Matters: Addictions, OCD and Suicide" by James A. Kasmir and Eileen Fleming

Thanks for sharing this Eileen. I'm so sorry for your loss. It's so difficult when alcohol and/or drugs were involved and so we can't tell how impulsive the act was, whether the person would have agreed with their own decision on any other night. The best we can do is what you are doing, which is to try to help others when we have the strength for it. Thanks again.

I subscribe to the podcast from Australia. I came across it some years ago accidently. I have had and continue to have a huge struggle with a drug addicted daughter and care for her son. Her husband and his father was killed in a car accident some four years ago. All is not well but maybe, just maybe the reminder of Julian of Norwich "All will be well..." will triumph." On Being keeps me grounded and reaches into my secluded world when nothing else can. Thank you so, so much!

I was totally disgusted by this mornings program. I worry about teen suicide - I think it is a tragedy if it is carried out on impulse. But suicide takes the life of people with chronic illnesses just like cancer does.

My comment got truncated - I had a lot more to say. There is no way we should sit in judgement of people who, after much pain, have decided to end their lives. If doing so is reasonable, let's bring on the overweight people who, because of the choices they make, shorten their life - end their presence on earth, which they have owed to others - as this conversation suggests.

The discussion diminishes the intensity of the pain that people have - and the speaker, who has sometimes contemplated suicide, now thinks she has the "cred" to speak for everyone.

I might listen to it again and make a list of all the spoken deprecation of the experiences of others.

Sometimes, the right to end it makes life "doable".

As one who has fought depression, bi-polar and suicide, I appreciated the wisdom of you both. It is a struggle to stay sometimes and at times the only thing that kept me here was the knowledge of the web of people and relationships around me. It was the realization that I couldn't do to my own children what was done to me when my own mother took her life, a detail that was kept from me for 15 years. Thank you for this.

My beautiful, flawless, angel of a mother committed suicide 34 years ago by shooting herself in the temple with a rifle with a bullet that went through and did not implode. The damage was literally unnoticed due to the funeral director knowing her, my father and both their families and working really hard to make us more comfortable with the situation. From minute one, there was no guilt on our side as her children and we knew my father had pushed her to the limit with his philandering and when she found out about the most hurtful one, she stopped eating and lost 60 lbs in no time. I had been to the strawberry fields of a neighbor and I had come home and made a strawberry short cake from a pound cake recipe and that was the last food she ever ate and the next day, she was gone. I could not grieve for months because I had an 8 yr old and a 10 yr old who saw her every day and to this day, she is the one who had the most influence on my sons. I thank the universe greatly for her and her life, not her death. I live in what she did for the four of us and my children. This show was incredible. Thank you so much. B. Bracey

I am a huge fan of On Being podcasts, and found "The Soul in Depression" to be a wonderful listen following my own "failed" suicide attempt. However, to me, this show with Jennifer Michael Hecht only continues to shame those who have been in a place where they have been unable to see any way out of the deep dark depressive hole. As a highly intellectual, successful, and creative individual, I know from my own experience that there is likely no way that anything could have deterred me in those moments. I was a practitioner of yoga, meditation, daily journaling including repeated positive affirmations, etc. and yet, this still "happened." While I take full responsibility for my actions, I also have learned to have compassion for myself in such a state of being and have stopped the self-punishment. Yes, suicide affects all of those around us. And yes, education matters. But for those of us who have been through the suicide "experience" (and there are a large number of us), may we find a way to be more compassionate for those who, in an illogical state of being, were unable to be rational and logical.

Suicidal ideation has whispered, and at times screamed its fraught neurotic compulsion through my family history.

I so, so appreciate this reframing.

I was always then been curious about suicide. From Camus, Myths of Sysiphus; to Schopenhauer, who wrote that suicide is the expression of the will to live; Victor Frankl, Mans Will to Meaning, where he asks to consider not what we expect of life (even in the death camps) but rather what is this situation demanding of me. Yet above all when I am whispered or screamed at the end this pain I immediately phone Samaritans to reframe the thoughts and my Buddhist practice of gratitude and kindness that my mantra that today I am enough and I have enough. And my poetry also helps,


A man hanged

In protest
at being,

From the roof
the body,

A truth,
that no-one

And I
needed to be
with friends

To say that people should not commit suicide because we are all interconnected is unkind to those who do not have actual functioning relationships. "Don't do it. It will hurt people who rarely have time for you now while you are alive. "

A woman with a husband, children and presumably friends, as well as a good job and a nice publishing history is speaking across a large chasm to those who are not so relationally wealthy and professionally successful. I was sadder after hearing this piece than when I woke up.

The chasm opened up in your assumptions about me and I hope I can close it. But you can see that I can’t tell my sad stories to everyone who guesses wrong about the girl behind the name. Oddly, though, out of my life's anguish I wrote poetry, and many essays online, that are remarkably candid, if rarely the main topic, about what I suffer and who I am, so any curiosity can be easily satisfied, if not, I hope, sated. My point is makeable without details though, I’m saying that if you flip this and make me the person to whom you compare me, wouldn’t you want her to somehow manage to write this book and other books? I don’t want to list the specifics of ways I’m struggling more than the imaginary life you described for me, as it doesn’t feel like the right forum. (But for just one thing, you can’t support a life writing poetry and public scholarship in intellectual history, but you can be of use to people and pleased to be preternaturally committed to your art and to ideas and even truth. And speaking more broadly than just myself, in reference to the “has children” idea, look up the statistics on depression and motherhood [common, various, and to my mind most often biological].)

Anyway, I’m asking, regardless of anyone's image of my life, what if you did attribute my book and my argument against suicide to someone who you saw as qualified to speak from a place of knowing suicidal misery? Wouldn’t life be less societally lonely if such a person could reach out to other sad people and say let’s try to keep each other alive through expressions of empathy and awareness of each other?

Also, of course there are tons of people in worse state than I, but can’t a person hovering above some line of mood shout encouragement to those below it (and intel those above it)? Or what if a person who knew about pain also happened to be a fiercely devoted scholar and had learned a lot of useful things from the beloved great minds history and from history’s great social trends (every where and every when has known people as agonized as some in our time) shouldn’t she share the most positive of what she’s gleaned? It feels to me like a rather problematic responsibility, but I don't see how to deny it.

Anyway I liked the strut of your rebuttal and especially given the amen "this" you got, I thought it would be worth it and interesting to try to find some common ground. Thoughts?


For a beautiful song about the process of pulling back from suicide and choosing life, listen to this: . I think Dar Williams would make a wonderful future guest on the program--I know Krista is already a fan of "The Christians and the Pagans", so I'm sure she would have a good time.

Re: On Being Program 12/13/2015 with Krista Tippett and Jennifer Michael Hecht on Suicide, and Hope for Our Future Selves

Suicide is generally NOT a choice. See Suicide is not a choice.

My son Brian, suffering from acute depression, ended his own life at age 41 almost a year ago. He had a great life as an engineer, a musician, and an athlete and left behind a beautiful loving wife and three wonderful young children. He had every reason to live, but the brain illness he suffered from prevented him from thinking rationally. The psychiatrists treating him tried everything to save him but nothing worked. The drugs they gave him may have actually aggravated his depression and precipitated his suicide.

Suicide from depression is an epidemic and a national scandal that is increasing today without enough priority by the NIH and other health organizations. See TED talk by Dr. Thomas Insel at Toward a New Understanding of Mental Illness.

I did agree with Krista's guest Jennifer Hecht that suicide leaves a horrible void in the lives of friends and family. I'm still suffering from the loss of my son as are his widow and children.

The days after Brian died I wrote a number of grief poems including this one entitled "A Father's Lament":

Is it rotten luck, a bad hand I've been dealt?
Not deity, nor part of a trinity, not young even - just me
But now I know what God the Father must have felt
When His only-begotten Son was hung on a tree.

After listening to Jennifer Michael Hecht being interviewed on NPR, 12/13/15, Chicago morning time, I heard about her fascinating snippets of famous suicides from antiquity through the ages , religious and cultural views of suicide historically, her own views of suicide, and her reminder of the National Suiside Prevention Hotline. Firstly, I loved the new perspectives. I feel more equipped and justified to engage with someone contemplating suicide.

I have wanted to volunteer on a service such as this for some years now, but had not yet taken action. I have two years of experience with the San Francisco Suicide Prevention Hotline, and derived much satisfaction from many of the calls. I do plan to take action now, so thank you for this inspirational program!

It was over 30 years ago I volunteered there, but one call still stands out like it was yesterday. A young black woman was in distress. I was a young white woman, and felt not only a kinship with her but also a tug to help her. She had confusion with money issues, relationship issues, and self esteem. I was not a brilliant counselor, but I did feel her strength underneath it all. We untangled some knots together, and towards the end of the call she calmly and gratefully remarked "You've really got it all together." No I didn't! I nearly wrecked the call with my thoughts of what a mess my own life was, but I awkwardly tried to assure her along the lines that it is far easier to look at another's life problems than your own, and I think/hope I didn't undo the good! That is the only call I remember specifically, but that whole experience gave me a great connection with life.

Thank you so much for this program.

Suicide is such a complex topic for me. I failed at my druken attempt and had my first husband kill himself in our home in the room that I most considered mine. I have known too many who have chosen to end their lives, as well. I am so grateful that I failed and learned that I would have devistated the people that I loved. Yet, I give thanks to my husband for setting me free with his death.

I come from parents who had bi-polar disorder and alcoholism in the genes that they passed to us children. I was spared the worst of all of that, but did have a mild experience with mania and depression in my late teens. On a blind date with my best friend, I decided to kill myself. My friend found me stradling a rail of a bridge and pulled me back and carried me back to the car. The next morning her parents had to call a Dr. because she could not move. I so regret putting her through such a trauma. It did get my mother to let me know that my family loved me and would have never gotten over my suicide. I vowed never to do anything so cruel again.
Many years later, after successful treatment for his bi-polar depression, my first husband became severely agoraphobic. This man was brilliant and talented, but too troubled to to find happiness or success. He developed physical problems that contributed to me being a caretaker for most of the last decade of his life. I came home fearful of finding him dead until the day I did find him dead from a double barreled shotgun blast - in my kitchen.
The 911 operators were unable to stop laughing at how angry I was when I called for help. A dear friend was working the phones when I called and told me later that I just kept saying ..."in MY Kitchen!" over and over! They just had to laugh at that. I had to understand because it is funny in a sad kind of 'laugh or cry' way. That room was my sanctuary and my creative outlet was food and crafts that I usually did at the dinner table in the kitchen.
I have to say that my husband really chose just the right time when I had made my peace with him and was no longer codependent on him. I was ready to move on with my life except that I was the only person who was taking care of him. He could not care for himself due to his agoraphobia and physical problems.
My life is now filled with love and friendships that are my delight. I have a husband who is the love of my life, too. I know that there is a higher power than me that has kept me safe and led me to grow and learn to trust that all is going the way it is supposed to go. I do not concern myself with understanding this presence in my life after years of spiritual searching. What does it matter as long as I can see how the most terrible things in my life have actually been doors to becoming myself. I find that the search for my 'authentic self' is enough of a task for this life. Learning to love myself and accepting life just the way it comes is enough of a challenge. I have a goal that I have borrowed from my first husband - I am trying to move the world in the direction of 'good'.

Thank you for today's sharing. Over Thanksgiving ,I, with no, NO, pre-warning, found myself in the dark, almost near-suicide place I had been in 1996 after my father's suicide. My actions to leave the place where I was visiting has left me without my own children's care and attention. I recognize their anger is where they are, yet I howled with tears at the end of this program when Jennifer read parts of this poem. I also liked the quote about courage and anxiety. I was trembling when leaving that early morning, unannounced, quickened by fear that I HAD to find a safe place, to pluck myself out of that demonic place where, if I had stayed one moment later, my son may have found me in the bathroom without life. The decision to leave was indeed that horrifying. Now to live with the consequences of now alone, yet not alone. I am seeking help. I am talking with friends who name me family. I am learning to re-define who my family is. Again, thank you for every episode of On-Being. Most, if not all, of other stories have enhanced my view of LIFE and LOVE. Bless you always,

It's a pleasure to listen to your talks early Sunday mornings, a nice very efficient way to go to church and deeply spiritual. Thanks. Today's topic was troubling too, of course.

I'm a brilliant research scientist with all kinds of good findings on the subject of what is so extremely distressing our whole society, and the world, that for decades more people are either feeling or acting suicidal. It’s of course something we tend to consistently ignore, getting ever worse, that people have not really wanted to hear about either. That understanding what is increasingly straining relations all over the planet, actually, and also something others turn away from, seems also to be what brought me as well to feeling suicidal again and again for so very long. It's a miracle I've never tried, but was by some quirk instead inspired by it again and again, to reach just a little higher.

My inquiry draws me into what appears to the dark heart of how our most normal life habits, we wouldn’t normally even know how to question, but come to produce more and more quite unmanageable life contradictions and challenges. So we don’t see where they come from, experienced only by us and all other human societies as persistently increasing strains and distress, as life being distorted somehow. It's incredibly clear and visible in the data, though, that our common habits of making a living, have ever faster increasing accumulative impacts, both changing the world in ways that would be the furthest from our intention, and forcing us to relearn how to live faster and faster for no clear reason either.

Our way of making money is the easiest evidence, how it involves our making ever faster expanding uses of the earth, along with ever expanding interventions in the cultures of other peoples too. So our common ideas for "how we prosper" no longer mean what it once did, and simply because they changed in scale, again and again, now overwhelming ourselves and the earth. Steady prosperity might last for ages, but multiplying prosperity is unavoidably an assault on everything in the natural world we might find truthful, beautiful or useful, with virtually "no questions asked".

There are certainly gross changes taking place we do notice. One of special concern is the growing number of human cultures being essentially "outmoded" and discarded by the future, the "slow adapters" caught up in our world's odd endless rat race to nowhere. Ultimately “why we don’t notice” it’s how our prospering causes that to come from a technical detail, in how money is exchanged, used to multiply more exchanges to "make money" without limit. All of our money exchanges are done without our seeing any kind of "receipt" for what was done to either produce the product or the money being exchanged.

That "incidental detail" causes a profound ignorance, gives us an illusion that nothing we do with money matters except for the effect on our own personal feelings and needs. So our choices are quite detached from the reality of what is done to make our incomes and products, supporting an economy degrading the entire earth at compound growing rates... apparently the only "receipt" nature seems to be able to offer us.

What happens to the discarded cultures, made useless by the changes of many kinds they can’t keep up with, caused by our own ever faster expanding ways of wastefully prospering with near total neglect? Some will be just made silent and withdraw, like the abandoned family traditions and homes, as serving the almighty dollar takes precedence. It tragically leaves behind societies unable to pass on their own ancient cultures, not just in the US but literally all over the world. Other “outmoded cultures” like certain segments of the former American middle class, and some of the burgeoning youth populations of the Middle East and North Africa, take offense. That wreaks havoc on the normal functioning of their traditions, and some become “radicalized” not unjustly horrified to be thrown on the compost heap of a world organized around more or less pointlessly excess.

Not everyone would react the same way, if we were to start looking at the receipts for what our money buys. One dollar one share is the best way. It may be depressing enough to make more of us suicidal, affecting most everyone as we face facts, but we need to, and focus on the silver linings. We're on what does truly seem to be an amazing journey, and journeys as we know are both hazardous and transformative, involving both expected and unexpected kinds of discoveries and challenges along the way.

The oddly obvious change of direction that could save us now happens to be the most common of all the uses nature ever has for generating the magical transformations we call "growth". Think about all the circumstances you know, gestation in the womb, the sprouting of a seed, the burst of organization as successful business takes root too, the flowering of a new culture, and many many others, some with self-destructive ends... What clear in all the ones we'd want to emulate is that they are ALL brought to fulfillment by growth serving to build something a good new home. That's the purpose we could reassign to our presently purposeless growth economy. It would totally transform what we're doing, and making us interested in looking at the real receipts we see around us for the money we make and the goods we use, having the insight that what we're in the middle of is making the earth our "good home".

We may indeed find surprises, like that as a careless home builder, we may really not have enough material to put a roof on before winter. That kind of inability to “close in our house” and make what we have sustainable, risks sacrificing a great deal more of what we built so far that we could possibly imagine giving up... So "great loss" seems very possibly in the cards. Perhaps not the least, is the real present chance we’ll lose very large amounts of coastal development all over the earth and other drastic penalties for finding ourselves having gone over the edge with climate change. That maybe be the way we need to read "the receipt" and list of "extra charges" for our "big party" rather than "serious home maker" plan for growing our home on earth.

If we just finally come to realize our problem was being coaxed in to limitless growth, with no purpose, well that's something practical and very meaningful, we actually can indeed solve.

After church today, I heard a brief portion of your conversation with the author, Ms. Hecht. Speaking as a mother who has lost her 22-year old college son to suicide, "out of the blue," my book, Note to Adam, addresses several of the issues she mentioned. Survivors have a heck of a time trying to decide if they should stay or go. While not suicidal, I wanted so badly to be with Adam, my dead child, as opposed to staying here on this plane with my "live" children. I look forward to reading her book, and I hope she will read mine. All profit goes to raising awareness on this tender topic. Education is key. Thank you.

Enjoyed this program My family is dealing with this issue right now. Very timely!

Thank you for this program. My father committed suicide when I was 14 years old. With his suicide came all of the emotion that you referenced in your program today, including guilt, shame, anger, and deep sadness. For many years after he died, shame was at the top of the list. When people ask how your father died and you tell them he committed suicide, there is often no response because culturally people simply don't know how to respond. This leads to even greater shame on the part of the suicide survivor. It is only as an adult when I began to name his suicide and talk about it publicly that the shame diminished and I could finally begin to work through the emotional trauma of his death. There have been times when I have thought and wondered myself about committing suicide, however, I know I never will because of the immense pain that my father's suicide caused for me and the rest of my family. Thank you for opening this topic up to the daylight.

The program on suicide was profound, but there was one wrong thing throughout. The term 'commit suicide' is wrong. People who suffer from depression sometimes end their lives, as a terrible and acute side effect. But rarely ever is suicide done by careful calculation.
'Commit suicide' comes from an outdated way of thinking. We have evolved past thinking about it as a crime.
Depression is an illness like asthma or diabetes. One no more 'commits' suicide than one 'commits' an asthma attack or a diabetic coma. Today's program gave lots of insight into the kinds of things one could put in place to prevent such a crisis. As depression is an illness of the mind and affects relationship and communication, the program today was great in describing how relationships and communication could be used to prevent suicide. The tips Jennifer Michael Hecht gave are important preventative steps, like avoiding triggers can prevent dying from asthma, and proper nutrition can prevent dying from diabetes, in many cases. (We still need to learn more about all of these diseases to prevent crises more effectively).
Please use 'die by suicide' or 'end one's life'. It will go a long way towards understanding that mental illness is an illness of body and mind like other illnesses. This is not about guilt or shame, this is about prevention.
Dear Krista and Jennifer, think about your words when you approach this topic in the future. Thank you.

Completely agree. Thank you for pointing this out about referring to suicide as 'die by' or 'end one's life' rather than 'commits.' Important point.

I offer my poem of empathy for my son (he took his life in April of this year) who suffered episodic bouts of "Lariam-induced psychosis" from 1996 until 2015. Lariam Ill chosen victim Poor vulnerable you Serving Kennedy's Corps Hot, steamy service
Malaria-prone country Faulty anti-malarials Whop, snap, bang Crisis help too late Your demise sealed by fate Sparing your life a mistake? What cruel gest was this? So many years of pain We tried, my son, we tried Sadly we lost the battle But won the druggie war - After you sacrificed your life

Suicide is a prerequisite for life...

A quote from the book, "Wisdom Of A Lifetime Things I would want you to know if I died Tomorrow"

Last Thursday, I almost killed myself. I say almost because two friends stopped me. I had the “alone in a room full of people” feeling at an end-of-semester party and resolved to use the kitchen knife. Walking home, my roommate asked me if I had a good time. I mumbled something. His girlfriend asked again and I broke down. That night, my friends sat beside me and let me cry until I realized they would still be there. Before bed, I scrawled a reminder in my journal: "You have people who love you. Don't kill yourself." I wrote the friends' names down too.

On Friday, one of those friends recommended I listen to On Being. I don't think she'd heard this week's episode yet. On Saturday, I decided to check it out. The week’s subject was absurdly relevant. I turned the speakers down, not wanting to alarm my roommate who had stayed up with me on Thursday. I was afraid he’d be annoyed at me for bringing suicide up again, even if just through a podcast. Realizing my computer was muted though, I clicked it up just one notch. The intro leapt out of the speakers: “...AT THE CENTER OF HER UNUSUAL WRITING ABOUT SUICIDE." A minute later, my roommate came out of his room and asked to listen with me. He asked me what I thought about the episode and I shared how I felt my experience mirrored in the techniques Hecht talked about.

This show made a difference in my life by carving out space for me to share more of my experience with friends. One of the hardest things about depression is that it isolates you. You want to talk about your experience, but you don’t always know how to share it.
Other times, you isolate yourself by assuming other people don’t want to hear about it. You sense that the appropriate answer to “How’s it going?” is not “I want to kill myself,” so you just say “Good!” and let your friend get ready for class.

As I discovered, you can only keep that up for so long. It’s important for us to speak up and share our experiences with each other, whether that’s in person, in print, or in this comment section. This helps us realize, like Hecht says, how much we depend on each other.

I’m thankful for this interview and grateful to my friends for keeping me alive.


My father turned 79 this year, I had lunch with him Saturday and we talked about a fishing trip we are planning for next summer. On the drive home I heard the show and I was thinking about a few years ago when he shared with me that he had decided to take his own life at one point. Back in the 70s I was a child and he was struggling with many issues. He came up with a plan that would make his death look like an accident, he would leave the important documents in a place he knew my mother would find them. I don't know why but he did not follow thru with his plan, but he persevered. His life did not turn around for years, but in time he got some help and for many years now he has been happy -- happier than he ever dreamed I'm sure. He has been with us for the weddings and graduations and grandchildren and many fishing trips. He is the cornerstone for the family. My dad from the 70s stuck around and met the dad I have today. I don't know if I would be here had he not persevered thru that dark time. I have a better understanding now of how to respond to the urge to leave the world behind from Jennifer Michael Hecht's conclusion that there are relationships that are important, also that the person of the future knows things that we don't here and now.

Hello, My name is Becky (Rebecca) Jule Noehren. My brother Darin's birthday was December 10 1963, he was my step brother, he took his life March 5th 1994, he was 31 years old. December 10th is the date on this podcast which is very interesting. Darin would have been 52 years old on December 10 of this year 2015. His daughter has 3 sons who look so much like Darin that it is amazing, of course he never met his grand sons since he died before his daughter had children. I listened to your this program on my way home from my Sunday 2nd shift as I do every week, I enjoy your program very much. This program hit home for me. My step brother's mother took her life in the year 1969, my father who was a MD took his life in 1977 announcing most often during my teenage years that he did not want to go on without our step mother. Both my dad and step mother were drug users, growing up with two adult drug users was very traumatic to say the least. When both my step mother and my dad died by suicide over dose, we had to make up a cause of death on the obituary because suicide was taboo. And even with our bother's death in 1994 it was a hard subject. Just recently I have been very honest about how all 3 of my family members died, I need to be honest about SUICIDE. I do not understand all the shootings as of late where the shooter kills many persons and then kills them selves, this is not what suicide looks to me from my own personal experience. We also had a cousin who took his own life a few years ago. I have felt suicidal off and on through my life, in 2007 i got to that very low spot in my depression and walked through the whole scenario and came out on the other side resolving to never for any reason to go to that extreme again, in my scenario, I was able to pull myself back from the edge by thinking of those around me who would be affected by my passing like I was when my other family members took their lives. I am so very grateful for Jennifer Michael Hecht's personal experience and your interview with her this night. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Taboo is such a lonely and hollow word.

Suicide has touched my life in many ways - I tried first at the age of 9 and failed and never tried again ... I am so glad. People say a nine year old does not know the meaning of death. I did. I wanted it. It felt like peace. Then my best friend in high school has been suicidal off and on for the last four decades. My first partner's sister killed herself. One of my best friend's mother killed herself when she was in her 70's after her husband died of cancer. She waited a year - listened to her children who asked her to stay but did it anyway. I happened to see a goodbye email from a friend who was in the process of killing herself and was saying goodbye to her friends via email - I called the paramedics and stopped her in the act. A co-worker attempted and failed as we texted through the night until finally she threw up the many pills she had taken. I know many people perched on the edge of their "right" to kill themselves and this book is so needed as was this wonderful interview.

I have sat on the edge peering into that space on several occasions, most recently with gun in hand. The pain caused by depression is invisible and so goes unseen or looked away from by others. I can relate to most of the posts here. I guess the question still remains, why...why do we stay? I have felt guilt, cowardice, self loathing following my 'episodes' only to be replaced with moments of profound joy and happiness. I guess those are the moments I stay for. I have no profound answers either but occasionally, I have moments of deeper understanding that somewhere on the other side of all of this physical realm, I chose to be here at this moment. If there is any real-ness to that feeling, I reckon I will stay a little longer.

Sometimes I wonder about relevance and how to cope with the daily grind. HOW.

I have not listened yet but the blurb was insightful, as I am at work. An important discussion to have I can't wait to listen.

Sometimes the perfect moment occurs. It was my good fortune to hear the interview with Jennifer Hecht at a time when I needed her words. I lost the man I loved to suicide over a year ago. Although I didn't understand why - I struggled to respect his choice. I would never take my life but have entertained a temptation to follow him. Ms. Hecht's attitude about the strength it takes to choose life and our human inter-connectedness resonated with me. The aftermath of a suicide leaves us all rudderless, but thanks to this interview I feel much more at peace.
Thank you for making a difference

I am so pleased to have the opportunity to share some general comments regarding On Being. Guests and their topics have been excellent. I would like to have featured someone on the topics of "Theory U" out of MIT, of Spiritual Direction and of Taoism. I would have Krista Tippett reduce her habit of interrupting your guests. Her comments and interpretations are often unnecessary, intrusive and distracting. She sometimes doesn't even get it right, and I feel she is somewhat too much ego-driven in many of her efforts to put in her "two-cents". Her guests usually have much more wisdom to reveal to us than she does. Less of Krista and her interpretations, more of your guests, please. And thank you.

This was the best podcast!! The first time i heard it a while back, i listened to it and the unedited version SEVERAL times. I recommended it to a fellow traveler. It came on again today and listened to the edited version twice and the unedited once. i imagine i will listen several more times. This is such an important issue. Since i attempted suicide in my teens, i have been an advocate for staying alive. i still have "not wanting to live thoughts" but, just like murder, THAT is not an option. Thank you for your work in this area. I have also seen that suicide is contagious. i am deeply... disturbed? disappointed? distraught? (one or all of those D words) whenever i hear of a suicide. i don't even have to know them to be affected by it longterm. When i DO know them that is so much worse. it's like every suicide gives me even more permission to do the same. I don't need any fuel for that fire.

I was shocked at the smugness, the callousness of Ms. Hecht's sweeping proclamations about those of us who live with the desire to no longer be living. Although her introduction contained a vague allusion to periods of her own life into which suicidal thoughts had intruded, clearly she has never been there and does not get it. I can not express with enough vehemence how offensive I found her assertion that people contemplating suicide "owe" something-- to others, and to their "future selves." Do you really think that helps, Ms. Hecht? To pile onto us yet another debt when our unpaid list already shames us; to force upon us yet another obligation, when we are already pinned down by the wreckage of obligations unfulfilled . If you understood anything about suicidal tendencies, you would know that your pop psychology platitudes ("go to bed;" "get some help;" oh gosh! if only it were that simple) are laughable. Suicide is a drastic response to a drastic state of despair, utilized by people for whom the scales have tipped, with no hope that they will tip back, or no energy left to wait it out "It gets better" just doesn't do it.

The equation is very straightforward; when the sadness/terror/shame/hopelessness which we carry around inside us becomes heavier than we can bear, we put it down. I imagine it will be a relief. This thing is so heavy, so solid; we wonder why other people can't see it: weighing us down, bulging out of our chests; a toxic haze which obscures our faces and blurs our vision. It's so real

I am so touched by this frank plea to choose life. I am a psychotherapist, and my dear baby brother killed himself years ago at the tender age of 23. A best friend's son also killed himself at the same age. Everything you have spoken is the absolute truth about suicide. It takes great courage, hope, and support just to stay alive sometimes. I have had these candid conversations with my own sons. But I've never heard such a brilliant interview on this critical subject. Thank you, Jennifer and Krista. Especially at this vulnerable time of year, we need this message getting out there. I will be sharing it with many.
Bless you in your work,
Patricia Dunn-Fierstein, LCSW, Author

This podcast spoke directly to where I am in my life right now. After listening, I keep asking myself why I would let one part of myself attempt to murder the rest of me. Thank you for giving me this perspective to work with. While I am still struggling in a fight for my like, this helped me to quiet that voice and allow to be heard the aspects of my life that have been positive and have the possibility of still making a contribution. Thank you.

This episode kept me alive. Literally. I have struggled with suicidal thoughts for months, and have been exhausting myself looking for an argument against it that was congruent with my thought process, and I found it. Or it found me. Thank you.

I understand the fatigue of fighting depression, the fear of pain, the sadness and absence of wholeness --all those feelings that make us consider leaving and surrendering to the darkness. There is an existential aloneness that tells us it would be better to leave. But there is the light, if only we can see it. And in the light are the answers.

I’ve tussled with the thought of this action many times. One day while saddled with this emotion, I sat with it for a while and came to the following realization: If the period that follows suicide were innocent and safe for all those that know me, then I would have died a million times over.
Whenever this thought clandestinely breathes sadness, darkness and loneliness into my mind, I recall this realization and it helps put the value of life into perspective for me.

that's really poignant. thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Thanks for discussing this very important issue of promoting community connection as a way of preventing suicide. For anyone interested in suicide prevention in schools and communities, check out to get a glimpse into a Peer Leader/Upstream/Strength-based prevention program.

The antithesis to "We believe each other into being," is "We disregard each other into oblivion." What is left then, when nothing else matters? Nothing. Then the question for the living becomes, "What does it matter?"

"We are indebted to one another, a kind of faith, a beautiful, difficult and strange faith," has some ring of truth to it, like a thin, naked lifeline in a tempest.

Only mediation can "corrupt" the insanity. It's a small window and it is closing quickly. It's there that one finds hope and maybe faith and with a good deal of luck, love.

When asked, "What does it matter?" the Z-master screamed softly "No thing."

What does it matter then? Really?

Thank you for this program. It has equipped me to be more effective as an art educator and art therapist and it has also brought me great personal encouragement. For a number of years I have faced ongoing challenges and there have been a few too many daunting and dark times. I began choosing to remain several years ago now, mostly for my nieces and for a most beloved sister who just recently died of cancer at the age of 54. While what I bring at times to this planet seems lost or hidden in the shuffle of the day-to-day, I indeed have a little something to bring. It is love...encouragement...honesty...a commitment to live with uncertainty and with many unanswered questions. Though difficult, life is also rich...and surprising...blessings do come sometimes out of the blue or from some unnoticed corner. This broadcast affirmed much for me in a real and compassionate and gentle way. Kindest thanks.

Beautiful . That's all I can say. Oh! And, thank you.

I just listened to the podcast, and read through (most of) the comments.
I think Hecht clearly comes from an authentic and compassionate place. But I found myself wondering how such a compassionate person -- especially one who's apparently struggled with depression herself -- can so easily discount the feelings of those contemplating suicide. When a friend of mine took his own life a few years back, I remember being sad and angry at first, which I think are natural enough responses. When I took time to process, though, I realized that I honestly didn't know much about his life (we had grown up together, but lived in different towns), and hadn't done nearly as much as I could to support him; therefore, I figured I was pretty unjustified in passing any judgement. I came to find out his life had become quite sad - he was in serious debt, had lost both his parents in a relatively short timespan, and had alienated most friends/family with reckless behavior (likely related to undiagnosed/underlying depression and hopelessness). He was no dummy. I think he took honest stock, decided his prospects for getting back on track were pretty dim, and made a decision. Who am I to second-guess that?
Sometimes I think those of us who lack the desire to take our own life insist those who do shouldn't go through with it, at least in part, to save ourselves the guilt of knowing we could have done more. The other side of the interconnectedness Hecht identifies is that most suicides probably reflect as much of a failure on the part of the person's social networks to support them as a failure on the part of the person to stick it out.
But that's just my $0.02. It was an interesting talk, and my first exposure to On Being. I downloaded a few more episodes and look forward to listening to them in the future.

see, this is why life is meaningless, in general, because we exist, apparently to create work for each other. What is the net? It's like Toohey's dystopian position in Atlas Shrugged, where everybody lives for everybody else. Ouroboros much? It's like the biped structure of the human body-essentially, half of the body exists to carry the other half around. A torso is a good argument for having legs (Or a jetpack), but what is a torso for? Finding a purpose in life that presupposes its continuity is circular reasoning, which doesn't become valid because it's the 'circle of life' we're talking about. If our existence is ridiculous and sisyphean, and people want to check out, what's wrong with that? Ms Hecht shuld grapple with antinatalism-one broad, sweeping argument, that, like religion, can argue against suicide, antinatalism, pessimism etc. Failing that then pessimism is laudably rational, and instead it is for parents to justify bringing more kids into this world. Telling me that I owe the whole frickin world my labors and drudgeries merely makes me resent my birth more. Any real anti-suicide argument should start out agnostic, really hold out the possibility that our continued existence, individually and as a species, may be morally problematic and hedonically unrewarding. She should then share the reasoning that gets away from that premise. INdividually and generally, as Camus said, suicide is the only philosophical problem. If I work up the momentum to off myself, why can't I recommend that to anyone who is so irreconcilably deprived of my necessary presence? Step right up, cure for all deprivations, right here!

As a Christian who has experienced depression and suicidal thoughts, I really appreciated hearing the ideas and philosophy of a non-religious person arguing against suicide. This gives me talking points when I speak to others who don't share my beliefs and reinforces my own reasoning behind my personal choice to reject suicide. Thank you!

When you hear an argument stated in blanket and absolute terms, with apparently no exceptions or qualifications, it's always a sign that the proponent lacks sustained and broad contact with the subject at hand. There's little that I'm 100% sure of in life, but that sign has rung true as a bell to me in my 50+ years to date.

Ms. Hecht's argument is exactly thus. I had a glance at her wikipedia page. She has been successful in interesting and valuable work all her life. She is married and has children. I think we can assume she has friends, and some sense of satisfaction from her successes.

What could this bright, lucky and successful person have to say about 'staying' to someone like me? I'm in my 50's, have never worked at anything remotely satisfying, am very poor and at daily risk of homelessness. I have no friends or family, and obviously won't have kids at this stage. I have not had a single success, not even a minor triumph commented on proudly by those close to me (no success, no-one close). I have not had one day of happiness in work. Not one.

I made a decision decades ago that I would stick things out for many years, probably driven by youthful spirits, but with my conscious reasoning being that life is unpredictable, and -- stranger things have happened! -- a worthwhile life might come my way with luck and/or effort.

I have suffered depression a couple of times for short periods, but could readily enough feel the difference between those heavy impositions, and native unhappiness resulting from not having a useful place in the world. Deep lack of fulfilment is not a transient mood, it is a condition of being: sometimes repairable, sometimes not.

And here's the thing: there isn't a pre-established harmony between the world's state and the particulars of every individual life that gets dropped into it. Some of us are just lost and are of no use to ourselves or anyone around us. Perhaps if born into another time or family, things might have been different for us. But the truth is for me in this particular place and time, life has nothing to offer. It is just a burdensome trudge, and everything gets worse from here. So I choose to exit. That Ms. Hecht clearly has no experience of lives like mine is presumably what makes her "Stay!" such a reedy, distant, unaffecting cry.

I have grown so tired of the question, "If you could do anything, what would you want to do with your life?" Because the only response I will ever have, the only answer that is ever going to matter, is, "If I could do anything, I would ask my grandmother why she killed herself when my parent was a child."

Those of you who have not been to the edge of suicide and back need to stop thinking about yourselves. It's NOT about you, your guilt, or anger, etc.. What about having compassion for the person who committed or attempted to commit suicide?!? To get to the point of suicide, whether that be via depression or not, there is NO bargaining with it. That person was not being selfish, they were doing the ONLY thing they could to relieve the pain. Get off of your (high) self.

I have never come upon a philosopher or policy scholar who convinced me that anyone other than an individual assessing her/his own life could have a valid assessment of the value of that life. Yes, humans are social animals. Yes, we need each other--in many different senses. However (and in many instances, therefore), beyond the philosophical (which is to say, the ideas of others) claims that others make, and I do not believe these are necessarily real outside the minds of those making the claims, there is no substantive ownership of another being over a given person's life. To the extent something can belong to someone, our lives, surely, belong to us alone. I grant that this is also an idea, but very many of us credit it as more sound than the alternative, that others have some claim to our lives that transcends our own entitlement to make decisions about our bodies and (personal) lives.

The suicide debate, like that about any other controversial subject, will continue, regardless of the way an individual, like Ms. Hecht, feels. But no mind can know another's experience or conception of life sufficiently to decide for another what's right regarding making value judgments, like whether a life in particular or life, in general, is worthwhile. It's shocking that in the 21st century, with so many advances in the West in personal freedoms, we are still arguing that other people should have a say in whether an adult chooses to remain alive or not. And it's especially shocking given the kind of (social) world we humans create, where so very many people don't have their basic physical, let alone emotional, needs met--and this, not due to mere choice. We cannot provide for everyone, or so those in charge tell us. We all want to be free to lavish attention and our time on whomever we choose, and this, not evenly distributed or distributed according to what our scientists confirm are bonafide needs. And there is no natural law that provides for everyone getting what (s)he needs. Consequently, some people will judge the inevitable challenges and deprivations of life simply too much to bear, even with the resources we can or are willing to put at their disposal.

Of course, we ought to offer people overly encumbered by life options, including therapy, as they see fit to accept. But guilt-tripping them into remaining alive reflects our own insecurities and arrogance disguised as self-congratulatory wisdom and benevolence.