Is Suicide a Choice? A Survivor’s Perspective

First of all: yes, of course it is a choice. BUT…and this is an important but…a non-suicidal person pointing this out to someone in acute crisis tends to come laden with judgement, whether implicit or explicit, intended or not. It often is:
“Well, it’s your choice, so just decide”
“It’s your choice, so why are you bothering to talk about it?”
“It’s your choice, so if you cared about me/others you wouldn’t do it”
“It’s your choice so if you want to live you won’t do it”
“It’s your choice, it’s easy, just choose”
etc. etc. etc.

Even if the second part isn’t verbalised, it is implied or it is felt; and I am quite certain that the majority of people (especially if they are talking about it or worried or wanting help) are well aware of the choice [a clear exception being someone experiencing symptoms such as psychosis or paranoia], and almost certainly don’t want to make it but feel no other options.

It is a choice in the same way that a person chooses to have a foot amputated to stop infection taking their whole leg.
It is a choice in the same way as someone jumps in front of a car to save a child who has strayed in to oncoming traffic.
It is a choice in the same way as someone pleads for them to be shot rather than other hostages.
It is a choice in the same way as someone gives their life savings to the burglar with a gun to their/their loved ones’ heads.
It is a choice in the same way that someone desperate for children has a hysterectomy to get rid of cancer that would otherwise kill them.

What is much more important than whether or not it is a choice is looking at why someone is in the position they’re in and thinking about/asking things such as:
Would they make this choice if they weren’t suffering from a mental illness?
Would they make this choice the 95% of the time that they’re not in acute crisis?
Would they make this choice if they had help?
Would they make this choice if they didn’t believe they had a negative impact on those around them?
Would they make this choice if they knew/believed there was another way to lessen the mental pain they were in?
Is it actually a choice to them or does it feel like the only way forward?
Can the person see other options?

From personal experience, I would recommend never pointing out that suicide is a choice to someone – I have always seen it as a judgemental sentence and almost as if someone is saying “if you’re going to keep thinking/talking about it, just DO it”. However, if you really feel the need, please try to think about and ask yourself the above questions first…try to think how much of an active choice it actually is:
Can you make a choice if you can only see one option?
Is it a choice if you are making it when your judgement is hindered by incredibly stressful or debilitating situations, symptoms and scenarios?
Is it a choice if you wouldn’t make it 99% of the time?

Mainly, I would ask myself:
“Why am I telling this person that it is a choice?”
“What do I actually mean when I tell them it is a choice?”
“Does it come across as harsh, judgemental or uncaring?”
“Could simply stating that I understand the difficulty of the situation/showing compassion help more?”

Personally, some more helpful things someone could say to me include:
“Have these feelings passed before?”
“Would you have made this decision yesterday/last week/last month?”
“What would need to be different to make life feel more liveable?”
“What would help you hold on at the moment?”
“I don’t understand how you feel, but I am here with you and not going anywhere”
“I’ve felt suicidal myself and I know it passes, what would help you get through this really difficult bit?”

Anyway, these are just some random ramblings from one person who has attempted suicide multiple times, who has planned suicide but not attempted, who has come close to death, who has had help to get through acute suicidality without acting…
However, the most important bit of all of this is to remember that you’re talking to a person in the darkest place imaginable, and that every person is different (even if you have felt suicidal yourself, that doesn’t mean that you know what that individual is thinking or feeling at that moment).

Please, above all else, try to speak and act with kindness and without judgement.

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