There's a reason why I bring this up, but the details aren't important. What's important to me at the moment is setting the record straight.
Suicide is a touchy subject. There's a tremendous amount of baggage attached to the whole concept, and at least in my experience it ranks up there with religion and politics for generating very strong opinions in people.
The problem is, relatively few people in the world really understand suicide. Many of those who truly understand it are no longer in a position to tell anyone about it. The rest of us generally find it deeply difficult and thoroughly unpleasant to talk about.
To be clear, what I'm sick and tired of hearing is all the myriad ignorant comments from people whenever the subject comes up. It's been done a fair bit even here at GDNet; a quick search should turn up more blathering on the topic than anyone probably cares to read. I've vaguely alluded to some things in the past, but generally my experiences are still far too personal and painful to bring up. So I won't. It's my business and will remain that way. However, rest assured that I know what I'm talking about.
The actual misconceptions and ignorant views on suicide are too numerous to deal with directly; rather than addressing specific ideas one by one, this is a general overview of how it works and what's typically involved. I hope that, in giving people a window into the mind of someone very close to suicide, I can dispell some of the horrifically uneducated reactions people have to the whole affair.
At the risk of oversimplification, there are basically two types of "suicidal" person. The distinction is simple but utterly vital: one is serious about ending their life, the other is not. (Let me be very clear - suicide is a very serious issue, in the sense of urgency, in all cases. However, I will be using the term "serious" to refer to focused intent, not importance.)
Contemplating suicide is in itself not such a shocking thing I think; it may be somewhat taboo to discuss, but I think everyone ponders the subject at least briefly - if only in a dispassionate, objective way. However, the real concern comes when suicide becomes perceived as a solution to some particular problem.
This is the kind of stuff that people usually rail against: oh, the guy only jumped in front of a train for attention. He's just trying to make the news. She was too wrecked on drugs and too blind to see how easy it would have been to solve her problems. He took the "coward's way out". This attitude typically villifies the person as a coward, ignorant, lazy, selfish, or any number of other negatives.
Generally, though, these aren't the serious ones. Yes, people do ponder suicide as a solution to any number of problems: bankruptcy, ruined relationships, chemical depression, whatever. For the most part (and I know there are exceptions), these people fall into the not serious category. Usually through distorted or diseased thinking, they see suicide as a means to an end, a way to fix or escape some otherwise unwinnable situation.
To risk a broad generalization, these people tend to be teenagers (for whom the whole hormone thing is out of whack) or people with genuine mental diseases. These are the people who will commit so-called "attempted suicide". In the rare exception of truly stupid or inept people, there's no such thing as a failed attempt - either you really want to live, or you really don't. These people often tell stories of "discovering the solution" or generally having some epiphanous revelation that keeps them from actually following through on the suicide. The "cry for help" stereotype is, at least for these cases, quite true. They are best handled by counselling and professional help.
The horrible mistake, however, is to confuse this group of people - the not-serious - with those who genuinely and deliberately wish to stop living. That is a completely different matter. In fact, serious and non-serious suicide are generally related only by the fact that both involve ending one's own life.
The serious suicide makes no attempts. Often - but not always - the person exhibits almost bizarre amounts of compassion, consideration, and planning. They are careful not to leave signs that they are contemplating suicide - things like cuts, unusual purchases of medication or lengths of rope, maps of large buildings or bridges in the area. These are "mistakes" made almost exclusively by the non-serious. The serious plan, and with only few exceptions, they succeed.
It's sort of a cliche that people are "so surprised" when someone commits suicide. In the case of the non-serious, it's usually because the "close friends and loved ones" are A) full of shit (i.e. they weren't surprised) or B) weren't paying attention, which is often related to the reasons behind the attempted suicide. However, in the case of the serious, suicide comes as a shock because the serious person is often very careful to conceal it from others.
Consider all the cliche methods of suicide: cutting the body, using a gun, using chemicals, using physics (jumping off something/in front of something moving/etc.), and so on. Some of these are predominantly used by the non-serious. Cuts and easily-accessible chemicals (often medication) are chief among them. Anyone with even a cursory understanding of the human body or a nominal education knows that it takes a very severe cut or dose of chemicals to actually cause death. (Obviously there are certain chemicals which are much more toxic than this; however, they tend to be fairly difficult to get ahold of for most people, and therefore used predominantly by the serious.)
Killing oneself with a gun requires a bit of luck and careful planning. It's not nearly as simple or easy as it may seem, and has one major barrier to entry - getting ahold of a gun. Use of firearms is generally constrained to the serious, or the non-serious who aren't too bright.
In any case, the readily available methods (overdosing and cutting veins) tend to be extremely painful and actually highly survivable. This provides a clear way to distinguish between serious and non-serious cases. The non-serious will plan to swallow a bottle of pills, or slash their wrists, or some similarly stereotypical thing. The serious, by contrast, knows that the odds of having one's stomach pumped before absorbing a lethal dose are quite high; that cutting the wrists is actually difficult and impractical, and a far better option is the femoral artery or perhaps the jugular; that using a gun is difficult and must be done precisely and carefully to ensure success rather than a life in a vegetative coma.
In general, the serious know every last detail and consequence of their suicide. They know the consequences, the caveats, and the potential for surviving. They know how to minimize or avoid each. The reasons may be deeply emotional, and often are, but the planning and execution of the act tend to be exceptionally methodical and careful - even in people not given to such traits in normal life.
Again at the risk of grossly oversimplifying the situation, the non-serious tend to be the ones who act in more apparently selfish or cowardly ways. It is vital, however, to understand what life looks like from their perspective. What seems like an obviously foolish solution to most people (killing oneself to escape problems) is perceived in a totally different light. Again this is often because of genuine disease or problems, and is best dealt with by professional help. Regardless of what the actions may appear to be, the motivation for the person is rarely genuine selfishness or cowardice. The way the situation appears to an outsider is usually extremely different from the way it is perceived by the person themselves. In this case, bringing up selfishness or cowardice is ignorant and frustrating, as it demonstrates a lack of empathy with the person's actual situation. Don't be surprised if such reactions actually exacerbate the problem.
The serious, however, comprise the majority of successful suicides, virtually by definition. In their case, decrying their choice as selfishness or cowardice is the height of ignorance and is extremely distasteful to me, as someone who has been in that situation.
The reasons for contemplating suicide vary vastly; there is no way to capture the complete situation without having to delve into a horde of subtlety, nuance, and individual circumstance. This means that blanket judgments about the subject, especially ones which paint the person in a highly negative light (e.g. accusations of selfishness or cowardice) are entirely uncalled for. They may be true in certain specific cases, but to blindly label all suicides is, for lack of a suitably strong word, completely disgusting.
Please don't be the kind of person who does that.