Posts Tagged ‘suicide’

A recent heart-breaking post about suicide, written by Prad over at Metaversally Speaking, lead to numerous comments of the predictable type: One grouping was “Prad you’re so kind and brave” (which he is), and the other line of comments was “suicidal people are evil ass-hats”. What I want to talk about is the dangerous idiocy of claiming expertise in the “type of people” who commit suicide. (I’ve discussed suicide at length before in a previous post here, so I will not repeat what I said there, go have a look though if you want my back-ground broader view on the issue of suicide and Second Life.)

We seem to know that we cannot put forward our understanding of serious physical ailments, as if they were medical truths, without proper training and research. And we understand that doing so would be stupid and dangerous. For example, if you tell me you have bowel cancer I would not assume your genetic or behavioural history that lead to it, even if I knew other people who had suffered and survived or died of it. I would not tell you what you must and must not do, and what it says about you as a person that you have the condition (any more than we can assume that every lung cancer victim was a smoker – a common error). Rather I would show my sympathy for your situation and try to support you, and rest on the expertise of your specialist with their recent and highly researched knowledge, to get you through. (If I did express any opinion on what they should or shouldn’t do I would be exceptionally careful to make it clear it was only my personal view and wouldn’t want to be responsible for them acting on my advice if it contradicted their assigned expert.)

And yet when we hear someone is suicidal – which is an extremely life-threatening mental condition – people are so very ready to put on their expert’s hat: “Oh you’re just attention seeking”, “oh, you’re genetically mentally ill”, “oh, you’re clearly a egomaniac”. What makes people think they are experts on this condition? Just because they’ve felt suicidal before? The reasons you were suicidal will very likely be different than this other person, plus you didn’t end up killing yourself did you so how much can you really claim to understand them? Maybe if you attempted and failed the suicide it might be a tad more believable that you truly understand. I’d also suggest that if you’re saying someone else is evil because they considered or achieved suicide, that you might be projecting yourself a bit there – maybe what you need is to think more about what you’re really admitting to.

The other thing that tends to make people think they’re such experts on suicide is that they know people who have succeeded in committing it. I know people who have died of all sorts of physical conditions, does that make me an expert in their deaths? Of course not. And the mind is an incredibly complicated thing – a bodily organ that is formed and effected as well by our daily experiences. What in god’s name would make you an expert in all suicides just because you knew one or two people who committed the act? Did you do a chemical break-down of their brains before and after the fact? Did you counsel them for years before the act was achieved – with a background of years of professional study in higher learning institutions, that qualify you to comment enmass about the cause of all suicides..? I doubt it.

The fact is the human mind is exceptionally complex in so many ways, and its chemical make-up can differ vastly from person to person. Just because you have a brain doesn’t make you an expert on the ones that kill themselves. In the same way that just because you have a body doesn’t make you an expert on the ones that die.

The extra danger of course with claiming such expertise about suicidal people is that your opinions of them can directly effect whether they follow through on the act or not, so you better be careful aye? And no it’s not so simple as saying “I told them I’d think they were selfish ass-hats if they killed themselves so now they won’t do it!” Cause guess what, if they really were selfish ass-hats that opinion of yours wouldn’t matter would it? You also can’t claim that telling them to stop using suicide to seek attention will make them stop it, cause guess what, if you’re right they still desperately want and need that attention and you choosing to ignore their cry for help will only make it worse.

I have seen suicidal people stop in their plans because someone simply hugged them. Or because someone told them they cared whether they lived or died. Or because someone gave them the right pills to fix their serotonin levels. How helpful have these other people been at stopping suicides, by putting them down both before and after the fact? You might be saying things to make yourself feel better or trying to make the people left behind feel a bit less upset, but wouldn’t it be better to have shown the understanding in the first place in the hope it could have stopped the act happening at all? Knowing you did all you could – like Prad did? Wouldn’t that make you a better person. Even if you didn’t succeed, and even though you know the failure isn’t your fault, at least you know you were there and you did what you could, when they felt that no-one else cared or could help.

It’s so easy to dismiss suicidal people cause they’re not around to defend themselves anymore are they. It’s so easy to label them to make yourself seem superior just for having not killed yourself. Next time someone asks you your opinion about why suicidal people kill themselves, just stop and admit first that it depends on the life experiences, on the brain chemistry and on so many other factors you don’t know enough about, before you label them all as stupid, evil or insane. Because frankly, labelling them that way makes you look stupid, evil, and – if you really think it will stop suicides – possibly insane too.

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AloneOne of the most intense and recurring experiences in my time in Second Life, has been talking to suicidal people. In particular, trying to talk suicidal people out of killing themselves. I have decided to write this post about suicide and Second Life, for three reasons: The first is I want the people who use Second Life to find someone to talk to about being suicidal, to know that they are not alone; many others do the same and it can be quite effective. There are dangers involved in using Second Life in this way as well and I’ll mention some of those. The second reason for this post is to let the people in Second Life who help these suicidal people, know that they are not alone either – to offer a little support to those kind souls. The third reason is to discourage the nastiness that some suicidal people come across in Second Life.

When I was at my university there was a national controversy over whether our student magazine should have run the article they did on suicide, which outlined all the ways to do it and revealed the truth behind what it would be like to attempt to and to die those ways. There was a huge debate that helped me establish my own views on the topic. One of my views that came from it is that you should talk about suicide openly in society, another is the realisation that is is rarely the professionals who have to deal with the problem at first – it’s often your average friend or family member trying to step up. This post I’m writing is with those things in mind.

So let’s start with the first reason I have for writing this post – to speak to those who use Second Life to find someone to talk to about being suicidal. The attraction in using Second Life in this way is the anonymity – “genuinely” suicidal people will often not tell those closest to them in real life that they want to kill themselves. This is in part because they don’t want to be stopped. They also don’t want people in their real lives to think they are nuts or emos, in case the need to off themselves passes. Talking to someone in Second Life is a way to reach out for help, for understanding, without confronting those extra complications. Plus, it’s free.

A major problem though with using Second Life to do this is that you don’t know some vitally important things about who you are talking to – unless perhaps when you go to the specific Second Life groups set up for suicidal people. Most suicidal people don’t seem to want to talk to these professionals, at least not at first – that seems to come after they have spoken to someone who has talked them round to acknowledging that they need that level of professional help. So the front line is your average Joe who you met and only know through Second Life. Here’s the thing – you don’t know what level of training, understanding or experience that average Joe has, you don’t even know for sure if they are adults. You also risk talking to someone who gets their jollies out of calling you an emo and telling you to just do it then. Yes, these people do exist and I will be talking about them later in this post as well.

So use Second Life for this purpose if you must – reaching out is good – but please try to do it with someone who you know well enough to not worry about them being underage (and therefore not able to nor should they be dealing with responsibility for your life), and also to know enough about them that they will not make you feel worse.

For the people who are the helpers – the listeners to these cries for help, you are not alone either. It is emotionally and mentally draining to feel that level of responsibility for someone else’s life. I know, I used to spend hours day after day helping numerous people. But I felt I had to do it and I did to the best of my abilities. Remember that it says a lot about you that these people feel they can talk to you openly about something so personal and essential. Keep in mind that there are those professional suicide help groups around – both in Second Life and real life, and that they can help you to cope with the level of care you are giving these people and they might be able to give you new strategies if you’re feeling overwhelmed and worried about your success. Don’t forget to use your own support network to keep you going.

At least three times I have had a Second Life friend tell me they already had or were right about to do something that would end their lives. The one I know who definitely tried something was talking to me on Second Life as she tried to retain consciousness. I did what you must be ready to do sometimes, even though they don’t want you to: I did everything I could to bring real life in to save her – I wanted to call her (this was pre-SL-voice) and tried to find someone who lived anywhere near her in real life. If someone is telling you they have done something already, you act like it’s real even if you have some doubt that it is. And that point very unfortunately brings me to a story about the sort of people who give suicide “a bad name”: The deliberate faker, and how you should deal with these people.

One person I dealt with openly admitted after I had “talked him out of killing himself”, that he wasn’t really suicidal, he just wanted me to talk to him. He was a stalker I had been trying to avoid. I was so mad at him for putting me through that level of worry and manipulating me like that, that that was the last time we ever spoke (well, as far as I’m aware anyway since he was a fan of alts). It is people like that who make so many people dismissive of suicidal threats and treat suicidal people like attention-seekers. So I want to – need to – talk to this point.

Take every threat of suicide as a real one. Let me explain why. Yes a lot of people use the threat of suicide to get attention, but if they need that attention – if they’re got to the point that the feel they have to lie about their intentions to kill themselves just so someone hears and cares for them – then give that to them. Answer the cry for help, don’t call them an emo and walk away. And if you’re not willing to help them then find someone who is. The other reason for this approach is because you can never be sure if they are “faking” or not, and though you would not be responsible for their deaths if they did kill themselves, you would feel like you were anyway – and no one needs that over their heads. Also remember the “half-hearted” attempts at suicide are always serious – not just because they are calling for help in a very loud voice, but also because they could go that accidental step too far and actually achieve what they were only “playing” with.

At the same time, if you are one of those people inclined to use the threat of suicide to get extra attention, stop using that method. Please. It causes extensive alarm and shifts the focus from dealing with the long-term problem to just trying to stop you doing your supposed current plan of action. Try instead to talk about your problems and issues with your friends and loved ones – you’d be surprised how much people actually do care very much whether you live or die. I care and I don’t even know you – I’m one of those crazy people who don’t believe in the death penalty even for mass murdering psychopaths, so nothing you’ve done could ever make me think you’re better off dead.

I need to end by saying I am not a trained expert. I have a lot of experience talking to suicidal people, and like most people I have had suicidal thoughts at times in my life, and it is only that level of understanding that I draw on when I try to help people. The reason people know they can talk to me, and the reason they (hopefully always) leave happier after they’ve talked to me than beforehand, is because I do genuinely care and want to understand. I am not the only one either – I’m a typical human being and there are thousands of people like me in Second Life who want you to stay alive in real life. So use Second Life for this if you feel it’s the only safe place you can do so, but do try to seek professional help too.

Thankies 🙂

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There’s nothing wrong with Second Life (they tell me), it’s just another place to play, or a place to make money, and what’s wrong about that? On the surface of it, nothing. The problem exists because people who were playing or making money in almost any other venture would far quicker realise that it was harming them (if and when it was doing so), and get out.

Second Life is not the right environment for everyone to play and work, in fact for a rather large proportion of people it seems to be a very negative place that they stay in due to what appears to be an addiction rather than because they carefully weighed the pros and cons and realised it was a good thing after all. In a recent conversation with an old Second Life friend, a couple of things occurred to me on this topic, that I feel a need to share.

The first is in regards to seeing Second Life as just another type of play. Play is important for humans, we use it to relax and unwind, we find ways to play that make us laugh and maybe challenge us, but the point of play is that it is enjoyable. If you chose to partake in a form of play which ended up with you effectively cheating on your partner, or sitting in tears every time you did it, or making you feel suicidal, then any sane person would tell you to stop the activity and find some other way to play. I have known people in Second Life who do those things and end up in those positions and even hate themselves for it, and yet they log in again and again. Just stop logging in damnit – find some way to play that doesn’t harm you – if you can’t play Second Life without ending up worse than where you started, then get another hobby. If a friend loved playing hopscotch but every time they played it they scrapped their knees and ended up screaming at their fellow players, wouldn’t you tell them to stop playing the game?

It’s a natural response to say “they should just play it differently then!”. But why, when there are thousands of different forms of play, would you persist doggedly at one that has rather consistently turned up negative results? Far healthier to find a way to play that lifts you and makes you smile, no?

The second and I think more intriguing point I want to discuss here is using Second Life as a work environment. I have met plenty of people who say Second Life is special and worthy because they make some money there, it is their work environment. What a crappy work environment! You’re working in a world where there are almost never proper contracts in place outlining your rights or obligations. There are very rarely any sort of consequences for a breach of work relationships, except maybe social sanctions that will only reach the ears of the tiny percentage of players who read blogs. What’s even worse if you don’t even know who owns what you create – is it owned by you or Linden Labs, how can you figure out what constitutes stealing it, or even the real identity of the thief?

If these were the work conditions in any other area, would you persist? If I asked you to come work for me, but I’m going to pay you in a fictional currency, with no contract signed off, without using my real name, and not making it clear whether you own what you make (or in fact if you’re constantly breaching someone else’s rights by doing what you do such as taking pictures in world is often claimed to do), would you happily accept? I hope not!

I know the likely reply would be that it’s a bit of extra money you can make from home. But you know you can make money in other ways online that aren’t so incredibly dodgy and un-protected, and don’t end up in daily drama of people defaming each other at the drop of a hat.

For some people it’s an acceptable work environment and they avoid almost daily dramas. But that is a small percentage at best. Same for the people who find it an enjoyable place to play – it suits some people but it’s a much smaller group than the large number of people who seem to find Second Life a miserable addiction and complain every week about not having the willpower to leave. I might write a post on will-power at some stage, I personally revel in my ability to walk away from and quit or take up whatever my reason dictates I should do, I get a huge and powerful rush and sense of accomplishment when I can master those things that harm me. Second Life was one of the hardest addictions for me to break, but I got there in the end. Just remember there are other ways to work and play – if it’s making you happy and wealthy then stay, if it’s causing you to cut yourself and have heart-attacks from stress, then get out and find some other way to fulfill your life.

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