The Wrong Stuff

A New Scientiest piece on a recent theory of suicide (my emphasis):
In essence, [psychologist Thomas] Joiner proposed that people who kill themselves must meet two sets of conditions on top of feeling depressed and hopeless. First, they must have a serious desire to die. This usually comes about when people feel they are an intolerable burden on others, while also feeling isolated from people who might provide a sense of belonging.

Second, and most important, people who succeed in killing themselves must be capable of doing the deed. This may sound obvious, but until Joiner pointed it out, no one had tried to figure out why some people are able to go through with it when most are not. No matter how seriously you want to die, Joiner says, it is not an easy thing to do. The self-preservation instinct is too strong.

There are two ways people who want to die develop the ability to override the self-preservation instinct, Joiner argues. One is by working up to it. In many cases a first suicide attempt is tentative, with shallow cuts or a mild overdose. It is only after multiple attempts that the actions are fatal.

The other is to become accustomed to painful or scary experiences. Soldiers and police who have been shot at or seen their colleagues injured or killed are known to become inured to the idea of their own death. Both groups also have a higher-than-normal suicide rate. Similarly, doctors and surgeons who witness pain, injury and death are more likely to be able to contemplate it for themselves - the suicide rate for doctors is significantly higher than for the general population. Joiner describes this as a "steeliness" in the face of things that would intimidate most people.
If correct, this supports my view on the conclusions we can and can't draw about the utility of life from the fact that most people don't kill themselves. Clever me, eh?

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