September 10 is Worldwide Suicide Prevention Day. Good. But, I fear not very effective.
The well meaning people behind WSPD have missed-or were afraid of the controversy that would be caused by tackling—the proverbial elephant in the living room. You see, many high profile voices now urge that suicide not only be permitted, but facilitated. Thus, Worldwide Suicide Prevention Day should have an asterisk after the title:
Worldwide Suicide Prevention Day*
*Prevention, that is, unless:
you have been diagnosed with a terminal illness;
you have become seriously disabled;
you are elderly and “tired of life:”
you are a baby born with disabilities and live in the Netherlands or Belgium (where doctors will commit your suicide for you);
you are a spouse who doesn’t want to live without your dying husband or wife, and you go to Switzerland for some suicide tourism.
In other words, I don’t see how suicide prevention can be effective when there is so much outright suicide promotion going on. But the International Association for Suicide Prevention is silent about the threat posed to the cause of suicide reduction by assisted suicide and “rational suicide” advocacy. Not. A. Peep.
And let me also express my frustration with an aspect of this campaign that we now see ubiquitously in “cause” advocacy. We have become a world in which meaningless symbols often matter more than effective action. Not only does Worldwide Suicide Prevention Day not tackle the problem of suicide promotion in society—it suggests we engage in gesture advocacy to show how much we care. From the Suicide Prevention Day website:
Some people have contacted us saying that they would like to meaningfully participate in World Suicide Prevention Day but cannot attend events or activities. This year we are starting a new activity which anyone can do in support of: World Suicide Prevention Day, suicide prevention and awareness, survivors of suicide and for the memory of loved lost ones. It is called “Light a Candle on World Suicide Prevention Day at 8 PM.” If you like this activity and know of family members, friends and associates who would be interested in participating, would you kindly share with them this WSPD activity? We are hoping this activity will bring light into the world and increase awareness of the good work so many people do in preventing suicide.
And then, let’s pin colored ribbons to our lapels.
Don’t get me wrong. I am obviously for suicide prevention and the WSPD can’t hurt. But avoiding crucial issues and engaging in, “It makes me feel good” symbolism, just doesn’t cut it.