The week of February 21, 2016

Why one redditor wants an open discussion about suicide

By Rick Paulas

Editor’s note: For more information about suicide prevention or to speak with someone confidentially, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (U.S.) or Samaritans (U.K.).

The strong social stigma around suicide means that it’s rare to find thoughtful, open discussion around the choice to take one’s own life. The subreddit SanctionedSuicide is one of few such places; since March 2013, it’s provided a balance to other, more prevention-focused forums, serving as a “pro-choice” arena for talking about suicide without demonizing it. 

There are around 50 active users, with hundreds more lurking. Posts range from conversations about changing right-to-die laws around the world to informal polls about which song you’d want to kill yourself to, and also include “countdowns” from posters who are x amount of time from committing suicide; these posts are met with responses like “good luck, but I’m gonna miss you.” The only real rules: No posting of personal information, depictions of graphic acts, or descriptions/requests for the best ways to kill yourself.

Davin Gideon is one of the subreddit’s moderators; he spends roughly 15 minutes a day making sure the rules are being followed. Usually, though, they are: He estimates that he has to remove a post every two to three days. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about the unique forum.

“Our uniting cause is that it’s entirely up to the individual whether or not their life is worth living.”

Why have you taken on the role of moderating SanctionedSuicide?

I noticed that there were a lot of people who were very frustrated about being silenced by the public at large for trying to discuss suicide, so I figured it made sense to create a community dedicated to talking about it neutrally. I try to keep a hands-off policy because the subreddit is founded on the idea that society’s distastes shouldn’t censor discussion of anything; it wouldn’t make much sense for me to apply my own subjective desires to it. I continue to do it because it’s still a pretty unique location on the Internet. From what other posters have mentioned, there’s not really anywhere else nearly as active as SanctionedSuicide for a pro-choice forum to talk about suicide.

Have there been any posters you know that went through with suicide?

None I know of for a fact. There have been a lot of posters who suddenly disappear, many of whom leave suicide notes, so I’m [working] on the assumption that they found peace one way or another, be it through exiting this existence or finding a new lease on life. I’m wary of “malicious users” who would try and inflict pain on vulnerable people, so there’s no personal information allowed whatsoever on the subreddit. That makes it more or less impossible to confirm that someone’s passed on.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about this forum?

I’d say the biggest misconception is that we’re basically killing people by pushing them to suicide. The subreddit is considered a pro-choice rather than pro-suicide forum, which means that our uniting cause is that it’s entirely up to the individual whether or not their life is worth living. People who pressure others into suicide are viewed as murderers by most of the community, and any users asking for motivation to kill themselves are pretty much always told to relax and make sure it’s what they actually want before attempting anything drastic. After all, it’s the most important and possibly last decision you’ll make of your life, so you should make sure you’re in a calm and rational state when choosing.

You only have to take a cursory glance over the posts on the subreddit to see that SanctionedSuicide is actually an incredibly supportive place that gives a lot of comfort to people that they wouldn’t find elsewhere. All humans have an innate desire to just be heard/listened to, and outside of this forum, suicidal people are invariably told that they are broken/mentally unstable so nothing they say holds any merit. I imagine you could push Bob Ross to suicide if you replied to everything he said by ignoring it and saying he was mentally unstable, so imagine what that does to people who are already on the brink.

“To me, the argument that life is so inherently valuable that an undesirable life is better than nonexistence is incomprehensibly absurd.”

How did you become interested in the topic?

At a relatively early age I came to the conclusion that there was only so much this life could offer me, and I probably wouldn’t be able to handle existence beyond the age of 30, much less 40. In my mind, it was and is a rational conclusion and I didn’t/don’t really feel any despair about it, but the vast majority of the people I talked to were horrified by my desire to die by my own hand, and kept trying to convince me that it was a bad thing and that I should be avoiding death at all costs, even if it meant mental/physical pain. To me, the argument that life is so inherently valuable that an undesirable life is better than nonexistence is incomprehensibly absurd, so I’ve always been very interested in trying to rid people of their illogical fear of death. That led to a lot of research on death/suicide/right-to-die, and eventually to this subreddit.

How did you “come to your conclusion” about ending your life early?

I suffered from a very deep depression early on in life, and a lot of people told me to “focus on what makes me happy.” I sat down for a while and realized that while I may experience a very temporary type of “joy” from certain things, I usually got bored of those after a relatively short time, and I could never in my life recall waking up and feeling fulfilled or being truly “happy” with my life. Naturally I thought about what would make me happy, and I couldn’t think of a single thing that would give me lasting comfort in this life; even with millions of dollars, boredom would inevitably overcome me with any type of “stable” lifestyle. As well, I viewed the universe in a nihilistic sense, so there was nothing I could imagine that would give me a lasting purpose or reason to stay alive. Being in my early teens though, my scope [was] pretty limited, so I figured that I could stay around until 30 years old at least to see if life had anything to offer me that might change my mind. As of yet, it hasn’t.

Do you have contingencies in place for moderation of the forum if you end your life?

At the moment, I plan on being around long after Reddit is gone—assuming that the lifespan of past online forums is a good indicator of how long Reddit will last—but if I do get pushed over the edge or die in some other manner, I have a few different friends who know my passwords and said they would be willing to do what they can in my stead until a proper replacement is found.

“A lot of people are still struggling just to survive, and then a lot of other people can survive without any problem, but don’t find any enjoyment with ‘just living.’”

What’s been the biggest thing you’ve learned since you’ve started moderating the forum?

Probably how strongly the world censors discussion of suicide. I always knew that people didn’t like talking about it and would immediately panic if you said you didn’t like life that much, but I didn’t realize just how difficult the governments of the world have made it to die peacefully, or even argue that people have the right to decide what to do with their own life. There’s been a lot of good information posted on SanctionedSuicide about right-to-die movements, and it’s kind of depressing to see how far we’ve got to go before adults are given actual bodily autonomy. It’s a struggle in most of the world to die if you’re in excruciating physical pain, so there’s really no hope of worldwide legalized euthanasia anytime in the near future.

Do you think forums such as these are bringing the conversation more out in the open?

Honestly, no. Forums such as this are much more cathartic than anything. Any suicide forum is unarguably a counterculture forum of sorts, so their value lies in allowing the user a location to vent to like-minded individuals without having the masses spout the same hollow responses of support at them. The problem is that such locations are designed to be a relatively closed community that tries to hide from the masses, where bringing the conversation into the open requires the opposite: an unabashed activism of sorts.

Do you think suicide will ever be discussed completely openly?

Absolutely, but I’m pretty confident that it will always be the absolute last social issue that a society deals with. We’re at an awkward position in society—or at least the U.S.A.—in that a lot of people are still struggling just to survive, and then a lot of other people can survive without any problem, but don’t find any enjoyment with “just living.” Generally they won’t find any purpose without a religion of some sort, so they’ll turn to suicide (which is why you’ll usually find suicide rates are surprisingly high for countries with a high standard of quality of life). So long as people are still fighting for the ability to live in relative comfort, those who don’t want to live any more will probably be ignored.

Illustration by J. Longo