League of Humanity

The Hidden Cost of Suicide Prevention

First and foremost, I need to make something absolutely 100% clear: I am **not** suicidal. This is an opinion piece based on my experiences. It is not a threat.

Second, I want to note that I don't plan on making talk about these sorts of depressing mental health topics a theme on this feed (I mean, unless people want more of this, but I seriously doubt it), so don't worry; things will be back to some more normal content soon, with luck.

I'm not sure how the suicide prevention system works in other places, as I can only speak for my experience here in Canada, but from what I hear it's pretty much the same. For those not familiar, the "suicide prevention system" essentially consists of ad campaigns (and plenty of other methods of getting the word out) telling you to call a suicide hotline if you or someone you know is considering suicide.

Encouraging people who are considering suicide to call a hotline is a good idea. This is not really a controversial opinion. Where I take issue with the suicide prevention is recommending that you call a hotline if it's not you, but rather, "someone you know". At a glance this sounds like a good idea; who wouldn't want to get help for their friend? In the real world, though, this has a lot of unforeseen consequences, that make it generally extremely harmful to the people it's supposed to help.

Since most people don't seem to be aware of what actually happens after they call the hotline, let's clear that up. After you hang up, police are sent to your friend's house. Not specially trained psychologist police or anything, just regular cops (I don't know whether they're required to have some sort of legal certification in mental health, but my experience is that they behave exactly how you would expect the average cop to behave). If you didn't tell your friend what you did, they will be alarmed to find cops banging on their door at whatever hour it is that you called. Yes, even midnight. Your friend will then have about five minutes to convince the police that they're not in immediate danger, while being berated, guilted, and even threatened. If they successfully convince the police that they're not at risk of suicide, the police will leave, and they'll be left completely alone in their house at probably one of the lowest points in their life. If the police aren't convinced, your friend will be arrested and detained in a hospital indefinitely.

If your friend was indeed about to commit suicide, then yes, you maybe just saved their life. I don't believe forcibly preventing suicide is really ethical in the first place, but that's a completely different discussion. The problem is that if your friend *wasn't* literally about to die, you've caused pretty significant harm to their life. They're left either locked up in a hospital, or at home on their own feeling like they've been betrayed by their friends.

Without doubt the worst aspect of this though is how it makes people think. Knowing that their friends may sic the police on them, people suffering from depression are likely to choose not to share their feelings with anyone at all for fear of being "saved" by suicide prevention. Needless to say, setting up a system wherein depressed people are forced to keep their feelings secret for fear of their freedom is an extremely bad idea.

Two years ago, I was chatting with some friends on a Discord server. I was having a pretty rare conversation about my feelings, and how things had been rough for me lately. At no point did I threaten suicide or make any implication that I was considering it, but the conversation did make it pretty clear that I was depressed. The conversation tapered off and I played some video games. An hour passed, maybe two. During this time I did not receive any messages from my friends.

At about midnight, the police knocked on my door. The following minutes were without doubt some of the most stressful in my life. I was torn between convincing the cops that I was not in imminent danger, and explaining to my parents why there were police officers in our kitchen at midnight. The police told me that I was ungrateful and selfish, that I hurt my family and friends. After several minutes, they were satisfied that I wasn't in danger, likely only due to the fact that my parents were there, and so I was not arrested.

In the following months I was more alone than I ever had been. All trust in my friends, who had called the police without telling me and given my real name and address to a stranger on the internet in order to "help" me, was shattered. I was left utterly terrified of talking to others about my feelings for fear of that incident happening again, and it took months before I was really comfortable talking to other people again about anything less mild than the weather. It still affects me today.

In no way was this helpful. In no way was this kind. Obviously, this is not entirely the fault of the system; my friends behaved very insensitively, and I can only hope that not all police officers who respond to suicide threats take the same approach as this individual did. Even in the best of circumstances though, I fail to see how this would do anything but cause harm.

I cannot pretend to know what the best way to deal with depression is. It's something I still struggle with. I can say without doubt though that siccing the police on victims of depression is not the way. Creating a culture where depressed people have to keep their feelings bottled up for fear of their safety is not the way. By all means, every effort should be made to make sure that people are aware of and have easy access to any and all means of getting help, but expecting people to make that decision on behalf of their friends will most often cause nothing but harm.

I know this is a rather upsetting conclusion to a rather upsetting post, but I felt the need to say something. Hopefully this will help someone out there.