No one really knows how to talk about suicide, or even whether talking about it is generally a good idea. It is statistically proven that publicising death by suicide increases the overall rate of such deaths in a community. This explains why journalists are urged by the Samaritans, among others working in this field, to be very careful in the use of language.
Under reporting guidelines, phrases such as “unsuccessful/failed suicide” should be avoided, for example, and graphic detail should be omitted. All of which makes Clancy Martin’s excruciatingly honest treatment of the subject difficult to read.
That’s not necessarily a criticism. All works of philosophy are meant to require some intellectual exercise, and the author of How Not to Kill Yourself, a Canadian jewellery retailer turned academic, name-drops obscure existentialists with aplomb. But the real strain on the reader comes from trying to extract practical wisdom on the subject while processing Martin’s vivid accounts of acting on suicidal ideation.
Stay away from alcohol or other drugs, go outside for a walk, and get talking to someone else – in real life
There is no doubting his good intentions, and his writing style is disarmingly breezy, but is such an unfiltered approach entirely advisable? The author doesn’t dodge the question, ultimately making the case that, to reach people in the same vortex of despair that he is familiar with, there can be no “bullshitting”. From his own perspective, “secrecy definitely exacerbates my [negative] thoughts”.
Martin’s deft analysis of philosophical thinking on the subject from Ancient Greece to the present day highlights how suicide is, in every sense of the word, a bad idea. He has excellent advice on how to avoid triggering a downward spiral: Stay away from alcohol or other drugs, go outside for a walk, and get talking to someone else – in real life. Social media is best avoided if it causes any anxiety. Because self-loathing was a “strong catalyst” for his prior acts of self-harm, Martin says, “for me, staying away from social media is a matter of survival”.
Compassionate throughout, How Not to Kill Yourself will be a source of support and consolation for many, but it should be opened with caution and read with care, as the author himself implicitly acknowledges.
The Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116123 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org