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Last-modified: 23.4.00

ASH FAQ part 3/4: Are you for real?

This article is part 3 of the alt.suicide.holiday FAQ, co-authored by mori qendi, Ramble and EverDawn. Other parts can be found at .

Not all ashers are suicidal or depressed [1]. However, many of the posts on ash express suicidal viewpoints. Some people don't believe such expressions are for real. They may question the honesty of an individual poster who is considering suicide, or even doubt that any asher is truly suicidal.

There are many problems with arguments which claim that "ashers are not really suicidal." Often such claims make sweeping assumptions about the situation and reasoning of ashers.

Some claims assume that ashers post about suicide only because of some ulterior motive and are therefore not truly suicidal. However, suicidal expressions may have several motivations; just pointing to a different motivation (which may or may not be true) does not mean that one is not honestly suicidal.

Most other claims are the result of a basic misunderstanding of the issues related to suicide, and of what ash is about. For an introduction to ash please refer to the ASH FAQ part 1: Introduction [1].

The rest of this article expands on common judgments, statements, and opinions which doubt the sincerity and motives of ashers.

1) You don't really want to die, you just talk about suicide because it is cool

Some people think we talk about suicide in ash because we consider it "cool" or shocking. In fact, ashers try to take a realistic approach to suicide. We wish that society would accept this approach and not be shocked when suicide occurs or is even merely discussed.

To shock people, one would have to talk about something that is not acceptable to those people. In ash though, suicide is accepted, so talking about it does not shock anybody. By reading some posts, it will also become clear that the people in ash don't think suicide is cool. Suicide is merely part of life, one possible decision to make.

2) You don't really want to die, you just want attention.

Any form of communication is a call for attention. Every time you talk or write to somebody about any topic, you are requesting the attention of the recipient. This is also true for posts to ash.

However, this particular statement generally refers to wanting another form of attention. In this context, "getting attention" means either an indirect request for psychiatric help or an effort to get others to be more attentive and caring. The hope in this scenario would be that the shock of such an extreme action as suicide would cause everyone to reevaluate their relationship with one who attempted (or even mentioned) committing suicide.

On ash, discussion about suicide is to the point--we are not alarmed by suicidal ideation. If somebody wants startled responses, there are many forums which could provide it (any of the support newsgroups for example). ash is the last place to get this sort of attention.

3) People who failed in their suicide attempt are just looking for attention.

Some ashers have had failed attempts in the past. Perhaps some failed attempts are attention ploys, but it would be a mistake to generalize this, especially to ashers. Failed attempts happen frequently, even if the person was serious in his/her intentions. Suicide is often not easy to carry out (see item (6) below).

Trying to commit suicide is often accompanied by high emotional stress which in turn may cause confusion about one's intention to commit suicide or about the application of the chosen method. Some people may want to exit, yet at the same time have hopes for rescue and a better life. Other people fail attempts due to apathy--at the time of the attempt they do not care whether they live or die. Such half-hearted attempts are likely to fail. For people whose attempt has failed for these reasons, the motivation for suicide may persist, and thus they might commit suicide in the future.

Note that even if drawing attention is one motive for displaying suicidal gestures, this does not exclude the possibility that these people are also truly suicidal and may eventually kill themselves.

Most people who accuse us of wanting to get attention seem to focus on some sort of supportive attention that would be the result of the attempt. But in many cases, the attention one gets after a failed attempt is far from supportive. People stay away or treat you differently after an attempt. Chances are you will be closely watched by all sorts of people, maybe even be "persuaded" to get involved with mental health care. The problem with asking for attention by way of a suicidal gesture is that you can never be sure what kind of attention you will get.

Mental health practitioners consider suicide attempts to be one of the best indications of a risk for suicide. About 30 to 40 percent of suicides have made a previous attempt. Furthermore, the probability of completed suicide is 100 times greater than average in the first year after an attempt. [2]

Just because someone fails in an effort to kill themselves doesn't mean they weren't sincere about it and clear in their intent.

4) You don't really want to die, otherwise you would have done so by now.

Obviously, some people really want to die since people do manage to commit suicide. This includes people who used to post to ash. [3] There is a stigma that people who commit suicide do it irrationally, spontaneously or without much thought. The conclusion would be that if people have suicidal thoughts then they would commit suicide within a short period of time.

In fact, many people give much thought to whether they should commit suicide as in the case of Dan Reinfurt [4]. This is only logical since the decision is perhaps the most difficult one ever has to make. However, there are additional factors which prolong this decision making process.

In any important life decision it is possible to consult books, people or experts to help one decide. Ironically, for the most difficult decision--to be or not to be--no assistance is possible.

Many complicating factors require significant time to think through in order to decide whether or not to commit suicide. But even if one has decided to exit, there is also a matter of choosing, planning, and carrying out a suicide method. Suicide is not easy (see below) and many people require much deliberation before deciding how to go about it.

Finally, there are people who are suicidal, yet still choose not to commit suicide, at least for the time being. Some are not able to eliminate their suicidal tendencies even though they have tried to do so. Others may feel that being suicidal is part of their true identity. In either case, they choose to accept that they are suicidal rather than fight it. They have the desire to die, yet they decide to live.

Suicidal ashers are in various stages of deliberation. By open discussion, ash encourages people to evaluate their situation carefully and rationally. Some are trying to make decisions about their lives, others just like to talk with like-minded people. This is what fuels the paradox of a crowded pro-choice-suicide group, and what keeps ashers around for many years.

5) You don't really want to die, you just want to have a better life.

Some ashers believe that if they had a better life, they would not want to die. Others believe that they would want to die no matter what changed in their life. A better life is simply not attainable for some people. If one's body, family, spirit, emotions, or mind have been irreparably damaged, there may be no way to attain a better life in the ways that truly matter. Some have tried for a better life for so long that they no longer believe it is possible. They desire only death.

It is possible to want a better life and at the same time crave death. If you are hungry, you may want a sandwich and at the same time crave a pizza. Either would take away the discomfort of hunger. Either death or a better life would take away the life of misery many ashers experience. Regardless of their motivation, ashers have chosen to accept suicide as their most likely way to deal with their present situation.

6) It is easy to commit suicide.

This claim is commonly used to support the argument above (i.e., if you wanted to die you would have done so by now).

On the surface, the availability of methods, such as jumping from a high place, supports the claim that suicide is easy. However, availability is not the only obstacle. Three stages are necessary to commit suicide. All of them introduce problems.

  1. Getting the physical means of suicide: Many of the more reliable methods are difficult to obtain. For example, suitable drugs/poison in lethal quantities are only easily accessible by doctors, pharmacists, or chemists. Guns are readily available only in some areas.
  2. Using the physical means appropriately: To apply a method quickly, painlessly, and with high probability to succeed, it is vital to know how to apply it correctly . Although a small number of authoritative books on methods are available, the information they contain is not completely reliable since no real tests can be performed for confirmation. For example, the toxicity of various substances is measured by administering them to laboratory animals, whose reactions may differ from those of humans. For most other methods there are no empirical data to confirm successful method usage. Although there is a lot of information on the net, it is of low credibility; at best it relies on the books already mentioned above.
  3. Getting over the psychological barrier: Suicide is against our instincts. We are programmed to fear death, to survive. Overcoming this fear is not easy. It can be terribly hard to take the last step. To jump. To pull the trigger.

There are methods in which some of these stages are easy, but usually the other stages will be very difficult. For example, methods which are physically easy to execute usually require much more determination in order to carry them out (taking a bunch of pills is a lot easier than jumping from a high building), and thus the psychological barrier is more difficult to overcome.

Indeed, of the three stages the psychological barrier is the most significant. Many factors contributing to the psychological barrier are the consequence of problems with using the physical means appropriately (the second stage). The following are just some of these factors:

  • Lack of assistance: There are many risks one has to face when committing suicide. In practically any risky task one would have some kind of assistance from a professional (e.g., a doctor or instructor), who would not only ensure that your physical gear is in order, but would help you carry out the task step by step and provide encouragement and support. Can you imagine going to a psychologist and asking for help to get over the fear of committing suicide? No assistance is possible when committing suicide, and that makes the task much harder.
  • Agonizing death: The risk of having a slow and agonizing death is what many people fear most, since it is likely that the person committing the act would not be able to alleviate his/her own pains. Add to this the fact that suicide is usually done in solitude (so there are no other people who can help) and you can imagine how one would continue to helplessly suffer until death.
  • Survival: There are no 100% guaranteed methods. A failed attempt may occur due to poor execution of the chosen method, or even due to being "saved" by a friend. If the attempt caused injury, one might not be physically capable of carrying out another attempt, and thus would be forced to live in a situation much worse than before, truly deprived of any escape. This can be compounded by having to face family and friends, who might treat you differently (or even cut their connections with you). To top it off one might be forced to undergo psychiatric treatment. In light of the physical and emotional pain which might be caused, the risk of survival could be paralyzing.

There are other factors which contribute to the psychological barrier:

  • Lack of role models: A role model is someone who does things you admire, who you look up to, or who you want to be like. There are very few role models for suicide. Just the fact that you see other people do it makes it a lot easier to do it yourself. Having a role model has a significant impact on the ability to commit suicide. There is evidence that suicide reports in media cause an increase in suicide using the same method.[5] In an effort to prevent suicides by diminishing the effect of possible role models, Centers for Disease Control in the USA have developed guidelines for mass-media coverage and for counseling of close friends of those who have attempted or committed suicide.[6] The concern of mental health practitioners of what they refer to as "imitation" or "contagion" indicates that the lack of role models makes suicide more difficult to carry out.
  • Norms of society: Yet another factor is connected to societal norms. It is much more difficult to do something that society disagrees with. This is probably when courage is really tested to the limit. All our lives we are taught to conform. Some people might find it difficult to "rebel" in any manner, however irrational their submission to society might be.
  • Indecision: Obviously, before one takes steps to exit, they must make a decision that they indeed want to commit suicide. Some factors, which are similar to those contributing to the psychological barrier, also affect this decision process. Even after a decision to exit has been made, the lack of assistance in making the decision, lack of role models, and the norms of society would raise doubts in any rational human being. It requires great determination to follow such a decision given its overwhelming significance on one hand, and the limiting constraints under which it was made on the other.

These factors explain some of the difficulties facing one who wants to commit suicide, however, their effect varies for different people. It may be difficult for some and not for others.


The common claim that ashers "do not really want to die" usually implies that ashers are hypocrites and probably not suicidal at all. However, in light of the issues addressed in this FAQ, it is not at all clear what the phrase "really suicidal" actually means.

For example, in the context of the claim "You don't really want to die, otherwise you would have done so by now," the expression "you don't really want to die" only means that up until now you did not want to die enough to actually do it.

All other claims presented here do not make any substantiated argument that indicates that ashers are not suicidal. "You are not really suicidal", is just a meaningless slogan intended to delegitimize our right to contemplate or even just talk about suicide.


[1] ASH FAQ part 1 : Introduction intro.html

[2] Suicide (Part II), The Harvard Mental Health Letter, Vol. 13, No. 6, December 1996

[3] a.s.h web expressions index page accessible from the ash archive

[4] Article from the Boston Globe, Wednesday, August 20, 1997 Michael Hill. The article describes the suicide of Dan Reinfurt, 45, a high school football coach from Watervliet, New York, who was suffering from depression for 20 years. He tried counseling, group therapy, medication, self-help tapes, but nothing helped. Quotes of his sisters: "Nobody could have tried harder than he did, and it didn't work" "So you can never, ever be mad at him for what he did. You think: 'Oh my God, how did you go on as long as you did?' "

[5] "Advances in Youth Suicide Research Update", David Shaffer, In the Lifesavers newsletter, Fall 1993, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. http://www.afsp.org/research/articles/shaff2.html

[6] "Suicide Contagion", Madelyn S. Gould , In the Lifesavers newsletter, Spring 1992, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. http://www.afsp.org/research/articles/gould.html

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