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Last-modified: 12.2.01

ASH (ALT.SUICIDE.HOLIDAY) FAQ part 1/4: Introduction

The ASH FAQ has 4 parts:

  1. Introduction - the bare essentials
  2. Subculture - how ashers behave, think and talk
  3. Are you for real? - FAQs about ashers
  4. The debate - FAQs about suicide as a legitimate option

The latest versions of these can always be found at

This is part 1, written by Ramble, Hermotimus and EverDawn. If you have any comments send them to ash_intro <AT> bigfoot.com (replace the <AT> with @).

For more information on ash please refer to the official ash archive site at http://ash.spaink.net or to


1) What is a.s.h about?
1.1) What is a.s.h?
1.2) What is the a.s.h subculture?
1.3) Who is an asher?
1.4) Does ash encourage suicide?
1.5) Is ash pro-suicide or pro-choice?
1.6) Is ash a support group?
1.7) What is ash good for?
2) Posting guidelines.
2.1) Anti-choice posts.
2.2) Anti-suicide posts.
2.3) Pro-suicide posts.
2.4) Is it OK to try to help ashers in a conventional sense?
2.5) Is it OK to talk about happy events in one's life?
3) Reading/posting to ash.
3.1) Are there other ways to read/post to a.s.h?
3.2) The dangers of posting to ash.
3.3) Protecting yourself.
4) Other resources
4.1) Related newsgroups.
4.2) Mailing lists.
4.3) Are there any other ash faqs?

1) What is a.s.h about?

1.1) What is a.s.h?

a.s.h (or ash) is the common abbreviation for the usenet newsgroup alt.suicide.holiday. A.s.h is an unmoderated newsgroup which was set up in late 1989 to discuss why suicides increase during the holiday seasons; this topic however, quickly ran thin. Currently, common topics on ash include poetry, philosophy, psychology, relationships, depression, and of course... suicide.

Because of the wide range of topics, we define ash as follows:

The ash newsgroup is the "home" of the ash subculture. Any topic can be discussed as long as it is in the spirit of the ash subculture.

1.2) What is the a.s.h subculture?

A culture is a set of values, norms, ideas and patterns of behavior which are shared by all members of a society. A subculture is the culture of a group which is part of the surrounding society.

Sociologists distinguish between two kinds of subcultures according to the way in which they differ from the surrounding culture[1]. A norm oriented subculture accepts most values of society, but in some areas has different norms, i.e. different ways of acting and behaving. A value oriented subculture does not accept some of the basic values of society. To be more precise it does not accept the order of precedence that society has set for certain values.

The ash subculture has different values than the rest of society. Society attributes the highest value to human life. In contrast, we think that the value of individual freedom is superior to the value of life, when it does not physically interfere with another's freedom. This includes the individual freedom to take one's own life if desired. Note that we value life as well, we only disagree with society on the "order" of importance of these values.

In short, we believe that, in general, people have a right to commit suicide.

Most newsgroups are home to norm oriented subcultures which are more easily defined by topic - the norm is to talk much more about that specific topic. Value oriented subcultures are more difficult to define by topic because people with different values have a different view of life. Discussion on the group can be almost about anything, but "through" this view, through this different way of looking at the world.

Note: although the ash subculture started out in the ash newsgroup, they are separate entities. For example, the ash subculture can continue its existence without the ash newsgroup, by migrating to other online forums.

1.3) Who is an asher?

Usually, the term "asher" is used in conversation to describe a reader of ash who is suicidal or at least depressed, i.e., the stereotypical asher.

However, for the purpose of defining who is and who is not an asher, we provide a more "formal" definition.

Formally, an asher is somebody who is aware of the existence of the ash subculture and shares its values.

One doesn't have to be suicidal or even depressed in order to be an asher. Also, an asher doesn't have to read or post to ash. Similarly, posting to ash doesn't automatically make one an asher.

In short, an asher is a member of the ash subculture.

1.4) Does ash encourage suicide?

The ash subculture does not encourage suicide, i.e, we do not persuade people to commit suicide.

However, we believe that people have a right to commit suicide and thus, in general, do not try to dissuade people from doing so.

This attitude combined with other content which appears on the group may cause some to believe that we are promoting suicide, but what we are promoting is merely the right to choose to commit suicide.

This is analogous to abortion rights activists, who are not seen as "encouraging abortions" but as enabling women to choose abortion.

1.5) Is ash pro-suicide or pro-choice?

As mentioned before, we believe people have a right to choose to commit suicide. Some ashers will call this position "pro-suicide". What they mean is that ash is pro legitimizing suicide, or pro legalizing suicide. However, "pro-suicide" can easily be misunderstood as promoting or encouraging suicide.

We recommend to state our position as "pro-choice".

Although it could be mixed up with pro-choice for abortion rights, the meaning is usually clear from the context. If you fear you could be misunderstood you can use "pro-choice-suicide" or "pro-choice-abortion" to clear things up.

1.6) Is ash a support group?

Ash is not a conventional support group for suicidal people, where the focus is mainly on prevention. If you are seeking for a forum aimed at supporting people not to commit suicide, or a forum with the purpose of eliminating suicidal feelings then ash is the wrong place for you. If you are searching for such an online forum, see Section 4.1, on related newsgroups.

This does not mean that ash is not a support group in general, but to determine whether ash is or is not one we have to define what a support group is. We use the following definition:

A support group is a group which consists mostly or exclusively of peers facing the same problem or situation. A support group may help by providing advice, but more importantly, it gives participants a sense of comfort, understanding, and relief which comes from talking to people in a similar situation.

The purpose of a support group is not necessarily to cure or change the situation: in some cases it is not even possible (e.g. chronic disease) and in others undesirable (e.g. support group for single mothers).

An example for a support group with some similarity to ash is soc.support.fat-acceptance, in which pushing people toward the conventional accepted goal for fat people, namely weight loss, is specifically inappropriate.

So ash could be viewed as a worldwide support platform where people can rant, receive advice or simply talk, with little fear of attack for feeling suicidal.

Ash allows many of us to acknowledge our feelings and deal with them better than conventional approaches which we have found to be useless, self-delusional and even harmful. The conventional approach to suicidal tendencies focuses on eliminating them rather than dealing with them, but this is not always possible.

1.7) What is ash good for?

Albert Camus wrote that, "Suicide is prepared within the silence of the heart, as is a great work of art". Psychologists, and common sense, agree that talking freely about feelings of suicide, bringing suicidal thoughts out of the "silence of the heart", is a good thing, and can ease the sense of alienation [13][15][16] that often contributes to suicidal thoughts. [2]

There is no evidence that open discussion of suicide increases the risk of suicide.[3]

But it is often difficult to talk openly about suicide in a culture that regards suicide as a taboo. Traditional support newsgroups reinforce that taboo by relentlessly insisting that suicide is wrong. Messages that attempt to delegitimize suicide by describing the act as sinful, shameful, or selfish can have the effect of making the person who feels suicidal feel abused and humiliated. Not only does this, in many instances, fail to counter suicidal thoughts, but such feelings of humiliation are recognized as being a very common triggering factor in suicides and suicide attempts.[4]

Traditional support newsgroups often attempt to delegitimize suicide by offering a "positive" view of life, "like a lighted window in a winter storm," as one author put it.[5] But to the person viewing that life from outside, it only acts to emphasize the distinction between the warm ideal of life and the person's own cold despair.

The effect, then, of the approach of delegitimizing suicide is to further alienate the suicidal and discourage them from participating in traditional support newsgroups, to force the suicidal feelings back into "the silence of the heart" [8][9]. So, while the kind of talk taking place in a.s.h. probably isn't what most psychotherapists have in mind as "support therapy", the basic a.s.h. premise of accepting suicide as a valid option encourages people to talk freely about suicide [11][12][16]. These people might otherwise feel they had no place to express those thoughts. In fact, many ashers report that participating in a.s.h. makes them feel better [10][11], and eases their urges to act on their suicidal thoughts [14][15]. And that may in fact cause a reduction in the number of suicides - even though that is not the object of the newsgroup.

2) Posting guidelines.

Please behave respectfully and civilized during your presence on ash. Just because we disagree does not mean we have to call each other names.

Anything that is regarded as bad netiquette, such as spamming, commercial advertising and excessive crossposting is not welcome. Read any introductory document about Usenet/Internet for info on this sort of posts, for example, http://www.ibiblio.org/usenet-i/usenet-help.html or http://rfc.sunsite.dk/rfc/rfc1855.html .

Also, please read the points mentioned below very carefully. If you are uncertain as to whether or not your post is appropriate, then keep in mind that the best judge for this is ash itself. But this involves risking getting flamed by the entire population for not adhering to the ash guidelines ...

2.1) Anti-choice posts

The regular posters on ash see suicide as a valid option. They are not interested in reading anti-suicide or pro-suicide messages, both of which are seen as denying the right to choose.

Anti-choice postings are not proper netiquette, since they are off-topic for ash. It is not proper netiquette to invade a group with postings that oppose the nature of the group. (Like it is not welcome to go to a 'real-life' alcohol-dependency support group and shout 'you should all just grow up').

2.2) Anti-suicide posts

Anti-suicide posts are usually counterproductive. Some of the readers are having a hard enough time in life without being confronted with stuff they do not want to hear. They have little energy to deal with this, as they need all their energy to go on living.

We feel alienated from society because of the views it tries to impose on us. Ash is the only place where we feel safe, and can discuss issues freely. Anti-suicide posts reinforce our alienation from society, as such posts forcefully intrude into our only sanctuary. Instead of allowing us to get the kind of support and understanding some of us need in order to survive another day, anti-suicide posts corner us into defending our views.

Being told over and over again that they are wrong to decide in favor of suicide might be so hurtful to suicidal people that it pushes them over the edge, causing them to commit suicide sooner. To those people, you would be the catalyst in the process that you want to stop.

In general, discussing why you think suicide is not an option for yourself is acceptable, but you should not tell others not to do so, or make broad denials of the validity of suicide as an option for others. You are welcome to join our discussions, as long as you respect the basic premise of ash, that suicide is a legitimate choice. Also note the following guidelines:

  1. Don't post arguments that have been dealt with countless times already by the newsgroup. The people on ash have witnessed many posts by people who insist suicide is a bad idea. Many of the most-frequently recited arguments have been collected and answered in the Debate faq, which necomers should read at: std.html . Repeating trite assertions that have been argued and answered already will only serve to annoy the readers of ash and reinforce the idea that the anti-suicide poster is fundamentally disrespectful of the readers and the group's nature.
  2. Do not make unsubstantiated or unsubstantiatable claims. Probably the most common, and most insulting, unsupportable assertion is a general prediction about how suicidal people the poster has never even met will feel at some vague time in the future. Illogical arguments, and those that don't go beyond saying that the poster's emotional position is "right" and different feelings are "wrong" just make for pointless discussions. For information on logical argumantation, check out http://www.infidels.org/news/atheism/logic.html .
  3. Don't preach. A preacher is someone who, during relentless attempts to persuade others, ignores, unjustly dismisses, or uses fallacious reasoning to counter the arguments of others. Preachers seem to be standing on a podium, unwilling to engage in any dialog.
  4. Avoid religious argumentation, for example, that people who commit suicide go to hell, or that suicide is wrong simply because it says so in the Bible (or any other scripture). Many ashers consider themselves atheists, so your posts will offend rather than convince. Offended people will rarely be willing to seriously listen to anything you might have to say. Those who are offended usually start posting anti-religious posts, which in turn could weaken the belief of those ashers that are religious. That very belief may be the only thing that stops them from committing suicide. Furthermore, those ashers that are of the same religion as you already know what your religion thinks of suicide. They have either accepted that view (and are still suicidal) or have come to the conclusion that the religion is wrong. Should you disagree on this, it will be a religious disagreement, which should be taken to the appropriate newsgroup.

2.3) Pro-suicide posts

Pro-suicide posts, urging people to commit suicide, are also inappropriate. Apart from being stupid and distasteful they also cause people to feel unsafe to post.

It is not clear why such posts appear sometimes on ash and what kind of people post them. But we guess they are of one of the following groups:

  1. People who are using reverse psychology. These people actually don't want us to commit suicide. However, they don't believe we are serious. Instead they think we are just seeking for attention, so their reaction is something like "go kill yourself already" to make a point that our attempts of getting attention are not working. The problem with these people is that they don't understand that we are not looking for attention (also see [6]).
  2. People encouraging suicide for an external cause such as religion, politics, the environment (CoE), etc. Usually, these people are not ashers; ashers tend to emphasize the individual, his importance, desires and authority. Holding other entities, such as god, country, or earth as more important than the individual implies that we should follow an external, imposed agenda - denying the individual the right to choose.
  3. Mean perverted trolls whose goal is to make trouble.

Anyway, people who post pro-suicide posts are not ashers in the sense defined above.

2.4) Is it OK to try to help ashers in a conventional sense?

In general, unless they specifically request for it, ashers are not seeking for conventional life-affirming advice on ash. There are many other forums for that. Most ashers are familiar with such advice since they have heard it numerous times. Repeating such advice not only annoys ashers, but also insults their intelligence.

Still, in some cases such help is welcome: if there is reason to believe that the person has not thought things through (for example, a recent breakup with girlfriend), or if there is reason to believe that the person is misinformed (for example, if there is a new treatment for their otherwise terminal disease).

However, a lot also depends on who is dispensing such advice. Advice from an asher would carry much weight in the eyes of the group and the person to which the advice is given.

There are several reasons for this. First, ashers understand each-other's feelings better, because they have frequently "been there" themselves. In addition, the ongoing interaction in the community forms bonds and relationships: people get to know one another, and appreciate each other's opinion. The value of advice from any particular individual is weighed over time: good advice posted means that future advice will be treated as more trustworthy. One cannot jump out of nowhere, dispensing advice, and expect to be given the same trust as a long standing member of the community.

However, the factor which most distinguishes between the advice of ashers and non-ashers is that ashers are able to take the specific circumstances of an individual into account and assess whether conventional advice has any merit or novelty. Non-ashers are not capable of this. Regardless to the situation they always dispense pro-life advice, since their motivation is to keep people alive. Therefore, it is difficult to depend on their advice.

Of course, sometimes even non-ashers give good advice. This may even be identical to some advice given by an asher. However, even a broken clock is correct twice a day, yet it is not something you would rely upon or keep hanging on the wall. Most of the time, a broken clock is just a source of confusion as it does not reflect the reality of passing time. Non-ashers, similar to a broken clock, always provide the same biased advice, refusing to consider the reality of the specific situation at hand, and this is why their advice is not welcome.

2.5) Is it OK to talk about happy events in one's life?

This depends on whether you are an asher or not. If out the blue, a newcomer posts about how wonderful life is, this will not be well received. It is not obvious how it relates to ash and is of little interest to ashers. Some ashers might view this as a covert, pro-life attempt to "cheer people up".

However, if happy events occur to somebody who is known as an asher, then such posts are most welcome. Ashers are interested to know what happens to people they care about, and they are glad when good things happen to other ashers.

3) Reading/posting to ash.

3.1) Are there other ways to read/post to a.s.h?

The particular news server you are using may have a poor newsfeed. Some news servers lose messages or expire them too quickly for you to read. Others take a lot of time to receive posts from other sites. Furthermore, some news servers don't even carry ash. For these reasons you may want to read ash using other means.

Uzi Paz's document on Usenet access is an excellent resource on doing just that. It also covers numerous other aspects of Usenet. It can be found at:


3.2) The dangers of posting to ash.

There are two main sources of danger from posting to ash.

In the short term somebody may act upon something you posted. Anybody can be lurking out there. On top of this, if you are posting from work or university the system administrator might be reading your posts. Many people are against suicide and will try to intervene.

The risk is increased if your posts indicate you are actually going to commit suicide in the near future. For example, if you post a suicide note or announce a date or place where you will commit suicide.

Your university, internet service provider or local police department may be contacted; the outcome may vary from embarrassment to hospitalization [7]. For example, college friends of one poster found out about her posts. The college got involved in what developed into quite an embarrassing situation...

Even if you are not posting under your real identity chances are that you can be tracked down since most service providers will reveal your identity if they are informed you are about to commit suicide.

As for long term dangers, some machines, like Google Groups ( http://groups.google.com/ ), archive usenet posts. They archive all posts (except ones which contain an explicit request not to be archived).

Anyone can then search Google Groups for all the articles you posted in the past. This could be an employer trying to check you out before hiring you. Friends or family.

3.3) Protecting yourself.

Unless you are absolutely sure that it is impossible to track you down, it is important not to give any indication about plans to commit suicide. Do not post suicide notes. Do not post the time or place in which you intend to commit suicide. Do not carry a "countdown" of the time left till you die. Such posts are an invitation to intervene.

3.3.1) How do I post anonymously?

With e-mail, unless you are a hacker, your name and site are sent along with your mail. However, some sites allow you to 'remove' your identity from the mail. You send your mail, with instructions on where it is to be sent to a 'remailer' which then strips your name off the mail, and sends it to its destination with a new 'anonymous' identity.

For more information, try the Open Directory Project entry on anonymous remailers, at http://dmoz.org/Computers/Internet/E-mail/Anonymous_Mailers/

Setting up for usage of an anonymous remailer is a hassle, but that is the only negative aspect. Nobody will mind you using an anonymous name on ash.

Not everybody on ash really has a reason to go anonymous, but you should try to query Google Groups for all the articles you have posted. It might give you quite a scare.

3.3.2) How do I prevent my message from being archived?

If you do not want news archivers like Google Groups to archive your message (i.e. if you do not want your message in their database), please add the header

x-no-archive: yes

to the headers of your post. This will also be recognized if this string occurs alone as the first line in the body of your message (use this method if you do not know how to add headers to your post.)

This will not prevent your messages from being archived if they are copied or referenced in a reply to your message. Furthermore, not all news archivers have to respect this header.

Also see http://groups.google.com/googlegroups/help.html .

3.3.3) How do I delete an already archived post of mine?

To remove your post from Google Groups goto http://groups.google.com/googlegroups/help.html#9

4) Other resources

4.1) Related newsgroups.

There are several newsgroups which are related to suicide: alt.suicide, alt.suicide.methods, alt.suicide.finals, and alc.suicide. Of these, alt.suicide.methods is the most relevant to a.s.h., as it discusses suicide methods. However, these newsgroups are carried by fewer news servers and have relatively little traffic.

There are also numerous traditional support groups for people dealing with suicidal feelings, including: alt.support.grief, alt.support.grief.suicide, and soc.support.depression.crisis.

The alt.support.depression (a.s.d) newsgroup is a traditional support newsgroup with a great deal of traffic. As suicide is often associated to depression, many people read both a.s.h and a.s.d .

However, a.s.d. has a very conventional response to suicide, strongly opposing suicide as a valid option and urging intervention to prevent suicides, according to the a.s.d faq: http://www.faqs.org/faqs/alt-support-depression/faq/part1/

Because of the very different premises of a.s.d. and a.s.h. regarding the legitimacy of suicide, it is strongly urged that people not crosspost messages between the two newsgroups. Such crossposts often generate long flamewars and seldom provide any useful posts.

There are also numerous support newsgroups and online resources dedicated to specific circumstances that may be involved in suicidal feelings, such as depression, loneliness, grief, particular disorders, etc.. Comprehensive listings of these newsgroups can be found at http://psychcentral.com/resources/ .

4.2) Mailing lists.

There are two mailing lists related to ash. These have a much better signal-to-noise ratio than ash.

For more details, the ash mailing lists web page is at http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/ash-l/

4.3) Are there any other ash faqs?

Besides this 4 part FAQ, there are other FAQs and documents available at http://ash.spaink.net/nazguides.html and

The "information FAQ for Newcomers" is posted weekly by the a.s.h Webmaster.

Note that anybody can put the word FAQ in the subject line. FAQs which have not been mentioned here may have their origins outside the ash subculture.

Other faqs are in the making. If you are interested in helping contact the maintainers of this faq.


[1] "Starting Sociology", J. Levin and J.L. Spates, New York, Harper and Row, 1976, pp. 76-77

[2] Frequently Asked Questions About Suicide, version 1.24, Graham Stoney, http://www.rochford.org/suicide/inform/faq/

[3] "Death Wishes? The Understanding and Management of Deliberate Self-Harm," H.G. Morgan, 1979, p.58

[4] "Suicide And The Meaning of Life," Margarethe Andics, 1947

[5] "The Savage God: A Study of Suicide," A. Alvarez, 1972

[6] "Are You For Real?" (to be published).

[7] "Caught in the net", Neely Kim, Rolling Stone, Dec 1, 1994. This is a case of a university student who was committed to a mental hospital after posting a suicide note on the net.

The following are excerpts from actual posts which appeared on alt.suicide.holiday. All excerpts are quoted with permission by original author:

[8] steward : "Some people have created a part-time, artificial, electronic environment known as alt.suicide.holiday where they can withdraw from an environment they see as poisonous to themselves, on a temporary basis. This may, in fact, remove the need of some people to remove themselves "permanently" for a short-term or even a long-term basis. Indeed, numerous people who no longer post here have left this newsgroup counting on it as a refuge should it be necessary again."

[9] LBN : "that's the beauty of a.s.h. it's the one place where we can discuss this with people who share similar thoughts and views. one of the great wonders of the internet - it allows all kinds of misfits to find each other.... my point is that the discussions that take place on a.s.h would at least get one labeled "unstable" in real life if not hospitalized. very few people in real life are as understanding and supportive of catching the bus as you'll find here...."

[10] stephie: "If it weren't for the posts here, and A.S.H. itself, I'm sure I'd be screaming like a lunatic, awaiting the men in white coats to sedate me into oblivion...

Posting here the first time was terrifying, but I don't regret a thing."

[11] syxx : "I have only been posting here for about a week, but I have been more open with my thoughts here than I ever have been with a person irl. And that is because here I know you guys all understand. We are here because of our common dilemma, this is the only place we can share our thoughts and experiences.... I like to think that this NG can bring us a little peace when we confront the reality of dying alone and afraid."

[12] call_me_dan: "It is not, in truth, the fact that I may freely speak of my desire to die that I have grown to love a.s.h, but rather the fact that all of my losses, and more importantly my predisposition to and tendency toward complete and utter failure - which prior to now has been my personal demon - are now able to be vented and cast forth in an open and public manner. I have seen many, many replies to (my first a.s.h.)post, to the effect of "I wish you good luck, feel free to return should things not go your way..." and this is the very heart and soul of this group. Our failures are not cause for derision and expulsion, but rather deserving and receiving of empathy and comfort."

[13] katrin: "For me it feels that ash has become my family where it is allowed to talk about suicide without to justify oneself.

And in the same time there are people who give you the feeling of being with you. So i have the feeling of however i will decide i won`t be left alone. I am glad to find the way to ash."

[14] jenwolf: "this group has saved my life. i don't care how much that makes everyone puke, but i like this place, depressing as it is at times..."

[15] pacifier: "... What I also want is to share my feelings with others. This is IMHO one of the worst things for depressed people: that there is nobody who under- stand them. Here in a.s.h. we share these feelings. I think the knowledge that there ARE people who are also depressed is giving some kind of good feeling to some ashers so they won't commit suicide..."

[16] laterain: "I hate not being able to talk to anybody in my life about what it feels like to be up at 4a.m. thinking about whether I can do it or not. If I were to broach the subject with friends, they would see it as a ploy for attention. they don't understand that what I really want is a chance to really DISCUSS this as a viable option. that's why I am so grateful for you all. I'm so glad that there is SOMEPLACE on this (cyber?)earth that I can go to be with like-minded people."

Thanks for taking the time to read this!

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