To the person who asked the question. I apologise for the length of this comment, but felt it too important not to assist where I could.
I do not know your frame of mind that has you asking such a question, but as a 60-year-old man (2016) I wish to explain something that you need to know about emotional and physical pain that are the usual reasons for considering taking one’s own life.
Emotional pain and depression can be caused by many things but in general can be the result of either a life trauma difficult to forget, personal regret over something we ourselves did for which our conscience cannot be appeased, discontentment, inherited mental illness, or due to side effects of some medication (as in my case a few years back). What is common about all these sources of emotional pain is that it is possible to engage reason, or at some point be helped to engage reason, allowing moments to think things through.
Extreme Physical Pain
Extreme physical pain is very different. Imagine we are seriously worried about something, or madly in love for the very first time, or having a major migraine headache, perhaps having just broken our hand and thus in agony, or depressed through being told our mother just passed away. This might seem counter intuitive, but regardless the emotional state we might be in, or ordinary everyday physical pain we might be experiencing, the moment we have to endure the most extreme types of excruciating physical pain like that when a tumour is spreading through the abdomen or some other sensitive part of the body, all these other pains completely disappear, and I mean they are completely subdued or switched off.
My experience in hospital dealing with a terminal illness at the time (though now in recession) has proved that to be the case with extreme anxieties about leaving my wife behind if I was to die, totally disappearing from my memory during the time the extreme physical pain was felt. The emotional anxieties only returned when the physical pain was brought under control.
Upon experiencing this I spoke to the other patients in hospital a few days later who also had terminal illnesses, and spoke to the nurses, and they all corroborated that such physical pain robs a person of emotional cognisance.
What does this mean then? It means the ‘us’ inside our head, the ‘self’, whoever we want to call the person controlling our physical vehicle called the body, it has absolutely no mental executive control against extreme physical pain. The self is at its mercy until it subsides, unable to think to even reason at a rudimentary level.
It also tells us something else. It indicates that whatever part of the brain is responsible for emotional pain it can be switched off while we are still conscious (which is what extreme physical pain is doing). This means it might be controllable voluntarily to some degree, and it is. The reverse though is not true, to remove extreme physical pain deep within the body the only recourse science has found is to be sedated which tends to either dull the ‘self’ or causes us to fall into complete unconsciousness, the absence of self, till we wake again where upon the pain returns.
Therefore, for this reason and having seen grown men cry with excruciating unrelenting pain, I do believe that if the cause of the pain medically cannot be cured and it causes the person to scream in agony, then compassion dictates for me that society should allow that person to be humanely put to sleep if that is their wish. So, what is called Assisted Suicide (AS) or Assisted Voluntary Death (AVD) depending on who you speak to, should be permitted, and is now I’m glad to say legal in a growing number of Western countries and states of the US.
With the only reason for suicide in my out of the way and thus directly answering your question, I wish to deal now in the remaining part of my comment with emotional pain.
While the self can do nothing about physical pain, we do have a measure of ability to reason throughout emotional pain. Hence the person suffering the emotional problem must grab hold of the life-line of reason at every opportunity and must communicate such thoughts to friends and loved ones so that they too can help hold our reason together during the dark hours.
Now it could be that life has not given us the breaks we would have liked and that has caused us to feel useless perhaps. This can be due to the following mindset which I will illustrate with an image:
What does this man see in the mirror? Himself you might conclude. But what he sees is not himself but what he has slowly come to identify with all his life growing up, an image in the mirror. Even the real face is not who the person really is, because the real person resides inside his brain, that’s where the personality lives not on his face.
The same with the body, if he were to take a long in the mirror. What he sees in that case is not himself either, only the physical vehicle that he has grown to embody and also identify with. The illusion, and delusion, is that some of us never stop to appreciate that life fools us into thinking that what we see is what is real. We have no ability to see the real self that hides within the neurons of the 2lbs of grey matter making up the brain. All we can do is watch the actions and behaviour of that physical vehicle, for through those actions we get a glimpse of the make-up of the man inside.
I believe one important aspect to reduce emotional pain is to stop identifying with that image we see and start gaining a third-person perspective. If we can train ourselves to do that, see ourselves as if from an observer’s vantage point, we can start to reason better and disown the pain that is felt from a first-person life perspective, a life where we take everything personally that comes through our ears and our eyes.
The next step is to appreciate that the self, the real person inside is not always responsible for our own actions. Much of the time when young and a teenager, and sometimes even when older, we can be like a ball in a pinball machine being pushed from pillar to post by circumstances not of our choosing. This because we are part of a society of people who are all affected by what others do and say in fairly predictable ways.
We have to realise that sometimes some of us need the rough and tumble of life in order to learn how to take control of it.
So, when life is tough that is just the time when we need to hang on because through it we will learn something valuable about ourselves. Therefore, at the end of the answer you will get a pdf to further information showing why we should not always take responsibility for our early errors, and suggests a book of a man that had to be on Death Row in America before he realised he hadn’t over the years taken control of himself, his own vehicle. It is a most inspirational book.
In the link above is a video by Psychologist Paul Gilbert on the subject of Mindfulness which I suggest you investigate thoroughly and other sources. If you want to improve your happiness and well-being Gilbert is one of many secular experts who show how our thinking processes can hijack our minds creating destructive thought patterns. Mindfulness encompasses secular techniques to control the ravages of a troubled mind and I can vouch for its success, as well as the British government who arranged to have Mindfulness taught on the National Health Service, which they wouldn’t do if they hadn’t empirical support for its efficacy.
I finish with Hellen Keller another wonderful example of someone who fought against the odds and could have felt her life was not worth living. At the age of 19 months upon contracting meningitis she totally lost both her sight and hearing. Though Deaf and blind, life obstacles seemingly insurmountable for most of us, she somehow through sheer grit and determination educated herself and became an author. Her quote below teaches me something about life that I use even today as an object lesson when things get tough, knowing her own struggles were far greater than mine.
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
Success can be just learning something new about yourself in order to navigate life better, something that cannot be done if we give-up just when another of life’s lessons was about to unfold.
My science background and experience of life tends to make me life’s journey as if it is a deliberate test to uncover our character and teach us to learn to control who we are. So, keep looking at yourself as if from the position of an observer, commend the person looking in the mirror for having got this far when you could have so easily given up. Then, give yourself some needed encouragement to keep going, remembering Hellen Keller’s words, because trials are designed to shape your character.
Edit: I have kept the link in the text to the document below in case the link should fail. The video is still on my server but if that should fail for any reason leave a comment and I will re-establish it.