What are your thoughts on suicide and its implications?

A student wrote to me, asking:

What are your thoughts on suicide and its implications?

This question reminds me of a student who passed away in recent memory. It totally devastated me…

Days before her passing, I reached out to her as the trajectory of her social media posts suggested that suicide was imminent. I messaged her to check on how she was doing, and we conversed over the next couple of days. One day, she asked to see me as she wanted to hear advice from an older adult. She didn’t say what the matter was. We fixed an appointment, and I came to my office that fateful day waiting to meet her.

Half an hour passed, but she didn’t show up. I messaged and asked her if she was coming. She said that she wasn’t feeling too well. So she cancelled our meeting, and asked that we reschedule to another day. I didn’t think too much about this, so I agreed to a rescheduling.

Two days later, I learnt from some of her friends that she had passed away a few hours after she cancelled our meeting.

I was devastated, and even now, I am still haunted by this lingering thought in my mind: What did she want to talk to me about? What advice was she looking for? Would she still be alive today had I been insistent on meeting her? Given how it happened soon after we were scheduled to meet, I felt really awful. Couldn’t I have done something? Anything? Would it have been better if I wrote my messages some other way? What could I have done?

I beat myself up for days over this incident.

I eventually met up with some of her friends to find out what had happened. I learnt that even though this student felt so unloved, she meant so much to so many people. And so many of her friends were heartbroken by her passing.

The point in sharing this story with you is to let you be aware that no matter what you feel, or how you feel, you will always matter to a lot of people, even the seemingly unimportant or insignificant people in your life. At the very least, I want you to know that as my student, you will always matter to me.

Our minds can play tricks on us, make us feel unloved and unlovable, or make us feel that we have reached the point of no return. But how we feel is often an inaccurate reflection of what’s going on in our lives and to the people around us. Yes, the feelings are real because you feel them; the thoughts are real because they go through your mind. But we can always be mistaken.

Suicide basically leaves a trail of brokenness. Brokenness begets more brokenness. Pain begets more pain. What seems to be a solution for one’s self turns out to affect so many people. Suicide may feel like the answer to your problems. You cease to exist, but the people who love you will have to carry the burden of continuing their existence without you. And it is a sorrowful burden to shoulder for the rest of our lives. Some are haunted regularly by the lack of closure from your sudden departure. Some are haunted by the void that fills your absence for the rest of their lives. And many will have to live with the guilt that they could have done something, anything, to prevent it from happening because they are your friends/family. And not all are emotionally strong to get back up on their feet after your passing.

So, don’t forget the people around you. They do care for you even if you don’t feel that they do.

I just want you to know that no problem is ever too big. You will always have your friends and family, and you have me too. Come talk to me if you like. Don’t be afraid. :)

And if you want a trained professional to assist you in your time of need, please call the Samaritans of Singapore at 1800 221 4444 (24 hours).

Author: Jonathan Y. H. Sim

Jonathan Sim is an Instructor with the Department of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore. He is passionate about teaching and he continues to research fun and innovative ways of engaging students to learn effectively. He has been teaching general education modules to a diverse range of undergraduate students and adult learners at the University.

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