Long story short, I was in a queue for food in the cafeteria at work, with a postgrad behind me. She was loudly wittering on the phone to someone, complaining about everything. I wrote her off as just a little bit self centered and left it at that.
Right up until she said her train was late, "because some woman was walking on the tracks" shortly followed by "If they want to kill themselves, we should just let them!"
At that point, I started to get angry. However, i did not say anything. I bit my tongue.
For reference, this blog post is not directed at those with mental health issues, per-se. It is more directed at those who judge them.
Just Let Them
This is the feeling that a lot of the general populace have about people with mental health issues. It is, at it's core, an argument based on a fundamental mis-conception about mental health issues and the people who suffer with them. Not only is the argument flawed, it also precludes the option for treatment in so many cases.
As a quick disclaimer, I am not a mental health care professional, and I do not suffer with any mental health issues to the best of my knowledge. I therefore fill the middle ground; the lay folk, the ones farthest from the problems in most cases. Despite this, I've had a lot of exposure to mental health issues. From close friends and lovers suffering with bipolar disorder, PTSD, anxiety, depression, self-harm paranoia and suicidal tendencies to actively working on a helpline during my undergraduate days.
The Faulty Premise
There is one core, faulty premise at the heart of the "just let them" argument. That premise is that people with mental health issues somehow chose their suffering. That is to say, they're either responsible for starting the illness, responsible for not fixing it, or somehow deserve it because of how the illness makes them behave.
These people are usually suffering because of a genetic pre-disposition; which they didn't choose; environmental conditions during their childhood; which they didn't choose; or a traumatic experience during their lifetime; often which they did not choose.
Notice how not one of those criteria is something that was chosen by the sufferer.
What this means is that the sufferers are not choosing to end their lives. They are choosing to end their suffering. Suicide is their last way out that they can see. If everyday you were in agony, and your doctors had told you that they'll see what they can do, but it might never work, wouldn't you look for other options?
I'm choosing to ignore the "what about the sufferer's family and friends?" retort here, as it devalues those who have no family or friends. Think of an old person who has outlived their friends and family, or many children who are in care. Those are some of the most vulnerable in our society, and to devalue them in such a way is to put them at further risk.
Since the "just let them" argument simply shifts the blame to the sufferer, it's not difficult to make they leap to "they did it to themselves, they can fix it themselves".
If I became injured, the NHS would treat me to the best of their abilities. Even if it was in a car accident that was my fault, the NHS would patch me up. I'm not precluded from treatment because of how I became injured. I would even get on-going physiotherapy if I needed it. Why is this ethos not extended to those with mental health issues?
I'd like to state that I am not against euthanasia. If this seems like a contradiction, I'll explain it. I believe that every person has the right to decide their own fate. However, I feel that the best way to deal with mental health issues is preventative. Ensure that the person has the best treatment available to them to improve their quality of life.
Just because a person's quality of life has fallen, doesn't mean that it has to remain low -- there may be an option to improve their quality of life. However, if it is not an option, or it is not working, then the person should be able to decide their own fate, safely, quickly, as painlessly as possible.