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Suicide is painless

By Laurie Taylor

Depressed man

They were dead against suicide at my Catholic school.

When the news filtered though that a sad fourth-year boy had put his head in the oven and only been saved from an early death by the unexpected arrival at the back door of the coalman, we were all given a special extended period of Religious Instruction.

Suicide, Brother Francis explained, was not only a mortal sin which automatically condemned its perpetrator to an eternity in hell, but it was also one of the very worst mortal sins because it was a direct challenge to God.


After all, if as the catechism had it, God gave us life so that we could love Him and serve Him in this world and be happy ever afterwards with Him in the next, then by killing ourselves we were pre-empting his role. We were depriving him of the opportunity to decide when and how we should die. We were setting ourselves up as God. What could possibly be more heinous?

My adolescent histrionics did at least make me aware of the degree of unhappiness, the depths of depression, which were necessary to prompt someone to make a real suicide attempt
Laurie Taylor

I found it difficult to apply these theological abstractions to the case of poor Kettleby who had, it seemed, decided to shuffle off his mortal coil because his clumsy advances had been rejected by a fifth form girl from the neighbouring Seafield Convent.

My attitude to suicide in those years was also greatly influenced by my own crudely fabricated attempts to end it all. These attempts - there were three in all - were invariably prompted by my father's inability to understand that my occasional domestic acts of deviance - coming home smelling of drink, stealing money from mum's purse, pushing my sister Madeleine down the stairs - were entirely prompted by the sense that no one properly understood me.

But although I felt this lack of parental sympathy very strongly it was not quite enough to lead me to real self-harm. All I wanted to do was persuade my parents that their behaviour was driving me to an early grave.

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Laurie Taylor
Laurie Taylor is the presenter of Thinking Allowed on BBC Radio 4 at 1600 on Wednesdays
or 0030 on Mondays

To effect this end, I would storm off after an argument, shout back down the stairs that I was going to kill myself, and then lock myself in my back bedroom.

The next step was to open wide the bottom sash window which overlooked the back of the house and then creep downstairs, through the hallway, into the kitchen, and out into the yard. All I then needed to do was jump in the air, scream loudly, and drop down to the ground. When my mother came rushing out she'd see me lying there, spot the open window, and immediately realise how her insensitivity had nearly caused my early death.

Dramatic growth

Although my first attempt did prompt some concern, my subsequent death jumps were treated with an inappropriate casualness, "Don't just lie there Laurence, you'll catch your death of cold".

But my adolescent histrionics did at least make me aware of the degree of unhappiness, the depths of depression, which were necessary to prompt someone to make a real suicide attempt. I was also a little more capable of imagining the extraordinary distress that a real suicide in a family would arouse among close relatives and friends.

Nowadays, as a sociologist I'm more intrigued by the causes of the 6,000 suicides a year which occur in the UK, by wanting to know why Scotland has much higher rates than England and Wales, and by the shift from gassing to hanging as the most favoured way to kill oneself.

Most of all I'm intrigued by all the past evidence showing a dramatic growth in suicide rates during times of economic recession. Are we now about to experience a similar explosion?

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