First off I need to issue some assurances:
If you've ever talked to me about this I guarantee this post won't contain any private information. Our conversations on this and any other sensitive topics will be kept in confidence. This is also not about me, particularly. I'm fine. If you need to talk to someone and I'm the only person you can think of, that's alright.
I'm probably going to make a messs of this. It isn't something that can be written about easily. It's distressing and there are no neat solutions. Still, I felt I needed to write this post. If nothing else, some people may know their situation is not unique. Perhaps it will make people think about the issue, and talk about it more openly. Maybe it will wake people up. Maybe it will do nothing of the sort. I just do what I can.
Thinking back, it is amazing how many people have told me they were seriously considering suicide. In some instances, they had thought out a method; sometimes even a time and a date. One can argue the reason they talked to me was because they didn't really want to do it and they wanted to be argued out of it. I wouldn't count on that. Many people just want to say good-bye, and maybe make arrangements. Just because someone is telling you they want to end their life, don't take it for granted that it means they are not serious. The stakes are ridiculusly high: absolute, in fact.
I'm not sure if hanging out on IRC exposes me to an unrepresentative demographic. It's true people on IRC tend to be younger, maler, and more introverted than the average. A lot of people who find social life difficult to navigate take refuge online, and I can't blame them. One could say I do the same myself. Still, I can count about 15 people who have contacted me about this issue, and there are probably more if I make an effort of memory. In most cases, I was the only person they felt they could talk to. Not all of them are IRC users, though a good number are. Considering I don't have that many friends and acquaintances, this is an alarmingly high number.
I don't want to give hints to anyone, so I shouldn't even comment on broad demographics. All I will say is that the people who have contacted me on this are incredibly diverse in all possible senses. Diverse here isn't a euphemism for anything. Whatever factor you think of, I've probably had people talk to me about it all across.
I'm not sure why people choose me for this. I have no qualifications to discuss these matters. I am, in fact, arguably peculiarly unqualified for it, considering that my empathy is not very strong. That doesn't mean that I won't try: if you come to me with a problem I will try to help. I'm just not very good at understanding how people work, though, so how much good I can do is open to question.
My position on this issue is controversial itself. I firmly believe people have the right, in their full faculties, to decide on whether they want to live or die. However, I just as firmly believe it cannot be a frivolous decision taken in the heat of the moment, possibly under the influence of drugs or in an unfit mental state. I usually tell people that they should wait and think it over. There's always time to cross the last bridge. I'm not sure if this is a very good way of going about it, but so far very few of the people who contacted me ended up making this choice. At the same time, it makes one feel responsible for something that is very much outside one's control. I wish I could fix people's problems when they come to me in that state, but what can I do? Most often there is absolutely nothing tangible I can do for them other than listen to them, and maybe convince them to think things over and give time a chance. This, too, shall pass, goes the ancient phrase; and yet, sometimes, it doesn't.
My intent with this post isn't to talk about me, though. I'm not complaining, or trying to show how kind I am--far from it. I'm trying to point out something is going seriously fucking wrong with the world when so many people want to die. Very, very wrong.
I don't know if my experience is typical. Maybe more people end up confiding on me than on others. Maybe fewer. Maybe it's just a random coincidence that I end up hearing so many of these stories. I would say, though, that even if I'm somewhat atypical, it shows a lot of people are, to say the least, profoundly unhappy. In many (not all) cases, these people have no-one else to tell but an almost complete stranger, a stream of text on a screen somewhere across thousands of kilometers of copper and fibre. Maybe some people have no other close friends whom to talk to, but if so, it doesn't speak well of our society that we live such isolated lives. If people actually have a support network, then it's even worse. They're at very serious risk and the people who love them, know them, and can actually help them best don't know about it.
A lot of this is probably related to the stigma of mental illness and the act of suicide itself. It is probably very difficult to talk it over in person. The net gives us some impression of safety, however inaccurate. I'd dare say this situation is compounding the problem, however. When people can't even admit they're in trouble, in deeply, seriously, potentially terminal trouble, society is failing. Our way of dealing with these matters is categorically inadequate.
I don't know how to fix any of this. I'm no-one special and have no particular knowledge in the area. All I can say is I wish my friends would stop hurting, and that I didn't have to worry about losing them to despair.