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Relationship Themes in Suicide Notes

Years ago I worked in a psychiatric emergency room in a large metropolitan hospital. My job consisted of evaluating a steady stream of patients to determine whether they should be hospitalized or sent elsewhere.

I saw people in the throes of mania, psychosis and suicidal depression. I still remember the man who asked if I was a witch who would place a spell on him. And the woman who came barreling at me down the hallway, warning, “You best get out of my way, or I’m going to go Ninja Turtle on your ass!” I remember the man who swallowed six bedsprings in a suicide attempt. And countless others with bandaged wrists, bruised necks, and broken souls. I learned a lot about the breadth and depth of human suffering.

One day I was waxing philosophical about suicide with one of the charge nurses who had worked there for more than 20 years. She shared that she had a collection of 350-odd suicide notes that had been collected by a medical examiner over the course of his career. The notes had been collecting dust in her attic for the past 10 years.

She asked if I wanted them.

19 Comments to
Relationship Themes in Suicide Notes

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  1. i attempted suicide at the age of twelve, and genuinely believed i was going to die (unlike later attempts, which were far more ambivalent). i wrote a suicide note at that point, and i wish i had it now, just to see what was going through my head at that difficult time at that ridiculously young age. i bet it was heartbreaking to read all those notes. i’m glad you were able to do it and share some of what you learned with others. thanks.

  2. Did the family of the deceased give permission for the suicide notes to be passed all over the place? Seems like a huge invasion of their privacy to me, and if it were my family member who was deceased I would be pissed to find out this was going on.

    • Did you miss the part that said these notes were from the 50’s to 60’s….before patient privacy acts were even thought about. Not to mention she did not identify any patient.

      • No, MP I didn’t miss that part. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was. These are personal letters and they do not belong to the medical examiner, some nurse or a social worker to keep in their private collection. The letters do not belong to them. Period.

        It is a violation of the family’s privacy and if I were the family member of the deceased and I found out my loved one’s suicide note was being handed around to different people who did not get permission from the family to have it, then I would have something to say about it. It’s not right.

      • M, the people that wrote those suicide notes are dead. If the family of the deceased cared so much why were those letters smoldering in a forgotten box? It would be tragic not to glean something from their last living communication. I would argue it is our duty to preserve forgotten notes like these. At any rate, it would be impossible to track down their families. Imagine how little history books might contain if we weren’t constantly invading the privacy of deceased letter writers.

      • Sam, if you can’t understand how grossly inappropriate and unprofessional it is for a medical examiner to have saved suicide notes for his own personal interests, then passed it over to a nurse who passes it on to someone else, then I don’t know what to tell you. It does not matter if they are dead. The medical examiner had no right to do that, and neither do any of the others who have taken them. I don’t need HIPAA to know that when a person dies, I don’t save their personal information in a shoe box in my attic without obtaining permission.

        This is precisely why we have laws like HIPAA. Because, there are those who would say, oh well, they’re dead so what’s the big deal.

  3. Perhaps not completely related to this post, but, reading this below story at a local site today, I would draw the parallel to someone I once was close to who committed suicide after unfortunate financial situations lead to various family and friends losing money per financial planning advice gone bad without nefarious intent. The link is this:,0,1084298.story

    What bothers me about relating failed mortgages to alleged increasing depression is just this: until proven otherwise, getting “depressed” because of socioeconomic stressor is just not appropriate to label a mood disorder as “depression”. Yes, I am seeing more people in my travels weekly because of the multiple stressors hitting a lot of us as citizens.

    But, I am not seeing an increase in Major Depression, but an increase in adjustment disorder, and what scares the crap out of me is how many of these people who have seen a nonpsychiatrist prior come in on meds, and a sizeable portion being relatively high dosages.

    What is next should Obama’s current campaign strategy of trying to save overextended mortgagers does not pay off financially, what, he will order the nation be put on antidepressants?! That may sound ludicrous at moment one, but, it won’t take an executive order to see this happen, just word of mouth from a desparate and narrow focused public.

    You cannot medicate Axis 4 psychosocial stressors. I found this article today to be a bit of an early warning obituary, for mental health. Just my opinion, but one of professional training and experience.

    • My reply:
      Thank you for your insightful comments as well as the link to the article in the Baltimore Sun. That Judge is a rare enlightened individual. I hope that more programs like this grow and similar ones for those of us, who suffered financial crisis years ago, went through compound additional life crisis and developed depression. As a result I have been on a long path of misdiagnosis and ensuing guinea pig drug treatments (and the debilitating side-effects) that left me barely able to function, labeled with a stigma and limited my ability to earn my way out of this hole. It has been such a long fight that I have lost my youth. Aging puts a severe limit on your sparse energy resources. Compound this with relationships to family and spouse who may or not support you and it is no wonder suicide happens–how much can a human take when you live the life of Sisyphus?

  4. Funny thing about people that sometimes seems hard to grasp when it comes to suicide. Humans will always choose the option they perceive as the most pleasurable. Sometimes (often driven by guilt, fear, self loathing, lack of self worth… ect.) the most pleasurable option seems to end it. Often that person feels they are bringing harm of despair to the ones they love. Since the concept of “love, in its purest terms, means “putting the wants and the needs of the other person in front of your own”, if a persons very existence is perceived to oppose that sentiment, suicide is considered. Thus you have letters as described in this post. In computer tech speak, when logic and function of a computer “reasons” into a dysfunctional loop, we call it “getting wrapped around the axle.” I guess in humans, its called despair.

    In the preindustrial age, children were raised as assets and they gained a natural self worth by being part of the workings of the family on the farm. They had to do stuff around the farm useful to the family. Now children are raised only judging their self worth based upon what others think of them. This increases the chances that one day a person who lets his family and friends down, will decide to end it.

  5. You know, In an indirect but overt and perverse way, we celebrate people who kill themselves for their loved ones. Think about it. Many of us are taught that Jesus had the ability to call the angels down to free him, but chose to “die because he loved us”. Martyrs are celebrated for not only being murdered but sometimes committing suicide for greater good. It is not hard to believe a depressed laden dysfunctional mind may find these life long lessons as a possible answer.

  6. I have a suicide note that I wrote for an attempt I never went through with. I was no longer able to convince myself that suicide would not hurt anyone and what I wanted to say most was I loved you, please don’t blame yourself for my choice and please, after you grieve, let yourself be happy again.

  7. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for hurting you, for killing someone you love. I didn’t do this to hurt you, but unfortunately that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

    Grieve for me however you need to. Be hurt, sad, angry, numb or confused. Please try not to blame yourselves for my choice. And when the pain lessons, laugh and smile again knowing that I wish you the happiness that I was unable to hold on to.

    If you can find it in your heart, forgive me. Understand that the pain and the losses were more than I was willing to bear. I gave the world more years than I intended to, but I can’t-won’t- give it more.

    If I could believe my life would improve, maybe I could keep going, but I don’t-can’t-believe it.

    I won’t live a half-live, a life where I have to give up my hopes and dreams or be haunted by them because I am too broken to achieve them.

    I’m sorry.

    I love you.”

    I guess I’ve still kept the note.

  8. Hmm, there seems to be no mention of a common phenomena. If someone you know has been depressed for 2+ months deeply, then one day is suddenly, rapidly cheery (with no history of manic-depression aka bi-polar disorder)…that is the highest risk of suicide. When people decide to commit it they get a high, their anxieties evaporate seemingly with finality. Notes are usually written prior to immediate preparations for suicide in this euphoric stage, hence the spin on positive notes. This is actually something psychologists and psychiatrists have known for decades.

  9. My mother commited suicide and I wish she had left a note. I have to guess she was having a psychotic episode and not in the frame of mind to sit down and carefully write a goodbye.

  10. I am 68 now and for many decades I have thought of suicide, but could not think of a a very effecctive way to do it. I have read many books and it was the internet that gave me the clue about what was wrong with me. Using the DSMIV and ICD10 I discovered I had Dysthymia or Chronic Depression. I absolutly knew it. I ran it past a docter and after a little thought he agreed. This Chrinic Depression is low grade but is insidius in that it takes all joy out of life, and I understand that in the long term it is extremely dangerous. I also dislike psychiatrists sice they have no compassion, they are just common doctors. I have had the experience and someone else close to me has also had the same experience. I do however like psychologists, Their training is differrent. A govenment worker in a special dept told me that psychiatrists who have the deep compassion of psychologists are EXTREMELY rare in Perth WA(Australia). So I have to just muddle allong some how. I have a dog who I love deeply and he gets ALL my love and feeling and care.

    • Alkimos,

      I have been there, in many ways I guess I am still there. I once checked myself in saying to the therapist, “I don’t want to kill myself, I just don’t really want to live anymore.” This feeling came not from one source, but seems to be the results of a few different ingredients. One is a lack of self worth. I am very “Freudian” in philosophy and believe the cause of this can stem back to infancy and even newborn psychology. Children who have either physically or emotionally absent parent or parents loose or never gain a baseline of trust. So the roots of this worthlessness are buried deep in your subconscious where there is either no way to touch them or the pain it would take to recall those memories are “counter functional” to how the mind works. It can be caused by lack of what misguided parents call “discipline”. At the point you are forcing “Ego” building activities, you are just correcting a mess up. Having “chores” and understanding ones place in the family leads directly to understanding ones place in the world. But if the lessons are introduced right, the child will choose to do them all by themselves because the mind longs for purpose. It is important that a child has something they must do to maintain a role in the family. When you observe the two people you naturally trust, fighting all the time, tearing each other down, you are left without that foundation. If you have lost or left parents, family, close friends, or early “lovers” then it can embellish and exaggerate this self worthlessness. Much like we learn not to put our hands in the fire best after we get burnt, so it is that we learn not to attach ourselves emotionally after loosing somebody we love. Or a series of them. I suspect that some of these are true for you.

      I spent 10 years in the making of my daughter. Making sure myself and my ex-wife were financially and emotionally ready to bring a person into this world. Then with the aid of and antidepressants and a domestic court system who would give custody to a mother even though she was in full manic mode (look up the term, put a check mark next to every characteristic) over a father who was only faulted for considering home schooling. Once I was the “greatest father”. People would stop me when we were out and say, “I have never seen such an attentive dad” or “you sure are a great dad, you can I lost them all.. That is all except for a dog. I now have a g/f who can’t understand why I view all future activities as if she won’t be there. I have no more control over that then I have over pulling my hand back from a flame. LOL, you know what they say. “If you want to know who loves you, lock your dog and your wife in the trunk of the car and go into the bar for an hour. When you come out, open the trunk and see who is happy to see you.” A dogs unconditional love make it really easy to love them back.

      It is amazing how little the mental health community applies the understandings gleaned from the works of Freud and Jung, Milgram, Stevenson, Pavlov, or the many phylosphers and researchers over the years. For god’s sakes they got awarded a Nobel prize for Lobotomies. The main reason, I suspecet, is that it is long, labor intensive, and costly to fix ones “ego ideal” by teaching one to master their demons. However, it takes only seconds to write a script for a happy pill that makes you not care about any of that stuff and turn your purpose in life into whatever your “id” desires at the moment.

  11. hello i am quite hopeless at the moment cos I won’t live a half-live, a life where I have to give up my hopes and dreams or be haunted by them because I am too broken to achieve them.So i av decided to end my phase on november 6 2011……u know GOD do av a sense of humor so if you av a love message to deliver to ur love ones at the other plane do leave a comment

  12. If you are in the US, you can also call 1-800-273-8255 24 hrs crisis hotline. I strongly suggest you call your dr. or if you don’t already have one, go to your nearest ER or psych hospital and tell them you are suicidal and need help.

    I have felt as you do, more than a few times, I have bipolar disorder and when I am stable, things are very good. Every once in a while, I relapse, even when I take my meds like I should. Its just part of the illness.

    I totally understand, sometimes we want the psychic and physical pain to go away and when we can’t find something to make it go away, we think the only other choice is to make ourselves go away. Believe me, you can feel better, you just need to find help asap.

    I have been in that place, where all you can do is cry from the pain in your head, your heart and you can’t make it stop. It takes medical help. I had a very good experience in the hospital and I highly recommend it. Please, you have already made a date, its an emergency now, call for help, its there for you.



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