It’s not the kind of question you expect to get during a book tour.
As Mamamia reports, Professor Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist and self-help author, has been on tour promoting his book “12 Rules for Life.” At the end of his speaking engagements, Peterson often opens up the floor for audience questions. But the question he got while speaking in Indianapolis on June 15 was deadly serious.
It was an online submission from a man named “Chad,” who asked Peterson, “I plan on taking my own life very soon. Why shouldn’t I?”
Peterson admitted that it was a heavy question to address under the circumstances, but added, “I’ll give it a shot because it’s important, and it’s a very serious, troublesome question.”
Peterson spoke directly to Chad for nearly six minutes, breaking down the argument not to commit suicide into four main reasons:
1. “Explore everything you can explore to put yourself back on your feet. There’s all sorts of treatments for depression.”
Peterson repeatedly urged Chad to share his suicidal feelings with others and get help. While not claiming that antidepressants are the answer to everything, he pointed out that they do work for many people and that there are effective treatments for depression.
Most of all, he asked Chad to look at every alternative and try everything he could before turning to suicide, saying, “Don’t give up hope and do something final before you’ve explored all possible options.”
Peterson explained that suicide is always there, but if you take that path, you eliminate everything else:
“A wise man that I once worked with […] said: ‘You can always commit suicide tomorrow.’ And it’s a very flippant statement, but he meant it in a very serious way. You only get to decide that once. You can put it off. So I would say: Put it off, and put it off some more, and see what you can do to put yourself together.”
Peterson told Chad, “If you haven’t talked to a psychologist, talked to a psychiatrist, you haven’t tried antidepressants, you haven’t revealed to your family or people that care for you that this is how you’re feeling, then you owe it to yourself and them to explore any possible avenue before you take such a step?” He added, “What the hell do you have to lose?”
2. “Don’t leave the people around you with that to suffer from for the rest of their lives.”
Peterson spoke about the devastation that lingers with the friends and family of those who commit suicide. He told Chad that suicide “is a terrible thing to leave people with” and that his death would affect others in ways he couldn’t imagine:
“I have clients in my clinical practice who have never recovered from the suicide of a family member. Decades later, they are still torturing themselves about it. So that’s what you leave behind.”
He acknowledged that, “You might be dreaming about that. Because maybe you’re feeling that life has been twisted against you and that people deserve to suffer for the misery they have imposed upon you. But I would say, ‘Think very, very carefully before you go down that route.'”
Peterson also anticipated that someone contemplating suicide might believe that others would be better off without them. But he responded, “If you’re at the point where you can’t think any other way than that, then you should tell someone and you should go to the hospital.”
Recalling a client who spoke with a family member less than an hour before his suicide, Peterson said she never forgave herself for not realizing something was wrong and that it was “a hell of a thing to leave someone with.” He told Chad not to underestimate how much his death would hurt those who care about him:
“You may just absolutely wipe them out in a way they may never recover from. You cannot fix someone’s suicide. You’re stuck with it.”
3. “Don’t underestimate your value in the world.”
While explaining to Chad that there are options that can help him recover from physical or psychological ailments, Peterson also pointed out that every person has value. He told Chad that his death would leave the world lacking:
“You don’t want to deprive the world of what you can bring to the world. That’s the other thing. You have intrinsic value, and you can’t just casually bring that to an end. You’ll put a hole in the fabric of ‘being’ itself.”
4. “Don’t underestimate the fact that suicide is wrong.”
As Peterson pointed out, societies have consistently condemned suicide, partially because of its effect on others, but also out of recognition of the innate value of life.
He pointed out to Chad that his life is not necessarily his to take:
“You don’t own yourself the way you own an object. You have a moral obligation to yourself as a locus of divine value. You can’t treat that casually. It’s wrong.”
After speaking passionately to Chad, Peterson could only hope that his words made a difference. Later that night Chad sent a tweet to Peterson:
Hey Dr. Peterson. It’s Chad. You read my serious question tonight at the lecture. I just want you to know that you may have diverted me onto a different path. I am probably going to check myself into a hospital tomorrow night. Thank you.
Peterson responded, “I am absolutely thrilled to hear this.” Others joined in to thank Chad for his question, tell him that his life is precious, and wish him well.
Hey dr. Peterson. It’s Chad. You read my serious question tonight at the lecture. I just want you to know that you may have diverted me onto a different path. I am probably going to check myself into a hospital tomorrow night. Thank you.
— ???? (@chadjustin98) June 16, 2018
In a follow-up tweet, Chad wrote that he experienced a rush of adrenaline when Peterson read and answered his question, and added, “Never in a million years would I expect you to actually get to my question. And that was a big red flag for me.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal feelings contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.