There’s no way around the fact that the Stoics talked about suicide. A lot. To the Stoics, suicide was famously the “open door”—the option available to anyone, at any moment. Cato, one of the most vaunted and towering Stoics, went through that door, gruesomely and bravely. So too, did Seneca.
But it is worth pointing out, in a summer that saw the world lose two truly great musicians to suicide, and in a world that loses over 2,000 people to suicide every day (on average, a U.S veteran commits suicide nearly every hour), that the Stoics knew that life was hard and they knew what depression was like. It’s very unlikely that they would have ever encouraged suicide from despair or depression. Because they knew that as real as these feelings were, as deep as that pain might be, that life was worth living and how easily the mind can become temporarily trapped in prisons of its own making.
The Stoics believed that we needed to be here for each other, that we were made for cooperation, and that sometimes we have trouble making it on our own. Marcus Aurelius wrote in his journal “Don’t be ashamed of needing help. You have a duty to fulfill just like a soldier on the wall of battle. So what if you are injured and can’t climb up without another soldier’s help?”
If you’re struggling, don’t let the concept of Stoic toughness deter you from reaching out. What Cato did, what Seneca did, what James Stockdale threatened to do and nearly did, these were the brave actions of men defying the tightening grip of tyrants. That’s the only reason.
Thankfully, this is almost certainly not where most of us are. If you need something, ask. You don’t have to do this alone. Just as you have been there for other people, other people will be there for you—that’s fact. But only if you let them.
Yesterday was the 15th World Suicide Prevention Day. If you need to talk to someone, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1 (800) 273-8255. It’s available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in both English and Spanish. Outside the US? Here’s a list of international resources.