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For the sake of argument, let’s suppose that you’ve fallen on some hard times and need to become a guest of the state. Usually that means you’ll wind up under lock and key in some kind of prison, mental institution, hospital or if you’re in the military, the brig. Let’s also suppose that these circumstances are leading you to bouts of depression and you decided that it’s just not worth it anymore and you want to take your own life.

If the powers that be happen to get wind of your plans or if you’ve already tried and failed to end it all, chances are, for your own protection, you’re going to be placed on some kind of suicide watch. The following are the three most common types:

Periodic suicide watch

The name is just as it implies. You’ll be isolated (more on that later) in a room by yourself and guards or orderlies will keep checking in on you on a frequent basis to make sure that you’re still alive and kicking and that you haven’t done yourself any harm. They also have the authority to intervene on your behalf if they just happen to catch you in the act.

Intense suicide watch

In this scenario, the ante has been upped. Your threats are deemed much more serious and a staff member will be assigned to watch you 24x7. They are always within direct sight of you and stationed just a few feet away in case you try to off yourself.

Video suicide watch

This pretty much mirrors the 24x7 practice except that you’ll be monitored by an eye in the sky strategically placed within the confines of your cell. Your actions will be monitored via closed circuit television through a series of monitors in another area within the facility.

What can I expect?

The bare necessities. The room you’re in will usually have no furniture or sharp objects that you can use to hurt yourself. You might even get tossed into a padded cell to prevent yourself from bashing your head into the walls or the floor. Besides being stripped of whatever dignity you have left, you’ll also be stripped of your clothes. There might be a bare plastic mattress for you to lay down on but forget about any creature comforts such as sheets, pillows or pillow cases. In many cases, certain bodily functions are done without items that you would normally take for granted. Those include such niceties as a toilet bowl and even toilet paper. They don’t want you to try and drown yourself or try stuffing enough toilet paper down your throat in an effort to choke to death.

For you women in the audience, you’ll have it a bit worse. This is especially true if you happen to hit your period while being watched. It seems some ladies have gotten quite creative when it comes to calling it quits and have even tried to swallow a tampon in order to meet their untimely demise.


Whether you’re male or female and depending on your threat level, you might also be placed under medication. This will make it much harder for you to attempt to do anything foolish. In addition, should you still try and harm yourself, it will make it easier for those charged with watching you to try and subdue you.

I don’t know how long these conditions last but if had to guess I’d say that until you’ve completed some kind of psychiatric evaluation and are no longer deemed a threat to yourself you’re going to be there for quite some time. I'm also not sure what the policy is when it comes to visitors but I'd have to think they'd be severely restricted just in case they want to slip you a little something to help you on your way.

There have been some complaints registered by those placed under suicide watch. Most of them center around the harsh conditions they experienced and the humiliation and abasement they feel having to spend an indefinite time wandering around a closed room, stark naked with nothing but some prying eyes to watch over their every move.

As for me, I can’t imagine trying to live under such circumstances. Granted, I’m not mentally ill (at least not diagnosed as such) or anything but to me, unless you’re in unbearable pain, brain dead or diagnosed with a slow and tortuous death that will inflict emotional distress on your loved ones, suicide is not the answer.




It's estimated about a million people commit suicide every year which works out to about one every 30s. Public health workers are NOT going to overreact to your mention of suicidal ideation and a cry for help at whatever your commercial US Health care provider offers is more problematic still.

Suicide is very definitely a very effective solution to every problem you might have. Carbon monoxide is the least painful and easiest method available to most people who have a hard time with hanging or other trauma inducing methods.

It is true that in principle if you present to a public health facility or something and say that you are suicidal, you could be detained. In practice, short of some kind of special circumstances, it would be like applying for welfare, same amount of process. What will happen is that the worker will question you in some standard speech about whether you intend to "harm yourself". Saying flat out, "when I leave here I'm going to kill myself", could I suppose be a more effective way than applying to your local welfare/dole office, but the worker/staff will try to avoid this unless they make a judgement you can be blown off without consequence. A similar situation would apply outside of a public health service context, e.g. in US for someone with coverage thru typical providers, except that that determination will be affected by your coverage.

Below is a letter I sent to a feuilletonist that published a hack piece in Scientific American which I noticed earlier this week on the subject. The thing I refer to about comments there is an allusion to the general labor condition.

to: Jesse Bering
re: Your Selbstmord Serie

Juan Daugherty
Jan 22 (1 day ago)

I found your 2 part-er irritating and prosaic albeit competent
in the way such copy must be for you to get paid for it.

Here are, in very short, the main things I think you miss and
they're like everything:

o Suicide as such requires a "consciousness" of death
which animals purported to commit it lack. Vividly clear
in the case of insects lemmings, etc. that there isn't
any such which leads to ...

o As Man is the only being that does in fact consciously
choose death, we must be astounded at the rate at
which it does occur being absent in other megafauna.

Pieces like yours are always more or less oblivious
to the social conditions that are the real basis. It's
pretty bad for you to be aggravating the obliviousness
on that point.

As an aside I was unable to post this comment on the
SciAm site easily because their social login stuff doesn't
work at least on Linux, probably spotty elsewhere. That
that is the case is an example of the social conditions
I refer to.

I didn't address many other specious elements but you're
probably already aware of them (e.g, the fatuity of the
genetics spiel).

What it feels like to want to kill yourself

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