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When Someone Told Me I Was Wrong About Suicide and Disability

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Recently I wrote a post on my blog about “Me Before You.” Although the movie has received a lot of negative attention recently, I felt like the topic was more complex than people realized. I was also concerned about the message behind the movie. It essentially says life is not worth living if you have a disability, and I wanted to address something it seemed a lot of people were missing: There are people within the disabled community who struggle with thinking this way. That’s what makes the movie so frightening. It portrays something that is very real.

Soon after my blog post began generating a lot of traffic, someone posted on social media to say I was wrong. They doubted very many in the disabled community ever felt worthless or unlovable, and they thought the movie was just a story about love for people to enjoy without harm.

It’s true – not everyone with a disability has considered ending their life. Not everyone feels negatively about their circumstances. In fact, there are a lot of voices, mine included, who say life with a disability is full and wonderful. Still, disabled or not, everyone has struggled with wondering if their life matters and if anyone will ever love them for who they are. The difference is that when this struggle is put in the context of disability, it’s not as quickly negated. It’s often either ignored because people don’t understand how significant these feelings can be, or society feeds these feelings in the way disability is talked about and perceived.

Quite a few people with a disability have wondered at one point or another if their lives are too challenging for anyone to acknowledge their worth and love them like a real person – not out of obligation or pity, but because of genuine love. The facts in the world around us yell into our lives that those thoughts of worthlessness and never being loved are justified. The fear is not unfounded.

Research has shown that having a disability often leads to being excluded in society.

Children with disabilities have a higher likelihood of being bullied.

The divorce rate for special needs families is up to 90 percent and over 75 percent when a spouse has a chronic illness.

Those with a disability are considerably less likely to get married.

Euthanasia or assisted suicide has been legalized in several countries and in some states within the U.S.; some people believe it could be, and has been, used unethically against people with disabilities.

The suicide rate among people with certain types of disabilities is significantly higher than it is for the general population.

Those who do contemplate suicide are more likely to do so because of the social messages received from society about having a disability.

Movies like “Me Before You” send a message that everyone is better off if people who have a disability do not live. Will, the disabled main character, justifies this by saying to Louisa, the woman he loves: “I don’t want you to be tied to me, to my hospital appointments, to the restrictions on my life. I don’t want you to miss out on all the things someone else could give you. And, selfishly, I don’t want you to look at me one day and feel even the tiniest bit of regret or pity…”

Whether the author realized it or not, she depicted a scary truth. This declaration is not far off from real-life thoughts, and it’s those feelings that cause some people with a disability to no longer desire to live. Not only does this story contribute to the stigma in our culture today against those with a disability, it may be the very thing to cause someone to consider ending their life. This story had a powerful opportunity to change the dialogue on disability. Instead, it contributed to the problem. It’s dangerous for our culture to promote something that indicates ending a life is a viable option when a person feels as if they aren’t worthy of love.

I wish the person who made the social media post was right. But some people do feel this way. And that’s why we need to talk about it. That’s why we need to do something. That’s why we need to work to shift the conversation that takes place within society about disability issues and what it’s like to live with a disability. That’s why we need to keep saying: Your life matters. You are loved. Your presence is significant.

Read the original post on Letting Go of Why.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Originally published: July 1, 2016
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