Me and All My Friends Kind of Want to Die: Capitalism, Mental Illness, and Suicide

They say capitalism is killing us. So what are we going to do about it? Massive content warning for frank discussions of mental illness, suicidal ideation, and how very shitty living in the world is for a lot of people I care about.


 

“You know how when you’re driving on the freeway and you can’t help but think to yourself ‘all I have to do is just drive into that median and all this will be over’?”

“Oh, yeah, definitely. All the time. Or like… what if someone else hit me and I just didn’t wake up.”

“Same. But it’s not like I want to die. Like, I don’t necessarily think about killing myself, per se.”

“Yeah, it’s more like… I just don’t want to be here anymore.”

“…what if I just stopped existing.”

I’ve had some version of this conversation with several of my closest friends in the past year or so. I don’t know how common suicidal ideation like this is, but I know it’s incredibly common among my peers. What’s harder to untangle is why — am I simply guilty of confirmation bias, spending time around people like me who live with any combination of mental illnesses and other marginalized identities that make living in this world hard, or is it genuinely super hard to live in this world, period?

Everybody’s talking about suicide right now. The recent deaths of both Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have, for better or worse, brought conversations about suicide and mental illness to the fore.

There are memes and public pleas to call hotlines, or to “check in on your strong friend” (before it’s too late). There are too many think pieces to read. Too many people saying really milquetoast shit about depression and not really understanding what it means to live with actual mental illness and not just “the blues”.

But I’m not upset about all that, really. I think people are trying very hard to contend with something they don’t understand in an effort to keep their loved ones alive. Because if you’ve never dealt with suicidal ideation? You don’t know what it’s like.

You don’t know what it’s like to drive to work plagued with the fear that your body will take over and do what your brain has been urging you to do on repeat. You don’t know what it’s like to have so many things to live for and still not see any other option than simply ceasing to exist. And that’s why people are so up in arms about the suicides of the rich and powerful, people like Bourdain and Spade. Because if they can’t live in this world with all the resources that come with their type of power and influence, what does that say for the rest of us?

What does that mean for my peers who not only deal with illnesses like bipolar, BPD, C-PTSD, and anxiety disorders, but who also have limited financial resources, or limited access to proper treatment? What does that mean for my loved ones who live in black and brown bodies, disabled bodies, trans bodies, fat bodies, bodies that are marginalized and oppressed — who are told every day that they do not fit in or belong? What does it mean that, for me and my peers living under late stage capitalism, the brightness of our futures has been tempered by crushing student loan and credit card debt, jobs with increasingly fewer benefits and security, spending more than half our incomes on housing and not always knowing how we’ll eat for the rest of the month?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that, yeah, under the circumstances, me and all my friends kind of want to die. Some of my friends have actually died already.

And every time that happens I am furious. Furious at the world for not being able to hold us. Furious that sometimes there really is nothing anyone can do. But furious most of all that so many of these deaths would be preventable if only we lived in a world that didn’t value money over people. A world that celebrated all bodies. That made space for neurodivergence and didn’t shame people for the simple fact of their brain chemistry.

The thing is, while we can (and sometimes do) make incremental progress towards building this kind of world, it’s just not possible under capitalism. When profit is the bottom line, anything that gets in the way of that — and that includes bodies, brains, and people that are “inconvenient” — is discarded and left behind.

But I still have hope. I have to have hope, or else what is all this for? Sure, we may not have a lot of social or cultural or actual capital, and we may not have a lot of institutional power, but we have each other. We do what we can to protect each other, to provide for each other, and when it comes to it, to fight for each other. We’ve learned by now that fixing the system from within is not the answer. We could elect Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton a hundred times and our friends would still be dying.

So, is it time to destroy capitalism yet?

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