Content warning: As the title says, I will be talking about privacy and completed suicide, and whether it’s appropriate to publicly release someone’s personal diary or other writings after their death. Please consider skipping this post if it could be triggering for you.
The book Suicidal
I recently read and reviewed Jesse Bering’s book Suicidal: Why We Kill Ourselves. One of the chapters included excerpts from the diary of a teenage girl who had died by suicide. She kept the diary on her laptop computer, and in it, she was very open about the thoughts and feelings she was having leading up to her death.
Of course, the girl’s parents provided the diary to the author and consented to its publication; to me, though, it still feels intensely disturbing. This girl did not in any way consent to this, despite the author’s interpretation that it was written as though she expected someone to read it. Her most private, personal words were all of sudden out there for the world to see.
What happens to privacy post-suicide?
What happens to privacy when there is a completed suicide? Is that automatically forfeited? Do personal writings suddenly shift into something that can be freely brought into the public domain?
Obviously, there aren’t any privacy laws around this, but it feels wrong not to allow the person who died some modicum of privacy.
My own experience
On a personal level, it makes me sick to think of people reading my private unfiltered thoughts. A few years ago, when I was having very intense thoughts of suicide, I threw the years’ worth of journals I’d kept in the trash because I was adamant that no one should be able to read them after I was dead. Logically, I know it doesn’t make a difference at that point because hey, I’m dead; still, that doesn’t at all lessen the heebie-jeebies factor.
At the same time, I password-protected my computer, something I’d never done before. I’ve kept the password protection ever since, with that same reason hovering in the back of my mind.
My last suicide attempt was the only one for which I had written a suicide note. The police took the suicide note and gave it to the hospital. It was read aloud by my hospital psychiatrist during a review panel hearing, in which I was challenging my involuntary commitment. It was strange to hear him read it, and somehow, it felt extremely invasive.
Loss of control
The reality is that if someone becomes desperate enough that they attempt and complete suicide, they no longer have control over anything they’ve left behind. Loved ones are obviously going to want to try to understand what motivated the act, and there’s no question they’ll be reading anything written that was left behind. That makes sense and I would never expect that a loved one would choose not to read journals and that type of thing.
Yet it still disturbs me. Now that the thought is in my mind, I don’t know that I would ever be able to push it out. Maybe that’s morbid, maybe I don’t know what it is. But for me it’s real.
Is this something that you’ve ever thought about?
The Straight Talk on Suicide page covers a variety of topics related to suicide, including getting help and safety planning, from the perspective of someone who’s been there.