The link between suicide and depression remains a vexed issue with billions of dollars in government funding devoted to raising the community’s awareness of suicide, especially amongst the young and some minority groups (eg. veterans). And there can be no doubt. People who suffer from clinical depression are clearly at risk of suicide. Severe depressive states can rob a person of the ability to make rational decisions. These people need care and treatment until they are able to resume control. That said, illness of this severity is not common and needs to be distinguished from a larger group of people within society who may show occasional signs of depression, but who remain in full control of their decision-making abilities.
There is a significant difference between a person having moments of feeling down or having a transitory feeling that their life has lost purpose and the person who has severe clinical depression, where even the most basic daily decisions of life are problematic. An elderly or seriously ill person’s desire to formulate an end of life plan can be a rational, organised and carefully considered intention. Being organised and pragmatic about one’s end of life is not a psychiatric illness.
End of Life Decisions & the Role of Palliative Care
Critics of assisted suicide often argue that if only palliative care were available and of good enough standard, then patients would never need to ask for help to die. This is untrue, but to understand the claim, one needs to look at the background of the medical speciality that is palliative care.
Palliative care was the first branch of medicine to shift the focus away from ‘cure at all costs’ and to focus instead upon the treatment and management of symptoms (for people who