Many people who have a brush with death experience what came to be known as a near-death experience (NDE). Many of them are pronounced clinically dead by doctors; yet, they have a story to tell about an experience they went through in this state. The experience ranges from being in an out-of-body state, traveling through a tunnel into a light, meeting with decease relatives, to feeling like they are in the presence of God. Although some have negative experiences, most speak of a wonderful life waiting for them in the beyond.
With the description of mostly wonderful experiences, serious questions arise about the fate of those who are suicidal. Do people who attempt suicide have these experiences? Are their experiences different from those who are dying of other causes? Is there any punishment waiting in the beyond for trying to end one’s own life? What do people say who survive a suicide attempt?
Originally, some early research suggested that individuals who attempted suicide were less likely to have NDEs and their experiences are shorter, containing less features (Ring, 1980). However, later research disputed these findings (Greyson & Flynn, 1984; Greyson, 1991). They have not seen any serious quantitative or qualitative differences between NDEs due to suicide attempts and NDEs due to other causes. Those who attempt suicide are just as likely to have NDEs and their experiences can be as positive as other people’s experiences.
Suicide attempt survivors do not experience punishment beyond death for the reason of trying to end their own lives (Moody, 1975). In fact, they generally have an overwhelmingly positive experience coming back. They speak of the same beautiful places waiting for people in the beyond as other people do.
Does this positive outlook put people in the danger of trying to end their lives? For the majority, this is not the case. There are reasons for not having to be afraid of a negative outcome. Even early researchers have argued that the experiences offer people a positive outlook on life (Moody, 1975; Ring, 1980). Those who come back seem to believe that life is more about love and knowledge than about anything else. They see life in a better perspective, have greater self-confidence and, acknowledge the fact that since life does not end with death, escaping this worldly existence is not the answer to any problems.
However, many survivors of NDEs do suffer from depression for a while after the experience. After the positive experience of the beyond, they have difficulties returning to this earthly existence (Ring, 1984). Some wish they did not have to come back and some do try to end their lives. This means that some people need help to readjust to this earthly life after their experience.
Overall, those who have NDEs while trying to end their lives do not have different experiences from anyone else who go through these experiences. However, as always, suicide attempt survivors do need a lot of support from those around them.
Greyson, B and Flynn, C. P. (1984). The Near-Death Experience: Problems, Prospects, Perspectives. Springfield: C. C. Thomas.
Greyson, B. (1991). Encyclopaedia Britannica: 1992 Medical Health Annual. E. Bernstein (Ed.). Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica Special Section, pp. 45-55
Moody, R. A. Jr. (1975). Life After Life. New York: Bantam Books.
Ring, K. (1980). Life at Death: A Scientific Explanation of Near-Death Experience. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan.
Ring, K. (1984). Heading Toward Omega: In Search of the Meaning of the Near-Death Experience. New York: William Morrow.