Demystifying Medicine One Month at a Time

No, Not Painless

Both the movie and the TV show M*A*S*H share the same theme song. Even if you can recall the music in your head, many people don’t know the song’s strange title: “Suicide is Painless.”

My latest piece for NPR’s Health site, “Shots,” recalls my mother’s death by suicide from my viewpoint as a son and someone entering the medical profession.

In thinking about my Mom’s death, I’ve always remembered the title of the M*A*S*H theme, but had never really thought about its meaning. Here’s the refrain:

That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please.
I try to find a way to make
All our little joys relate
Without that ever-present hate
But now I know that it’s too late, and…

It’s interpreted to mean that compared to the horrors war, suicide is the less painful alternative.

I’m OK with the thought for soldiers and as a literary device, but I’m here to tell you that suicide is most definitely not painless to those it leaves behind.


  1. Mary Parker

    I am sorry about your mother’s death, and thank you for continuing the conversation about suicide. It definitely is not painless to the survivors. The suicidal patient’s pain continues from the suicidal patient to the immediate generation and on to the next. Hopefully, QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) training will be required of all University of Oklahoma students, particularly those in the health sciences.

  2. Kelly

    That you for sharing and for your honesty. You are brave

  3. denise cost

    Thank you very much for sharing your experience. The theme song from MASH always seemed disturbing to me because I did know the lyrics, and I know that suicide was an awful , awful thing, and not painless. My mother attempted suicide in my presence twice, when I was just a young girl. She did not succeed, thankfully, but it left lifelong scars. Suicide is an option for people who are being faced with a horrible mass extinction- think Masada- but otherwise, it is a terrible choice that hurts everyone. It is crucial that people who are considering this be helped to know that it just won’t help anything or anybody, including themselves. From a spiritual point of view, all world religions are united in their teachings against suicide.

  4. Crystal Whitaker

    I appreciate this article. Suicide prevention has been my passion since I started my career eight years ago. I am currently a manager of a crisis intervention program and I am also in my first year of graduate school earning a degree in clinical mental health. I am QPR (question, persuade and respond) certified and facilitate a five hour crisis intervention training. I plan to continue my education and complete my PsyD. Throughout my career I’ve debated between PsyD and Psychiatry. I too agree suicide is never painless! I lost my Mentor Matt Doseckle to suicide this past Christmas Eve and just at the start of my second term of graduate school my classmate Rachael Agnes who sat next to me completed suicide four weeks ago. I stated to my professor no matter how many times I’ve looked completed suicide in the face it never gets any easier to process!

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