SuicideLife is tough - we've figured that out long ago, and just in case we forget, books and religion constantly remind us how critical it is to overcome adversity. They point out that life is a precious gift, and yet some people insist on throwing it away. Suicide isn't a recent phenomenon however, and despite extensive research, its causes remain varied and complex.
Sacrificing one's life to for others or for principle
Martyrs are recorded in all periods of history and have each accepted death over betrayal of their ideals. Whether death at the hands of others is considered to be suicide is debatable, yet each had the power to avoid their death and instead chose to uphold their personal or religious principles. Several other types of suicide also fall into this category. In some nomadic societies, those who could not keep up, the ill or the elderly, would deliberately leave the safety of the group to die alone, knowing that this increased the chance of survival of the rest. The war hero who deliberately drew enemy fire could be seen as making the same sort of sacrifice, though in this case it could be argued that the individual was accepting the risk of death rather than its certainty, pitting his strength and courage against the odds, however overwhelming these were. In both these examples, it was the good of the community and the links that bound the individual to the group that motivated the sacrifice. In other cases, the motive of suicide may be to attain or regain social honor. The Japanese samurai warrior committing seppuku (a ritual suicide under the warrior code known as Bushido), the Native American dog soldier or the Aztec soldier throwing himself on his enemy in order to attain the "Flower Death", each held the promise of a reward to carry them through their grim ordeal. From Patrick Henry to contemporary suicide-bombing terrorists, people have continued to view some causes as greater than themselves.
Refusal to live with a terminal disease or illness
While it is obvious that all of us will die, for some the reality of death is much more imminent and certain. Modern medicine has extended the human life span, but sometimes all it can offer is the certainty that death is rapidly approaching. And near the end, quality of life inevitably tends to degrade. The decision to take one's life rather than waiting for nature to take its course is one response to this situation. Western society tends to be more accepting of this form of suicide, which carries less social stigma than other types.
An accident when under influence of drugs/alcohol
Many factors come into play here. Lots of young people will flirt with dangerous or self-destructive behavior as a brief phase of stretching their wings. This is usually within defined limits and most will then, having recognized the risks they have taken, pull back. For an unfortunate few, the lesson will not be learned in time and they will pay with their lives for the knowledge that we are not indestructible. Others, however, use drugs or participate in other risk-taking behaviors in full knowledge that this is likely to result in their death. Victim-precipitated homicides might well come under the same category, where the victim provokes others, even the police, in the conscious or unconscious knowledge that this is likely to result in their own death. An analysis of traffic accident fatalities reveals many inexplicable deaths, which may well be of this same type. If a person has decided that he or she does not want to live, but is unable to quite take the step of self-murder, any of these actions may be the next choice.
The "plea for help" that goes too far
It is a popular but misleading belief that many attempted suicides are simply attention-seeking ploys. The theory goes that the person feels lonely, depressed, helpless, and uses the drama of an attempt on their own life to attract the attention and concern of those around them. This is a dangerous notion in that it may cause people not to take suggestions about a person's intention to take their own life seriously. It may be true that one motive for suicide is to cause others to feel remorse and guilt, but this does not mean that the person attempting suicide was not deadly serious in their intent. Researchers talk about the ambivalence of the person who will want both to live and to die. The two forces may be in a delicate balance. One view of suicide intervention sees all suicides as pleas for help, with successful suicides being failed attempts to gain intervention and assistance in time. We do know that intervention, clinical assistance and direct treatment have a very good chance of overcoming the problem and preventing further suicide attempts.
Deliberately taking one's own life because life has become unbearable
This is what most of us think of when we consider suicide. Almost all adults can recall some occasion when the thought of suicide entered their mind. For most people, this will be no more than a toying with the idea, a speculation on the overwhelming knowledge that we each have a choice as to whether we go on living each day. Having glimpsed the daunting prospect of death, we then return to life, perhaps with a renewed sense of its value and preciousness. For others however, life is so painful, so intolerable, that the alternative of oblivion seems a desirable option. They find life so taxing that they overcome any fear of death or punishment after death, perhaps embracing the nihilistic view that there is nothing after death (a view whose very context of pointlessness invites suicide). Such self-destruction may be precipitated by a gradual accumulation of frustration or by an immediate event where one's life seems to fall apart, such as final exams, a lonely holiday, a marriage break up or a stock market crash.
The right of self-determination
In Western culture, there is an inherently negative view towards suicide. The government and society as a whole feels a compulsion to protect people from themselves, as well as from one another. Thus, suicide is illegal, even in cases where there is a compelling reason for termination. At the root of the issue is a fundamental philosophical debate, not only of the proper restraints on liberty, but furthermore over whether human nature is truly mutable. For while some have moved past the depression that might have led to suicidal thoughts or attempts, either through medication or therapy, others wallow in their sadness.
The site for the newsgroup alt.suicide.holiday is dedicated to the idea of suicide as a choice, rather as something that should be inherently opposed. Consider the following quotes from the bottom of their pages: "...I felt sad because I realized that once people are broken in certain ways, they can't ever be fixed, and this is something that nobody ever tells you when you are young and it never fails to surprise you as you grow older - as you see people in your life break one by one. You wonder when your turn is going to be, or if it's already happened," from Dana-Christene Umanetz. "Suicide . . . is about life, being in fact the sincerest form of criticism life gets," from Wilfrid Sheed. Perhaps suicide is a form of psychological selection, where those who lack the mental facilities to embrace some sort of faith in light of life's failings are kept from producing offspring with similar traits. However, the newsgroup does not necessarily encourage suicide; people often are reassured knowing that if they need to commit suicide they know of methods, and in the meantime can form a support network.
Breadth of the problem
Outright suicide is definitely not an isolated phenomenon. Aside from the famous Kurt Cobain, Ernest Hemingway along with his brother, sister, father and granddaughter, George Eastman of Kodak, Sylvia Plath (whose poetry you can find here as well) and Virginia Woolf all committed suicide. You can find even more celebrity deaths, as well as their methods of suicide, in the a.s.h. FAQ.
Suicide is the ninth leading cause of death in the US, with 31,204 deaths recorded in 1995, or about one every seventeen minutes. There are more suicides than homicides each year in the United States, and two-thirds were commited with firearms, followed by hanging and poisoning. It is the third leading cause of death in the US for teenagers, though the actual rate is higher in the elderly. Worldwide, there is roughly one suicide every forty seconds. WHO, Harvard and the World Bank estimated that 786,000 people commit suicide annually worldwide, according to suicide @ rochford.org. Males commit suicide more than females. Although suicide occurs in every country, some rates are significantly higher than others. China, for example, has an astonishingly high rate of suicide.
Those who have had a friend or loved one attempt suicide know that it can be painful and depressing. This sense of interconnectedness, of reliance on others in this difficult journey, as well as actual altruism has led to a pervasive movement to prevent suicide, especially during angst-ridden teen years. Especially with the catalyst of the suicide of idols or friends, suicide can become rampant. The sense that society is undermined by such tendencies has led to groups such as the Suicide Prevention Advocacy Network. Such groups attempt to establish a sense of belonging and coping to avert the feelings, a la It's a Wonderful Life. href="http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Hills/8416/Poem.html">Other groups attempt to comfort those who have lost loved ones to suicide. Of course, some argue that such coping should not be public. Thus, the debate rages on under the mask of taboo.
For another perspective, check out the video tape we have put up of a student-produced play entitled, Delusions of Control
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