I trust that this… will allow us to compassionately understand suicide for what it is: A profound and fearsome human tragedy. It is a tragedy because it has tractable causes that can be understood and thus counteracted (but currently are not, at least not enough); it is fearsome because it requires a forsaking of our basic nature as self-preserving creatures, because it kills a million people a year worldwide, and because no one should have to die alone in a mess in a hotel bathroom, in the back of a van, or on a park bench, thinking incorrectly that the world will be better off. Like any dangerous and lethal thing that causes human suffering, suicide needs to be understood so as to manage and allay its fearsomeness – survivors deserve this understanding (not to mention compassion). So do those who have died by suicide; we honor them by understanding and combating their cause of death.
–Dr. Thomas Joiner
SUICIDE – AN EFFORT THREAD BY DUNCAN DONUTS
It’s sort of a rehash of the old one, honestly. I’ll add my new take on things and edit some old posts, but it will mostly be the same. I have long had a research interest in suicide, and it is so misunderstood/little understood I decided to make an effort thread about it. I will be taking most of my information from Dr. Thomas Joiner’s “Why People Die by Suicide” and “Myths About Suicide,” both books I highly recommend. Joiner’s father killed himself, which makes the topic intensely personal for him. I lost a friend to suicide and spent most of my teenage years in a suicidal state, so it means a lot to me as well. I am going to post a bunch of shit, and I’ll answer any questions you have as best I can, while also noting my sources. Since PMs are free on WDDP, feel free to PM me with questions/comments/concerns (see SPECIAL THANKS below). I think that will be better than flooding the thread with Sadbrains posts (no offense!), and offers posters a private way to address concerns to me. So let’s start:
WHY DO PEOPLE DY BY SUICIDE?
People who attempt suicide usually have 3 salient characteristics. The third characteristic, especially, will often determine the lethality of the attempt.
1. The perception of burdensomenesss (real or perceived) Suicidal people often feel that they are a burden on their loved ones. This may be due to loss of work because of depression, long, expensive stays in a mental hospital, or a recent loss of employment. The last characteristic is especially true for males. Suicide rates spike during a recession, and that spike affects men the most since they are usually the partner that makes the most money in a romantic/familial relationship. While I believe in the right to die for the terminally ill, research has shown that terminally ill folks who take their own lives through assisted suicide report higher levels of feelings of burdensomeness than those who look into assisted suicide but do not choose to kill themselves.
Bear in mind that the psychological burden on the family and friends of the suicide victim is much, much worse than the burden that the victim may have placed on them in life.
2. Social isolation (real or perceived): This is the “no one would care if I killed myself” thought process. Like burdensomeness, much of this is due to perception. This point explains why mothers have a much lower suicide rate than women without children and why African-Americans (who typically place higher importance on family ties than Whites) also have lower suicide rates. It also explains men’s higher suicide rates after a divorce than women’s: men frequently take divorce harder emotionally because they are unwilling/unable to open up to their friends so they bottle it up. They are more emotionally isolated.
3. Acquired ability to self-injure: This was the most fascinating feature of Joiner’s work to me. Several findings: people who have sustained multiple serious injuries in life are more likely to commit suicide, people with piercings and tattoos are also more likely (even after controlling for other factors), and people with multiple attempts are also more likely. It is widely assumed that people who attempt suicide multiple times are more depressed, explaining why they have more attempts. This may be true, but literature shows that attempts become more and dangerous (with regards to method) as the number of attempts increases. Joiner argues that these people are acquiring the means to self-injure through practice.
The acquired ability to self-injure hypothesis helps to explain a few more things. We know that veterans have a higher suicide rate – many have been injured in combat and/or are intimately familiar with death and dying. Physicians also have a higher rate of suicide than the general population, likely because they experience death very frequently and have become less fearful about it. Interestingly, people who are suffering from depression have a higher pain tolerance than those who are not. Perhaps this pain tolerance makes it easier to “bite the bullet” during more physically painful suicide attempts. Finally, men have a higher suicide rate than women even though women attempt 3 times as much as men. While some of this may be due to social isolation as explained above, much of it may be due to men’s being more likely to sustain injury in life due to fighting, extreme sports, being in a dangerous profession. I was brushed off when I mentioned in a thread that men are much more subject to violence than women. Not only is violence from another harmful, it actually INCREASES THE LIKELIHOOD THAT ONE WILL VISIT VIOLENCE ON ONESELF. The above information helps to explain why men choose more lethal means to commit suicide: overall, they have less fear of (physical) pain because they experience it more, which extends to the pain of death.
What about mental illness?
Joiner’s hypothesis is that nearly all victims of suicide have either a clinically diagnosable mental illness or are operating at sub-clinical but detectable levels of mental illness. Major depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and anorexia tend to be the worst for this. Genetics also play a big role, but not as big as you’d think. If the above 3, (especially number 3) are absent, genetics don’t matter too much.
Why don’t you say “commit suicide”?
This phrase has roots in the idea that suicide is a sin. I don’t believe in demonizing people who kill themselves, but this isn’t a big deal to me the way it is to some in the mental health field.
What will you be covering?
In coming posts I will be talking about myths about suicide. I will be starting with ones that I’ve seen on SA or in LF, such as “suicide is easy,” “you can’t stop someone who really wants to commit suicide,” and “breast implants cause suicide or are associated with lower self-esteem, which causes suicide.”
Here are the topics I covered last time that I’ll be covering again:
How to talk to someone you expect may be suicidal
Suicide in non-human species
Suicide is underreported
Is suicide selfish? and see also and this, too
Why suicidal people don’t talk about it Anti-depressants, suicide and the time of year
Is suicide a form of self-mastery or self-control?
Suicide is Certain?
I probably won’t be posting them in this exact order.
I’ll take suggestions, but no promises. Feel free to do your own research on topics you feel are important and post it here.
SPECIAL THANKS:I want to thank fellow posters for bugging me to do this thread again. A Goon Who Shall Not Be Named contacted Chocolate America a few months ago about his suicidal ideation, and CA directed him to me. He is doing much better, though, like most of us who’ve struggled with this, he has his rough patches. I want to thank That Goon for bugging me to re-do this thread, also. His success story means a lot to me. If I can have even one more success with this thread, then it’s well worth it.