Suicide is newsworthy because life is precious. In 1993, a 6-year old girl living in Florida stepped in front of a train. She left a note saying that she “wanted to be with her mother” who recently died from a terminal illness.
This is the power of the human mind. A small girl thinks of the past and imagines a future that is so bleak, so devoid of meaningful moments without her mom, that she takes her own life. The same mental tools that distinguish us from other animals, the same mental tools that allow us to solve problems and produce creative works that give us symbolic immortality are the same tools that allow a 6-year old to contemplate a future that is terrible enough to physically leap into an oncoming train. If a 6-year old has the cognitive capacity to kill herself, then we need to step up our efforts to understand and prevent it from happening.
There are a couple of instrumental studies that have helped make a dent in this problem.
1. Researchers dissected 20 suicide notes written by people who attempted suicide with 20 notes written by people who successfully killed themselves. The notes were evaluated on 5 dimensions: sense of burden (would my loved ones be better off without me?), sense of emotional pain (how much suffering is in my life?), escaping negative feelings (is death the answer to ending this pain?), altered social world (is death the answer to my troublesome social relationships?, and hopelessness (is there evidence that life is going to get any better?).
What they found deserves your undivided attention. The biggest difference was that the notes of suicide completers included much more detail about how they were a burden on other people and society at large compared to the attempters. In fact, this sense of burden was the only dimension that distinguished the suicide letters of these two groups. You might be as surprised as me that hopelessness, amount of pain, and the belief that death will end the pain were common themes in the letters of both groups. Other studies have replicated these findings.
In general, people do not commit suicide because they are in pain, they commit suicide because they don’t believe there is a reason to live and the world will be better off without them.
2. But perhaps there is another piece of the puzzle that takes us back to the opening story. What is it that enables a person to be strong enough to follow through and swallow an entire bottle of pills, ingest poison, or push the chair out so that they dangle from a rope tied to the ceiling? It might be controversial to use the word courage, grit, or strength in this context.
Nevertheless, a suicidal person often must overcome intense emotional distress to commit the final act. Leading suicide researchers speculated that a sense of burden is necessary but insufficient to understand who kills themselves. A person might also require the capacity to harm themselves. A person must be highly tolerant of pain and conflict to make room for the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that arise when working toward the goal of ending life. This tolerance of distress must be acquired somewhere along the way. Researchers continue to find support for the notion that the greatest suicidal risk exists for people who believe they are a burden on society AND possess a history where they acquired the capacity to harm themselves. This acquired capability can arise in unusual ways such as:
playing violent and extreme sports
getting multiple body piercings and tattoos
getting in physical fights
These types of painful and provocative events offer a sense of fearlessness about lethal self-injury. A person might respond positively to items such as “Things that scare most people don’t scare me” and “I can tolerate more pain than most people.”
If you remain unconvinced about the importance of an acquired capacity to tolerate pain and distress, consider these sobering figures. One in 25 people who sought health care services at a hospital because of self-harm or self-injurious behavior will kill themselves in the next 5 years. By dealing with deep distress and emotional pain by harming yourself with acts such as cutting, burning, sticking objects in your skin, or intentionally preventing wounds from healing, you are becoming increasingly capable of suicide.
One of the odd things about this line of research is that in any other context, high pain tolerance is a strength, a gift, a form of emotional agility that allows a person to be more successful and satisfied with life. This is why I bring this research up. Look at the motives behind people’s actions because what we might view as an admirable strength in another context, is a fatal risk factor.
Do not grow weary from the endless news stories of war veterans and emotionally distressed kids, teenagers, and adults who commit suicide. Let these stories be a call to action. And we have some valuable science to guide us in the right direction.
Why People Commit Suicide
With all the cyber bullying and suicides in the news lately, every parent is concerned and wonders if their teen is depressed or suicidal. There is nothing scarier than finding out your child is depressed, except finding out when it is too late to do something about it. Answering the question why do young people commit suicide is hard. Often, teens keep their fears, sadness, loneliness and worries to themselves or will only discuss them with their close friends. Many of the signs they show indicating they might commit suicide are attributed to typical rebellious teen behaviour. Other times the answer lies in the mental capacity of the teen, which you are unable to diagnose after they have passed.
Understanding why people commit suicide and what is causing the need for such drastic measures may help you prevent a suicide attempt before it happens. One way to find out if someone is depressed or suicidal is to look at their search engine history on their computer. If they are considering suicide or feeling depressed you will see search terms like:
Why People Commit Suicide?
Why do people commit suicide by hanging?
Why do people want to commit suicide?
I want to die.
How do people commit suicide?
How to kill yourself.
How to commit suicide.
Should I kill myself?
I want to disappear.
I hate my life or I hate myself.
The Centre for Disease Control ranks suicide for people 10 years and older as the 10th leading cause of death in the United State with over 4,000 young people committing suicide each year. It is the cause. While suicide rates were on the decline by the early 2000, they have since increased.
There are many reasons why people commit suicide including mental health issues such as depression and bullying. Many who have tried to commit suicide, but failed, said they just wanted to get out of a bad or difficult situation and dying felt like the only way. Some experience overwhelming or difficult emotions such as guilt, rejection and loss or they feel unloved and not accepted.
Mental Health and Suicide
While suicide occurs for many reasons, 90% of the time it is most often associated with a mental illness. Mental illnesses come in many forms and are not always recognizable until it is too late. However, they are treatable. Early intervention and treatment for mental illness can help prevent suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
Mental illnesses that lead to suicide include:
Depression where they feel sad and withdrawn. They no longer take an interest in once loved activities and find it difficult to overcome a problem
Bipolar disorder and manic depression experience bouts of extreme happiness (mania) followed by bouts of extreme despair and sadness (manic).
Anxiety disorders with extreme fear and nervousness.
Schizophrenia, which often shows up in late adolescence, is an inability to separate reality from fiction and includes delusions or hallucinations.
Substance Abuse like alcohol and drug use.
Bullying and Suicide
Bullying is ongoing aggressive or abusive behavior from one person or a group of people who harm and threaten another either physically or emotionally or both. Bullies come in many varieties and are not always physical in peer groups. Sometimes the popular or older adults band together to ostracize the person. Maybe they were once friends. They will pick on the person or ridicule them over social media such as Facebook and Twitter with harsh words and criticisms aimed at making them feel bad about themselves.
Mental and verbal bullying is increasing more recently over the internet called cyber bullying. This harmful and damaging form of bullying is a way to torture the person with mean comments and embarrassing or personal photos that everyone they are friends with can see.
Bullying and Suicide: When Bullying Becomes Physical
Bullies lash out at their victims using physical harm including:
spitting on their victim
This type of bullying can occur at school, in the workplace and in relationships where one partner tries to assert control over another partner through physical and emotional harm.
The person may not know how to stop it or how to talk about it. Getting involved can make the situation worse, so they keep it a secret
Bullied people will withdraw from activities and friendships.
One study in Britain found bullying caused half of all suicides. Many news reports over the past few years have brought to light stories of bullying leading to suicide. However, research indicates there is often other factors along with bullying that leads to suicide.
If you suspect someone or a group of peers is bullying a person, reach out to them and work with a professional.
What Are The Warning Signs of Suicide?
People who attempt or commit suicide usually show warning signs before it happens. These signs include:
Symptoms of depression including sadness.
Physical symptoms, ailments and aches and pains associated with depression such as constant headaches, stomach aches and fatigue.
Withdrawing from family, friends or favourite activities.
Changes in sleeping habits and eating habits.
Poor hygiene and not taking care of their appearance.
Alcohol or drug abuse.
Changes in personality or mood.
Self-inflicted injury such as cutting.
Reckless behaviour and other harmful or dangerous activities such as violent outbursts and running away.
Saying things like people would be better off if they did not exist or discussing their inability to handle life.
Showing an interest in death and dying.
Finding Help for Suicidal People
The question Why People Commit Suicide is difficult to answer and different for everybody. Suicide is not always planned in advance and is often an impulsive reaction to the difficult situations the person is facing. Some live in the moment and have trouble seeing a happier future when they are depressed or bullied. Many times, they don’t really want to die, they just want to find a way out of their situation so badly they will resort to any drastic measure to do so.
If you suspect someone is showing any of the signs or symptoms of depressive or suicidal behaviour get them help immediately. Reach out and try to talk with them and provide them with resources to work through their emotions. There are many resources available for people who want to commit suicide.