We all need a reason for living.  Although survival is built into us, modern living takes it's toll more frequently than we should tolerate as a caring society. If life seems empty and hopeless, it might seem pointless going on.  But more likely than not, hope is around the corner, so don't throw it all away.


The term Suicide comes from the Latin sui caedere, to kill oneself.  It is the act of willfully ending one's own life. Suicide is sometimes used as a noun for one who has committed or attempted the act.




Suicide Club - a film



The terminology and its implications


Suicide can be stigmatized or honoured, depending on cultural context and its apparent reasons.


Those experiencing suicidal ideation, or thoughts about fatally harming one's self, may struggle to be heard and understood. The person feeling suicidal may often be made to feel rejected and guilty by those to whom they have confided their thoughts and feelings. Sufferers are sometimes wary of mental health professionals, as they may feel that they lack empathy or might accuse them of trying to hurt the feelings of friends or family. A person feeling suicidal may also wish to avoid being seen as making suicide 'threats', fearing that they might be seen as attempting to manipulate others. This may lead to situations where a person commits suicide without telling friends or family of how they felt.


Suicidal ideation can be described as a result from the experience of emotional pain outweighing the individual's coping strategies and resources for dealing with that pain. Some would claim that it can arise due to an individual's unwillingness to impose self-discipline and care about others more than him or herself; however, this idea ignores the ever-present emotional agony and feelings of immense hopelessness that many people with suicide ideology feel, and is sometimes used by family or others to instill shame or guilt in a person with suicidal thoughts, in order to avoid a suicide. It may work in some cases, but in others it may only cause a person to continue suffering for the sake of other people, without really addressing their own problems. 


The perception of suicide is highly varied between the cultures, religions and legal and social systems of the world. It is considered a sin or immoral act in many religions, and a crime to help someone commit suicide in some countries. On the other hand, some cultures have viewed it as an honourable way to exit certain shameful or hopeless situations. Persons attempting or dying by suicide sometimes leave a suicide note.


Strictly, suicide is defined thus: the death of the person who commits suicide must be the central component and only intention of the act, rather than a secondary consequence of an act which is centrally motivated by religion, politics, etc.


A suicide attack is an attack carried out on an enemy at the cost of the attacker's life. It is not suicide in the abovementioned sense.


Martyrdom usually escapes religious or legal proscription. Generally, there are only legal consequences when there is death and proof of intent. However, not all follow this narrower definition. Certainly, a suicide bomber knows that death will be part of the outcome of his or her actions.


Defined as above, acts of suicide are necessarily committed only by human beings. No other known healthy organism possesses both the will and the capability to intentionally terminate its own life for the sole sake of death. There is some dispute over this with cases being reported of dolphins in captivity bashing their heads against walls, or not coming up for air. However, there are organisms that intentionally end their lives due to sickness or as a suicide attack.



Causes of suicide


No single factor has gained acceptance as a universal cause of suicide. However, depression is a common phenomenon amongst those who commit suicide. Other factors that may be related are as follows (Note that this is not meant as a comprehensive list, but rather as a summary of notable causes)  :


  • Pain (e.g. physical agony that is not correctable)

  • Stress (e.g. Grief after a death)

  • Crime (e.g. escaping judicial punishment)

  • Mental illness and disability (e.g. depression, bipolar disorder, trauma, and schizophrenia)

  • Catastrophic Injury (e.g. paralysis, disfigurement, loss of limb)

  • Substance abuse

  • Adverse environment (e.g. poverty, homelessness, discrimination, bullying/bullycide)

  • Financial loss (e.g. gambling addiction, loss of job/assets, stock market crash, debts)

  • Unresolved sexual issues (e.g. sexual orientation, unrequited love, aftermath of a break up)

  • Copycat


Reasons that may not fall under the strict definition of suicide as laid out above:

  • Religion (e.g. suicide bombings, Heaven's Gate)

  • Extreme nationalism (e.g. the Kamikaze, Selbstopfer, and Kaiten suicide weapons)



Medical views of suicide


Modern medicine treats suicide as a mental health issue. Overwhelming suicidal thoughts are considered a medical emergency. Medical professionals advise that people who have expressed plans to kill themselves be encouraged to seek medical attention immediately. This is especially important if the means (weapons, drugs, or other methods) are available, or if the patient has crafted a detailed plan for executing the suicide. Special consideration is given to trained personnel to look for suicidal signs in patients. Depressive people are considered a high-risk group for suicidal behaviour. Suicide hotlines are widely available for people seeking help. However, the negative and often too clinical reception that many suicidal people receive after relating their feelings to health professionals (threats of institutionalization, simply increasing dosages of medication, the stigmatization of suicide as a topic of discussion, etc), often causes them to keep their suicidal thoughts to themselves.





In countries where firearms are readily available, many suicides involve the use of firearms. In fact, just over 55% of suicides committed in the United States in 2001 were by firearm. Asphyxiation methods (including hanging) and toxification (poisoning and overdose) are fairly prevalent as well. Each comprised about 20% of suicides in the US during the same time period. Other methods of suicide include blunt force trauma (jumping from a building/bridge or stepping in front of a train for example), exsanguination or bloodletting (slitting one's wrist or throat), self-immolation, electrocution, car collision and intentional starvation.


In the Warring States Period and the Edo period of Japan, samurai who disgraced their honor chose to end their own lives by harakiri (hara = stomach, kiri = cut) or seppuku, a method in which the samurai takes a sword and slices into his abdomen, causing a fatal injury. The cut is usually performed diagonally from the top corner of the samurai's writing hand, and has long been considered an honorable form of death (even when done to punish dishonor). Though obviously such a wound would be fatal, seppuku was not always technically suicide, as the samurai's assistant would stand by to cut short any suffering by quickly administering decapitation--sometimes as soon as the first tiny incision into the abdomen was made.




The self-immolation of Thích Quảng Đức



Suicide as a form of defiance and protest


Heroic suicide, for the greater good of others, is often celebrated. For instance, Mahatma Gandhi went on a hunger strike to prevent fighting between Hindus and Muslims, and, although he was stopped before dying, it appeared he would have willingly succumbed to starvation. For this, he earned the respect of many.


In the 1960s, Buddhist monks, most notably Thích Quảng Đức, in South Vietnam drew Western attention to their protests against President Ngô Đình Diệm by burning themselves to death. Similar events were reported in eastern Europe, such as the death of Jan Palach following the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. In wars, there have been numerous reports of combatants performing suicidal acts in order to save other soldiers. Not everybody would count all these actions as suicides, as the person's death was clearly not the primary purpose. Opponents argue that these people would probably achieve a comparable result by spending the rest of their lives in active struggle.

Hunger strikes have frequently been used as a form of protest by incarcerated persons, and result in death where neither side in the strike gives way.



Military suicide


In the desperate final days of World War II, many Japanese pilots volunteered for kamikaze missions in an attempt to forestall defeat for the Empire. Similarly in Germany; Luftwaffe squadrons were formed to smash into American B-17s during daylight bombing missions, in order to delay the highly probable Allied victory. The degree to which these pilots were engaging in heroic, selfless action or whether they faced immense social pressure is a matter of historical debate. The Japanese also built one-man "human torpedo" suicide submarines.


However, suicide has been fairly common in warfare throughout history. Soldiers and civilians committed suicide to avoid capture and slavery (including the wave of German and Japanese suicides in the last days of World War II). Commanders committed suicide rather than accept defeat. Behaviour that could be seen as suicidal occurred often in battle. For instance, soldiers under cannon fire at the Battle of Waterloo took fatal hits rather than duck and place their comrades in harm's way. The Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War, Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg in the US Civil War , and the charge of the French cavalry at Sedan in the Franco-Prussian War were assaults that continued even after it was obvious to participants that the attacks were unlikely to succeed and would probably be fatal to most of the attackers. Japanese infantrymen usually fought to the last man, launched "banzai" suicide charges, and committed suicide during the Pacific island battles in World War II. In Saipan, Okinawa, civilians joined in the suicides. Suicidal attacks by pilots were common in the 20th century: the attack by U.S. torpedo planes at the Battle of Midway was very similar to a kamikaze attack.


This particular reference to suicide is also what leads to the everyday usage of the term when indicating a hopeless situation, often in business, such as "it would be suicide for us to go to market without a viable product."



Debate over suicide


There are arguments in favour of allowing an individual to choose between life and death. This view sees suicide as a valid option and a human right and argues that no being should be made to suffer unnecessarily. This view notes that suicide provides an escape from suffering in certain circumstances, such as incurable disease or mental illness, and old age. These theories are most commonly held in Continental Europe, where euthanasia and other such topics are discussed in parliament, and in some areas of the United States.


This view rejects the belief that suicide is always or usually irrational, saying instead that it is a genuine, albeit severe, solution to real problems – a line of last resort that can legitimately be taken when the alternative is considered worse.


On the other hand, a young and healthy person, free from any major trauma in their past, in their opinion free from any mental disorders, and with a future even regarded as bright by observers, can come to the decision that they don't find life rewarding and that they wish to end their experience then and there. This is usually met with a negative reaction, and these persons are often persuaded from their feelings and beliefs, while others choose to disregard such pressures. Those who ultimately kill themselves under these circumstances might argue that going to heaven, or the "peace of nothingness" that comes with death, is much more appealing than the experiences they expect to have in this world. They may feel too eager for this better state of (non)existence to wait, especially during modern times in which the human lifespan is progressively increasing.


In the past, the Japanese were sometimes ordered by their superiors to commit seppuku, a form of ritual disembowelment suicide. This was expected as a matter of honour where staying alive committed a greater dishonour to their family. They may also have done it as a matter of free choice, also for the sake of honour, and it was considered better than being taken prisoner. Achieving a placid indifference to life or death was considered a state of enlightenment in certain Buddhist traditions.



Suicide by Edouard Manet


Edouard Manet: Suicide, 1877





According to official statistics, about a million people commit suicide annually, more than those murdered or killed in war.  As of 2001 in the USA, suicides outnumber homicides by 3 to 2 and deaths from AIDS by 2 to 1.


Many theories have been developed to explain the causes of suicide with no strong consensus with one. Nevertheless, from the known suicides, certain trends are apparent:


Gender and suicide: In the Western world, males die much more often than females by suicide, while females attempt suicide more often. Some medical professionals believe this is due to the fact that males are more likely to end their life through violent means (guns, knives, hanging, drowning, etc.), while women primarily overdose on medications. Others ascribe the difference to inherent differences in male/female psychology, with men having more of an operational mindset and women being more aware of social nuance. In any case, violent suicide attempts are much more likely to be successful.  Typically males die from suicide 3 to 4 times as often as females.


Excess male mortality from suicide is also evident from data from non-western countries. In 1979-81, the number of countries with a non-zero suicide rate was 74. Two of these reported equal rates for the sexes: Seychelles and Kenya. Three countries reported female rates exceeding male rates: Papua-New Guinea, Macao, French Guiana. The remaining 69 countries had male suicide rates greater than female suicide rates.


Barraclough found that the female rates of those aged 5-14 equaled or exceeded the male rates only in 14 countries, mainly in South America and Asia.


National suicide rates sometimes tend to be stable. For example, the 1975 rates for Australia, Denmark, England, France, Norway, and Switzerland, were within 3.0 per 100,000 of population from the 1875 rates (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1983; Lester, Patterns, 1996, p. 21). The rates in 1910-14 and in 1960 differed less than 2.5 per 100,000 of population in Australia, Belgium, Denmark, England & Wales, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, and The Netherlands (Lester, Patterns, 1996, p. 22).


There are considerable differences between national suicide rates. Findings from two studies showed a range from 0.0 to more than 40 suicides per 100,000 of population.


National suicide rates, apparently universally, show an upward secular trend. This trend has been well documented for European countries.  The trend for national suicide rates to rise slowly over time might be an indirect result of the gradual reduction in deaths from other causes. Falling death rates from causes other than suicide uncover hidden suicide predisposition. This uncovering effect is due to suicide, up to now, not being preventable. Consistent with this interpretation, between 1971 and 1991, the Australian male suicide rate was rising while the overall mortality rate for Australian males was falling.


There is a common belief, especially in the US, that Sweden has a higher rate of suicide than other countries; this is actually a myth, as Sweden has an average suicide rate. The myth was probably started because the secular government of Sweden started to measure suicide statistics openly before other countries did. President Eisenhower saw this as a chance to promote his political ideology, and maintained that the statistics showed Sweden was the country of "free love, high taxes and suicide" (none of this was particularly true at the time). Also, the dark, relatively cold climate of Sweden in the winter has added fuel to this myth. (see "Suicide and Season" below).


Race and suicide. At least in the USA, Caucasians commit suicide more often than African-Americans do. This is true for both genders. Non-Hispanic whites are nearly 2.5 times more likely to kill themselves as blacks or Hispanics. 

Age and suicide At least in the USA, males over 70 commit suicide more often than younger males. There is no such trend for females. Older non-Hispanic white men are much more likely to kill themselves than older men or women of any other group, which contributes to the relatively high suicide rate among whites. White men in their 20s, conversely, kill themselves only slightly more often than black or Hispanic men in the same age group.


Season and suicide People commit suicide more often during spring and summer. The idea that suicide is more common during the winter holidays (including Christmas in the northern hemisphere) is actually a myth.



Combination of homicide and suicide


Since crime just prior to suicide is often perceived as being without consequences, it is not uncommon for suicide to be linked with homicide. Motivations may range from guilt, to evading punishment, to insanity, to killing others as part of a suicide pact.



Attempted suicide and parasuicide


Many suicidal people participate in suicidal activities which do not result in death. These activities fall under the designation attempted suicide or parasuicide. Generally, those with a history of such attempts are almost 23 times more likely to eventually end their own lives than those without.


Sometimes, a person will make actions resembling suicide attempts while not being fully committed, or in a deliberate attempt to have others notice. This is called a suicidal gesture (also known as a "cry for help"). Prototypical methods might be a non-lethal method of self-harm that leaves obvious signs of the attempt, or simply a lethal action at a time when the person considers it likely that he/she will be rescued or prevented from fully carrying it out.


On the other hand, a person who genuinely wishes to die may fail, due to lack of knowledge about what they are doing; unwillingness to try methods that may end in permanent damage if they fail or harm others; or an unanticipated rescue, among other reasons. This is referred to as a suicidal attempt.


Distinguishing between a suicidal attempt and a suicidal gesture may be difficult. Intent and motivation are not always fully discernible since so many people in a suicidal state are genuinely conflicted over whether they wish to end their lives. One approach, assuming that a sufficiently strong intent will ensure success, considers all near-suicides to be suicidal gestures. This however does not explain why so many people who fail at suicide end up with severe injuries, often permanent, which are most likely undesirable to those who are making a suicidal gesture. Another possibility is those wishing merely to make a suicidal gesture may end up accidentally killing themselves, perhaps by underestimating the lethality of the method chosen or by overestimating the possibility of external intervention by others. Suicide-like acts should generally be treated as seriously as possible since if there is an insufficiently strong reaction from loved ones from a suicidal gesture, this may motivate future, more committed attempts.


In the technical literature the use of the terms parasuicide, or deliberate self-harm (DSH) are preferred – both of these terms avoid the question of the intent of the action.


An important difference to note is that self-harm is not a suicide attempt. There is a non-causal correlation between self-harm and suicide; individuals who suffer from depression or other mental health issues are also more likely to choose suicide. DSH is far more common than suicide, and the majority of DSH participants are females aged under 35. They are usually not physically ill and while psychological factors are highly significant, they are rarely clinically ill and severe depression is uncommon. Social issues are key – DSH is most common among those living in overcrowded conditions, in conflict with their families, with disrupted childhoods and history of drinking, criminal behavior, and violence. Individuals under these stresses become anxious and depressed and then, usually in reaction to a single particular crisis, they attempt to harm themselves. The motivation may be a desire for relief from emotional pain or to communicate feelings, although the motivation will often be complex and confused. DSH may also result from an inner conflict between the desire to end life and the desire to continue living. See the article on self-harm for an in depth discussion.




London suicide bombers



Distinction between suicide and attempted suicide


An important distinction has also been made (see Erwin Stengel, 'Suicide and Attempted Suicide') between those who kill themselves and did not mean to, and those who did not kill themselves but did mean to. Thus a 'Suicide' (noun) may either succeed or fail in his/her goal (i.e. succeed in killing himself/herself or not) and an 'Attempted Suicide' (noun) may either succeed or fail in his/her goal (e.g., succeed in 'making a cry for help' or fail and, in doing so, probably die).


This distinction, if correctly drawn, can have important ramifications for the treatment of people who are suicidal. Its definition is when one takes their own life, in other words when a person kills himself or herself. Some people are suicidal and there are many “symptoms” that we can be observant of that can assist us in picking out those who are contemplating suicide. Some of these include a person who has a number of problems in their life which they think have no solution, a person becoming abnormally violent, depressed, becoming drawn to themselves, etc. Some people turn to other means whilst trying to deal or overcome their irrational thoughts and behavior, this might include the consumption of drugs, alcohol, etc. and as a result, their problem only ends up getting worse than it originally was. Most people who try and commit suicide but fail in doing so, very often try again. Thinking about suicide is, actually, fairly common. At least 17% of high school students admitted seriously considering suicide in the past year, while less than 8% made an attempt.


Most countries have introduced special facilities such as “the lifeline” which is aimed at helping those who are at the brink of suicide. There are also workshops, which are being carried out and have the same aim.



Impact of suicide on family and friends


It is estimated that an average of six people are affected for each suicide in the United States. However, this may grossly underestimate the number of people who are affected. For example, the suicide of a child may leave the school and their entire community left to make sense of the loss.


As with any death, family and friends of a suicide victim feel grief associated with loss. However, these "survivors" are often overwhelmed with psychological trauma as well, given that most suicides are unforseeable and sudden. This trauma can leave survivors feeling guilty, angry, remorseful, helpless, and confused. It can be especially difficult for survivors because many of their questions as to why the victim felt the need to take his or her own life are left unanswered. Moreover, survivors often feel that they have failed or that they should have intervened in some way. Given these complex sets of emotions associated with a loved one's suicide, survivors usually find it difficult to discuss the death with others, causing them to feel isolated from their own network of family and friends and often resulting in reluctance to form new relationships as well..


"Survivor groups" can offer counseling and help bring many of the issues associated with suicide out into the open. They can also help survivors reach out to their own friends and family who may be feeling similarly and thus begin the healing process. In addition, counseling services and therapy can provide invaluable support to the bereaved. There are also online support groups that provide a forum for discussion amongst survivors of suicide (see Support Groups for Survivors section below).


As well as providing counseling for the grief-stricken, survivor groups have also attempted to change the language used to describe suicide. Believing that the term "commit" attaches criminal implications to suicide, they have pushed for alternative terms that remove this meaning including "attempting" suicide, or "died by" suicide.




Beckett Group  breach Court Order


It was revealed last week (6 Feb 08) that the Beckett Newspaper Group breached a Court Order preventing publication on a blanket basis, concerning the so-called Herstmonceux Bunny Boiler case. This Order was made specifically to preserve the rights of the parties, to a fair hearing. It begs the question, if such an Order was made and breached, could the parties have received a fair hearing?


It is unclear where this leaves Beckett Newspapers and what action the Police might take to ensure publication of this nature is prevented by over eager Reporters and Editors, who perhaps have an eye on sensationalism to generate headlines to sell newspapers, rather than the damage that could be inflicted on the persons affected. This is the subject of much media attention following the revelation of multiple suicides at Bridgend in Wales, in part attributed by some to the sensationalist newspaper reporting. The latest girl to take her own life by hanging being 16 year old Jenna Parry.



Jenna Parry, suicide victim Bridgend, Wales alleged Bebo cult


Jenna Parry, 17th Suicide victim Bridgend



Readers will know the Government, after consideration of Lord Goldsmith, are considering moves to protect the identity of those accused of sexual offences, much the same as their accusers. This is because of the rise of innocent men being convicted by Juries, and only after serving considerable time in prison, is new evidence found to render guilty verdicts unsafe.


This could leave news hounds eager for material to print, out in the cold. However, the moral implications are clear. Allegations of a sexual nature ruin lives. See the links below to sample cases in 2007, where publication and subsequent scandal have ruined lives. The accusers inevitably get away scot-free. The newspaper hounds and the editors that helped ruin lives, on occasion even sway public opinion to deliver an incorrect verdict, also find themselves in the clear.


These are some of the examples of women falsely accusing men who were innocent. What is wrong with our legal system? 


FACT: Girls making allegations are coached. YES, this is true, they are instructed how to give evidence and cosseted, sometimes isolated via a video link to make it easier for them to appear sweetness and light. 


Barristers are loath to question hard, for fear of looking like bullies to a Jury.




Atonement, the movie poster, false accusations


"These girls are every mans worst nightmare". - Warren Blackwell 2006





Here's what readers have had to say!


This is scandalous. I think that if the members of the jury knew just how slow the appeals process is they would be much less inclined to find people guilty when there is 'reasonable doubt'. In practice it is very difficult when people are found guilty on this kind of case where there is NO evidence; if there is no evidence in the first place then where is the 'fresh evidence' that may be required for an appeal to go ahead going to come from? These cases only seem to win on appeals when a false accuser admits to lying and that is very rare. Unfortunately as Mr Carrington-Jones has said there could be many innocent people in prison now as a result of convictions on non-evidence. Where will his compensation come from? Will the woman be charged?  - Lily, Hull


Compensation is rightly due to this poor chap, but should the public pay the price of the crimes committed by these lying women? Shouldn't they be made to pay, even if it means their being financially ruined for life? And surely it cannot be the case that parole cannot be considered unless and until a prisoner "admits" the crime for which he/she has been found guilty?  - Jim, London



What is wrong with British justice system where allegations of sexual assault are concerned? It all these cases it boils down to one girls word against the persons accused. Heaven forbid the accused should lead an unusual lifestyle. A Jury would not understand this!! This could be one failing of the Jury system, they are ordinary men and women. Perhaps justice is more important than to trust to Juries? The statistics speak for themselves.







  1. Apter, Alan, Bleich, Avi; King, Robert A.; Kron, Shmuel; Fluch, Avi; Kotler, Moshe; Cohen, Donald J. (February 1993). "Death Without Warning?: A Clinical Postmortem Study of Suicide in 43 Israeli Adolescent Males.". Archives of General Psychiatry 50 (2): 138-142.

  2. Doug (SDSTAFF) (2001-02-01). Does any animal besides humans commit suicide?. The Straight Dope. 



  5. Suicide prevention. WHO Sites: Mental Health. World Health Organization (February 16, 2006). 

  6. Teen Suicide Statistics. Adolescent Teenage Suicide Prevention. (2001). 

  7. Cantor CH. Suicide in the Western World. In: Hawton K, van Heering K, eds. International handbook of suicide and attempted suicide. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 2000: 9-28.

  8. Lester, Patterns, Table 3.3, pp. 31-33

  9. Barraclough,B M. Sex ratio of juvenile suicide. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 1987, 26, 434-435.

  10. La Vecchia, C., Lucchini, F., & Levi, F. (1994) Worldwide trends in suicide mortality, 1955-1989. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 90, 53-64.; Lester, Patterns, 1996, pp. 28-30.

  11. Lester, Patterns, 1996, p. 2.

  12. Baldessarini, R. J., & Jamison, K. R. (1999) Effects of medical interventions on suicidal behavior. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 60 (Suppl. 2), 117-122.

  13. Khan, A., Warner, H. A., & Brown, W. A. (2000) Symptom reduction and suicide risk in patients treated with placebo in antidepressant clinical trials. Archives of General Psychiatry, 57, 311-317.

  14. Jain, 1994, p. 18

  15. "Questions About Suicide", Centre For Suicide Prevention, 2006.

  16. Shaffer, D.J. (September 1988). "The Epidemiology of Teen Suicide: An Examination of Risk Factors". Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 49 (supp.): 36–41. PMID 3047106






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