Suicide is the intentional taking of a person's own life.
More deaths in the United States each year are from suicide than from murder. Yet talking about suicide can make people uncomfortable. Suicide results from many factors, some of which are complicated and not well understood. It is not clear or predictable why the setbacks, losses, or difficulties that would lead one person to feel unhappy might push another person to consider suicide.
It is estimated that more than 42,500 Americans die as the result of suicide each year. Some experts believe that the number of suicides is even higher. Many events considered accidents, such as discharge of a firearm or single-car crashes, actually may be unrecognized or unreported suicides. Although no official record is kept of suicide attempts, it is estimated that there are 25 attempts for each completed suicide. Overall, suicide is ranked 10th as a cause of death in the United States, but among the young, suicide ranks third.
Young people have a higher than average rate of suicide. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among people 15 to 24 years old. The 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey found that 8 percent of high school students had attempted suicide. The most common methods of committing suicide are by intentionally taking a drug overdose (prescription or over-the-counter medicines), inhaling carbon monoxide from car exhausts, or using guns.
About 90 percent of people who commit suicide have a diagnosed psychiatric disorder. Depression and substance abuse (either alone or in combination) are the two most common factors that play a part in suicide. This statistic does not mean that everyone who has depression or an alcohol or drug problem will consider committing suicide. Most people with these problems are not suicidal.
People who are more likely to kill themselves may also:
People who talk about killing themselves are at risk of committing suicide. Most people who attempt suicide give clues about their intentions before they act on them. It is important to take any talk about suicide—or any indication that suicide is a possibility—seriously.
Common warning signs that a person is thinking about suicide include the following:
For a mentally healthy person, the idea that someone would have no choice except to commit suicide makes no sense. However, depression, substance abuse, and other mental illnesses such as schizophrenia * alter the mind and cloud thinking. People with these problems may feel that they are in a deep, dark hole from which there is no escape and that life is so painful that there are no alternatives except death.
There may be inherited tendencies for depression, schizophrenia, alcoholism, substance abuse, and certain personality disorders * . All of these problems can increase a person's vulnerability to suicidal thoughts when things go wrong. Some studies suggest that the brain chemistry of people who commit suicide is abnormal. Some research has sought to examine the effects of certain medications that alter brain chemistry in a way that could lower the risk of suicidal behavior.
Sometimes, a person is at risk of suicide but acts only because he or she is exposed to suicide by a family member, friend, classmate, or celebrity. This behavioral pattern is called suicide contagion. The media can sometimes report too many details or glorify a suicide victim. Anyone at risk of suicide should seek counseling or evaluation from a mental health professional when exposed to another's suicide.
People who are thinking about committing suicide need help from a professional. They have usually sunk so deeply into their mental and emotional black holes that they may be unable to recognize that they are in trouble or to seek help on their own. It is important to pay attention when people talk about wanting to die and to take their words seriously. Having another person approach the subject directly is often a relief to the person considering suicide. It is sometimes thought that speaking to people about their possible wish to commit suicide will encourage the idea. However, people who talk about suicide often are already thinking about suicide.
Professional help is available through suicide prevention and crisis intervention centers, mental health clinics, hospitals and emergency rooms, family doctors, health maintenance organizations, mental health practitioners, and members of the clergy. When a person is possibly suicidal, it is a good idea to talk to another mature, responsible person and ask that person to join in helping to deal with the crisis. Many suicide and mental health crisis organizations have websites and telephone hotlines. Immediate help can be obtained by calling emergency services (9-1-1 in most communities).
Other ways of possibly minimizing the risk of suicide include the following:
Suicide places an intense emotional burden on the survivors. People who have been close to someone who has attempted or completed suicide might consider mental health counseling to help them deal with their own emotions.
See also Aging • Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders: Overview • Bipolar Disorder • Death and Dying • Depressive Disorders: Overview • Pain • Personality and Personality Disorders • Psychosis • Schizophrenia • Substance Abuse • Trauma
Hecht, Jennifer Michael. Stay: A History of Suicide and the Arguments Against It. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.
Seupel, Celia Watson. “Blocking the Paths to Suicide.” New York Times, March 9, 2015. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/10/health/blocking-the-paths-to-suicide.html (accessed July 13, 2016).
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “About Suicide.” https://www.afsp.org/understanding-suicide (accessed July 13, 2016).
Suicide Prevention Resource Center. “Suicide Prevention for Teens.” http://www.sprc.org/sites/sprc.org/files/Teens.pdf (accessed July 13, 2016).
American Psychiatric Association. 1000 Wilson Blvd., Suite 1825, Arlington, VA 22209-3901. Telephone: 703-907-7300. Website: http://www.psychiatry.org (accessed July 13, 2016).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. 1600 Clifton Rd., Atlanta, GA 30329-4027. Toll-free: 888-674-6854. Website: http://www.cdc.gov/injury/ (accessed July 13, 2016).
National Institute of Mental Health. 6001 Executive Blvd., Rm. 6200, MSC 9663, Bethesda, MD 20892-9663. Toll-free: 866-615-6464. Website: http://www.nimh.nih.gov (accessed July 13, 2016).
Suicide Awareness Voices of Education. 8120 Penn Ave. S, Suite 470, Bloomington, MN 55431. Telephone: 952-946-7998. Website: http://www.save.org (accessed July 13, 2016).
* schizophrenia (skit-so-FREE-nee-ah) is a serious mental disorder characterized by hallucinations, delusions, and thought disorders that indicate loss of contact with reality.
* personality disorders are a group of mental disorders characterized by long-term patterns of behavior that differ from those expected by society. People with personality disorders have patterns of emotional response, impulse control, and perception that differ from those of most people.