Why do people commit suicide?
About 7,000 people a year try to commit suicide in Poland alone. Almost 5,000 do it effectively. Why? What makes a person decide to end his/her life and what factors are conducive to such behavior?
Risk factors for suicidal behavior can be divided into three groups: clinical, social and psychological factors. Often, the decision to commit suicide is influenced by several factors that overlap and reinforce each other. Often, it is also impossible to establish for what reason a person took his/her life.
Suicide: Clinical Factors
Do suicides have mentall illness? Many people ask this question, and indeed, often it is true, but not always of course. According to Polish police statistics, the two most common causes of suicide are family disagreements and mental illness.
The mental illness that affects the risk of suicide the most is depression. It is estimated that two thirds of suicides suffer from depression and about 15% of people with depression decide to end their lives. Patients who also suffer from insomnia are at greater risk.
Contrary to appearances, the most severe depression does not mean the greatest risk of taking your life. You need some determination and energy to kill yourself. Patients with very deep depression, having no strength for anything, also do not have the strength to commit suicide. Therefore, a greater risk may be in the period when a person is beginning to theoretically recover from depression. People who have recently been diagnosed with depression are also at greater risk. People who struggle with this disease for a longer time learn to live with it and less often decide to end their lives.
The risk of committing suicide is especially high in patients who suffer from persistent auditory hallucinations. Sometimes such persons still hear “voices” telling them to kill themselves and eventually succumb to these commands. However, even if the “voices” do not command suicide, they can be difficult to deal with, and sometimes suicide seems to patient the only escape.
As with depression, those who have recently been diagnosed with the disease are at greater risk than those who live with schizophrenia for many years. Moreover, schizophrenia is often accompanied by depression, which may be an additional risk factor.
At least one third of suicides abuse psychoactive substances. The most common addiction is alcoholism, and suicides are often committed under the influence of this substance. The relationship between alcoholism and the risk of suicide is not straightforward. Alcohol can indirectly affect the risk of suicide by causing family conflict and loss of support from loved ones, but the cognitive and physiological changes caused by long-term alcohol abuse may also play a role. Alcoholics who choose to commit suicide often lose an important person shortly before their death, or have experienced an interpersonal conflict or other personal crisis.
Personality disorders approximately 7 times increase the risk of taking one’s own life. People with borderline personality disorder, characterized by e.g. impulsiveness, frequent feeling of emptiness, fear of abandonment, extreme and ambivalent emotions are at particular risk.
Suicide: Social Factors
Human, as a social being, needs support and close relationships. This is especially true when he experiences difficulties in life. People who have whom to turn to in stressful and difficult situations and know that they are not alone with their problems cope better and are less likely to say that the only way out is death.
As I mentioned above, crises in social relations, such as family conflicts, are one of the most common causes of suicide. The loss of a loved one may also lead to such an act. The more a man was dependent on the person he/she lost and the less support other people provide him/her, the greater the risk of suicide.
Suicide: Psychological Factors
Edwin Shneidman distinguished 10 commonalities in suicides:
- Seek a solution – Suicides often find themselves in situations they cannot solve. The only option seems to be suicide. Therefore, shortly before taking his life, a suicide often feels calm and improves his mood. After all, he no longer has to worry about how to get out of his problems, he has found a solution …
- Cessation of consciousness – A person who decides to commit suicide escapes not only from problems, but also from mental pain, guilt or other difficult emotions.
- Intolerable psychological pain – According to Shneidman, intolerable psychological pain is the pain of feeling pain. It’s an overwhelming emotion for which there is no cure, and sometimes suicide seems like the only cure that can relieve suffering.
- Frustrated psychological needs – One of the causes of suicide is unmet needs, such as love, understanding, and achievement. An unmet need for achievement can be especially true of perfectionists. This trait is often associated with suicidal ideation because perfectionists find it difficult to live up to their own expectations.
- Hopelessness-helplessness – Suicides feel helpless in their situation. They get the feeling that no matter what they do, their lives won’t get better. They lose hope, and it is difficult to live without hope for improvement … This feeling of hopelessness may come from not being able to think positively. Research has shown that people who had suicide attempts do not differ from control groups in the frequency of negative thinking about the future. However, normally, people can imagine not only what bad could happen to them, but also what good. People who decide to end their lives, on the other hand, have problems with thinking about positive events that may occur, which is why they have tendency toward doom and gloom. They also have trouble recalling positive memories from the past. In addition, a sense of hopelessness and helplessness may be due to a negative attributive style. In the case of negative events, they believe that they were their fault and the situation will not improve, while positive events are attributed to various external factors.
- Ambivalent cognitive state – People with suicidal tendencies often experience strong internal conflicts. They can jump from love to hate and from life to death. One moment they want to live, another moment they want to die.
- Constricted perceptual state – People with suicidal tendencies have a reduced ability to perceive alternative possibilities. They are characterized by the so-called cognitive rigidity, which results in difficulties in finding oneself in new, difficult situations. They are also often characterized by dichotomous thinking. They see the world in black and white, which makes it difficult for them to find solutions to life problems. They only see two solutions. Either live and continue to suffer or die.
- Egression – Here I have a problem with explaining exactly what Shneidman meant, other than what he made in the second and, in a sense, the first point as well. In general, according to him, the purpose of suicide is seeking a solution, the goal is cessation of consciousness, and the action is egression.
- Communication of intention – People who want to commit suicide usually report their intentions. Sometimes a few days ahead, sometimes weeks or months. Sometimes these are subtle clues, but often they bluntly say they want to kill themselves.
- Consistency with lifelong coping patterns – Shneidman also noted that the way people commit suicide is usually in line with the lifestyle and personality of the suicide. For example, a person who is impatient by character is unlikely to try to poison himself, because then it may take too long to die. Instead, he chooses to hang himself or jump from a great height. Behavior before suicide is also consistent with the characteristics of the person. For example, compulsory persons, as always, also want to settle all their chores before they die (pay bills, write a will, visit relatives, etc.).
I have already mentioned loneliness as a social factor. Here I want to mention again as this is also a psychological factor. It happens that people who have made a suicide attempt admit that they have friends with whom they can talk, and yet feel lonely. It seems that the feeling of loneliness is a greater risk factor than objective social isolation.
In conversations with people who decided to kill themselves, the motive of incomprehension often appears. They feel that others do not notice what is happening to them and do not care what they feel.
How do I know when someone wants to commit suicide?
First and foremost, don’t underestimate someone who says they want to kill themselves. Many people believe that when someone talks about suicide, they just want attention. In fact, it may be it sometimes, but it is not “just” attention. If someone tries to get attention, they need that attention. It is also a fact that many people when they say they want to kill themselves really want to kill themselves. It is also worth paying attention to other statements that may suggest that a given person may commit suicide, e.g. “I don’t feel like living anymore”, “I cannot bear this suffering anymore”, etc.
Changes in behavior may also indicate a desire to commit suicide. Before committing suicide, people often isolate themselves from others and stop taking care of themselves. On the other hand, sudden positive changes in behavior, such as increased energy, better mood, may also indicate an impending suicide attempt. In the weeks leading up to the attempt, most people also change their sleeping and eating habits.
Despite these clues, it is often difficult to predict a suicide attempt. Some people hide their intentions and show no apparent behavioral changes.
Should you save suicides?
Some people argue that suicides should not be rescued because it is their choice and they should be allowed to do so. Here we go into philosophical and moral questions, but the statistics are that roughly half of the would-be suicides after being rescued say they still want to die, while the other half are glad they didn’t. It also happens that an attempted suicide is a dramatic way of drawing attention to yourself and your suffering. Such people, when attempting suicide, hope that someone will save them.
Therefore, in my opinion, of course we should try to save people who want to commit suicide. Especially that even people who claim that they still want to die immediately after being rescued may change their minds after some time. Some say that suicides are people who don’t respect their own lives. In fact, they are often people who suffer unbelievably and cannot cope with it. Maybe they need a change in the way their depression is treated; maybe help from someone more resourceful in life, who will show them possible ways out of problems; maybe a friend who will listen, understand and support …
People who choose to die from physical suffering are another issue. In their case, the lack of hope and a sense of helplessness may result from objective medical reasons.
Personally, I can imagine situations in which I would respect someone’s will to die. However, it would have to be done after long talks with the person and the certainty that nothing could be done to ease their suffering. I believe that the vast majority of suicides can be helped, and a suicide attempt means that they need help very much.
- Rory O`Connor, Noel Sheehy „Zrozumieć samobójcę”, Gdańskie Wydawnictwo Psychologiczne, Gdańsk 2002.
- Polish police statistics of suicides
Author: Maja Kochanowska