Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one's own death. Risk
factors include mental disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder,
schizophrenia, personality disorders, and substance abuse, including
alcoholism and use of benzodiazepines. Other suicides are
impulsive acts due to stress such as from financial difficulties,
troubles with relationships, or from bullying. Those who have
previously attempted suicide are at higher risk for future
Suicide prevention efforts include limiting access to
methods of suicide, such as firearms, drugs, and poisons; treating
mental disorders and substance misuse; proper media reporting of
suicide; and improving economic conditions. Although crisis
hotlines are common, there is little evidence for their
The most commonly used method of suicide varies between countries, and
is partly related to the availability of effective means. Common
methods include hanging, pesticide poisoning, and firearms.
Suicide resulted in 828,000 deaths globally in 2015 (up from 712,000
deaths in 1990). This makes it the 10th leading cause of death
Approximately 0.5% to 1.4% of people die by suicide, about 12 per
100,000 persons per year. Three quarters of suicides globally
occur in the developing world. Rates of completed suicides are
generally higher in men than in women, ranging from 1.5 times as much
in the developing world to 3.5 times in the developed world.
Suicide is generally most common among those over the age of 70;
however, in certain countries those aged between 15 and 30 are at
highest risk. Europe had the highest rates of suicide by region in
2015. There are an estimated 10 to 20 million non-fatal
attempted suicides every year. Non-fatal suicide attempts may lead
to injury and long-term disabilities. In the Western world,
attempts are more common in young people and females.
Views on suicide have been influenced by broad existential themes such
as religion, honor, and the meaning of life. The Abrahamic
religions traditionally consider suicide an offense towards God due to
the belief in the sanctity of life. During the samurai era in
Japan, a form of suicide known as seppuku (harakiri) was respected as
a means of making up for failure or as a form of protest. Sati, a
practice outlawed by the British Raj, expected the Indian widow to
kill herself on her husband's funeral fire, either willingly or under
pressure from her family and society.
Suicide and attempted
suicide, while previously illegal, are no longer so in most Western
countries. It remains a criminal offense in many countries. In
the 20th and 21st centuries, suicide has been used on rare occasions
as a form of protest, and kamikaze and suicide bombings have been used
as a military or terrorist tactic.
2 Risk factors
2.1 Mental disorders
2.2 Previous attempts and self-harm
2.3 Substance use
2.4 Problem gambling
2.5 Medical conditions
2.6 Psychosocial states
5.2 Mental illness
8 Social and culture
8.2 Religious views
8.6 Notable cases
9 Other species
11 Further reading
12 External links
Suicide, from Latin suicidium, is "the act of taking one's own
life". Attempted suicide or non-fatal suicidal behavior is
self-injury with the desire to end one's life that does not result in
Assisted suicide is when one individual helps another bring
about their own death indirectly via providing either advice or the
means to the end. This is in contrast to euthanasia, where another
person takes a more active role in bringing about a person's
Suicidal ideation is thoughts of ending one's life but not
taking any active efforts to do so. In a murder-suicide (or
homicide-suicide), the individual aims at taking the life of others at
the same time. A special case of this is extended suicide, where the
murder is motivated by seeing the murdered persons as an extension of
The normal verb in scholarly research and journalism for the act of
suicide is commit. Some advocacy groups recommend saying
completed suicide, took his/her own life, died by suicide, or killed
him/herself instead of committed suicide. Opponents of
commit argue that it implies that suicide is criminal, sinful, or
The precipitating circumstances for suicide from 16 American states in
Factors that affect the risk of suicide include mental disorders, drug
misuse, psychological states, cultural, family and social situations,
and genetics. Mental disorders and substance misuse frequently
co-exist. Other risk factors include having previously attempted
suicide, the ready availability of a means to take one's life, a
family history of suicide, or the presence of traumatic brain
injury. For example, suicide rates have been found to be greater
in households with firearms than those without them.
Socio-economic problems such as unemployment, poverty, homelessness,
and discrimination may trigger suicidal thoughts. About
15–40% of people leave a suicide note.
War veterans have a
higher risk of suicide due in part to higher rates of mental illness
such as post traumatic stress disorder and physical health problems
related to war. Genetics appears to account for between 38% and
55% of suicidal behaviors.
A picture of a woman with depression who was suicidal
Mental disorders are often present at the time of suicide with
estimates ranging from 27% to more than 90%. In Asia, rates of
mental disorders appear to be lower than in Western countries. Of
those who have been admitted to a psychiatric unit, their lifetime
risk of completed suicide is about 8.6%. Half of all people who
die by suicide may have major depressive disorder; having this or one
of the other mood disorders such as bipolar disorder increases the
risk of suicide 20-fold. Other conditions implicated include
schizophrenia (14%), personality disorders (8%), bipolar
disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and posttraumatic
Others estimate that about half of people who complete suicide could
be diagnosed with a personality disorder with borderline personality
disorder being the most common. About 5% of people with
schizophrenia die of suicide. Eating disorders are another high
In approximately 80% of completed suicides, the individual has seen a
physician within the year before their death, including 45% within
the prior month. Approximately 25–40% of those who completed
suicide had contact with mental health services in the prior
year. Antidepressants of the
SSRI type appear to increase the
risk of suicide in children but do not change the risk in adults.
Previous attempts and self-harm
A previous history of suicide attempts is the most accurate predictor
of completed suicide. Approximately 20% of suicides have had a
previous attempt, and of those who have attempted suicide, 1% complete
suicide within a year and more than 5% die by suicide within
10 years. Acts of self-harm are not usually suicide attempts
and most who self-harm are not at high risk of suicide. Some who
self-harm, however, do still end their life by suicide, and risk for
self-harm and suicide may overlap.
"The Drunkard's Progress", 1846 demonstrating how alcoholism can lead
to poverty, crime, and eventually suicide
Substance abuse is the second most common risk factor for suicide
after major depression and bipolar disorder. Both chronic
substance misuse as well as acute intoxication are associated.
When combined with personal grief, such as bereavement, the risk is
Substance misuse is also associated with mental
Most people are under the influence of sedative-hypnotic drugs (such
as alcohol or benzodiazepines) when they die by suicide with
alcoholism present in between 15% and 61% of cases. Use of
prescribed benzodiazepines is asscociated with an increased rate of
attempted and completed suicide. The prosuicidal effects of
benzodiazepines are suspected to be due to a psychiatric disturbance
caused by side effects or withdrawal symptoms. Countries that have
higher rates of alcohol use and a greater density of bars generally
also have higher rates of suicide. About 2.2–3.4% of those who
have been treated for alcoholism at some point in their life die by
suicide. Alcoholics who attempt suicide are usually male, older,
and have tried to take their own lives in the past. Between 3 and
35% of deaths among those who use heroin are due to suicide
(approximately fourteenfold greater than those who do not use). In
adolescents who misuse alcohol, neurological and psychological
dysfunctions may contribute to the increased risk of suicide.
The misuse of cocaine and methamphetamine has a high correlation with
suicide. In those who use cocaine the risk is greatest during
the withdrawal phase. Those who used inhalants are also at
significant risk with around 20% attempting suicide at some point and
more than 65% considering it. Smoking cigarettes is associated
with risk of suicide. There is little evidence as to why this
association exists; however it has been hypothesized that those who
are predisposed to smoking are also predisposed to suicide, that
smoking causes health problems which subsequently make people want to
end their life, and that smoking affects brain chemistry causing a
propensity for suicide. Cannabis however does not appear to
independently increase the risk.
Problem gambling is associated with increased suicidal ideation and
attempts compared to the general population. Between 12 and 24%
pathological gamblers attempt suicide. The rate of suicide among
their spouses is three times greater than that of the general
population. Other factors that increase the risk in problem
gamblers include mental illness, alcohol and drug misuse.
There is an association between suicidality and physical health
problems such as chronic pain, traumatic brain injury,
cancer, kidney failure (requiring hemodialysis), HIV, and systemic
lupus erythematosus. The diagnosis of cancer approximately doubles
the subsequent risk of suicide. The prevalence of increased
suicidality persisted after adjusting for depressive illness and
alcohol abuse. In people with more than one medical condition the risk
was particularly high. In Japan, health problems are listed as the
primary justification for suicide.
Sleep disturbances such as insomnia and sleep apnea are risk
factors for depression and suicide. In some instances the sleep
disturbances may be a risk factor independent of depression. A
number of other medical conditions may present with symptoms similar
to mood disorders, including hypothyroidism, Alzheimer's, brain
tumors, systemic lupus erythematosus, and adverse effects from a
number of medications (such as beta blockers and steroids).
A number of psychological states increase the risk of suicide
including: hopelessness, loss of pleasure in life, depression and
anxiousness. A poor ability to solve problems, the loss of
abilities one used to have, and poor impulse control also play a
role. In older adults the perception of being a burden to
others is important.
Suicide in which the reason is that the
person feels that they are not part of society is known as egoistic
suicide. Rates of suicide appear to decrease around Christmas.
One study however found the risk may be greater for males on their
Recent life stresses such as a loss of a family member or friend, loss
of a job, or social isolation (such as living alone) increase the
risk. Those who have never married are also at greater risk.
Being religious may reduce one's risk of suicide. This has been
attributed to the negative stance many religions take against suicide
and to the greater connectedness religion may give. Muslims, among
religious people, appear to have a lower rate of suicide; however the
data supporting this is not strong. There does not appear to be a
difference in rates of attempted suicide rates. Young women in the
Middle East may have higher rates.
Some may take their own lives to escape bullying or prejudice. A
history of childhood sexual abuse and time spent in foster care
are also risk factors.
Sexual abuse is believed to contribute to
about 20% of the overall risk.
An evolutionary explanation for suicide is that it may improve
inclusive fitness. This may occur if the person dying by suicide
cannot have more children and takes resources away from relatives by
staying alive. An objection is that deaths by healthy adolescents
likely does not increase inclusive fitness.
Adaptation to a very
different ancestral environment may be maladaptive in the current
Poverty is associated with the risk of suicide. Increasing
relative poverty compared to those around a person increases suicide
risk. Over 200,000 farmers in
India have died by suicide since
1997, partly due to issues of debt. In
China suicide is three
times as likely in rural regions as urban ones, partly, it is
believed, due to financial difficulties in this area of the
In Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, the title character kills
himself due to a love triangle involving Charlotte (pictured at his
grave). Some admirers of the story were triggered into copycat
suicide, known as the Werther effect.
The media, which includes the Internet, plays an important role.
How it depicts suicide may have a negative effect, with high-volume,
prominent, repetitive coverage glorifying or romanticizing suicide
having the most impact. When detailed descriptions of how to kill
oneself by a specific means are portrayed, this method of suicide may
increase in the population as a whole.
This trigger of suicide contagion or copycat suicide is known as the
Werther effect, named after the protagonist in Goethe's The Sorrows of
Young Werther who killed himself and then was emulated by many
admirers of the book. This risk is greater in adolescents who may
romanticize death. It appears that while news media has a
significant effect; that of the entertainment media is
equivocal. Additionally it is unclear if searching for
information about suicide on the Internet relates to the risk of
suicide. The opposite of the Werther effect is the proposed
Papageno effect, in which coverage of effective coping mechanisms may
have a protective effect. The term is based upon a character in
Mozart's opera The Magic Flute, who (fearing the loss of a loved one)
had planned to kill himself until his friends helped him out. When
media follows recommended reporting guidelines the risk of suicides
can be decreased. Getting buy-in from industry, however, can be
difficult, especially in the long term.
Rational suicide is the reasoned taking of one's own life,
although others consider suicide as never rational. The act of
taking one's life for the benefit of others is known as altruistic
suicide. An example of this is an elder ending his or her life to
leave greater amounts of food for the younger people in the
Suicide in some Inuit cultures has been seen as an act
of respect, courage, or wisdom.
A suicide attack is a political action where an attacker carries out
violence against others which they understand will result in their own
death. Some suicide bombers are motivated by a desire to obtain
Kamikaze missions were carried out as a duty to a
higher cause or moral obligation.
Murder–suicide is an act of
homicide followed within a week by suicide of the person who carried
out the act.
Mass suicides are often performed under social pressure where members
give up autonomy to a leader. Mass suicides can take place with
as few as two people, often referred to as a suicide pact.
In extenuating situations where continuing to live would be
intolerable, some people use suicide as a means of escape.
Some inmates in
Nazi concentration camps
Nazi concentration camps are known to have killed
themselves by deliberately touching the electrified fences.
Case fatality rate by suicide method in the United States
The leading method of suicide varies among countries. The leading
methods in different regions include hanging, pesticide poisoning, and
firearms. These differences are believed to be in part due to
availability of the different methods. A review of 56 countries
found that hanging was the most common method in most of the
countries, accounting for 53% of the male suicides and 39% of the
Worldwide, 30% of suicides are estimated to occur from pesticide
poisoning, most of which occur in the developing world. The use of
this method varies markedly from 4% in Europe to more than 50% in the
Pacific region. It is also common in
Latin America due to easy
access within the farming populations. In many countries, drug
overdoses account for approximately 60% of suicides among women and
30% among men. Many are unplanned and occur during an acute
period of ambivalence. The death rate varies by method: firearms
80–90%, drowning 65–80%, hanging 60–85%, car exhaust 40–60%,
jumping 35–60%, charcoal burning 40–50%, pesticides 6–75%, and
medication overdose 1.5–4%. The most common attempted methods of
suicide differ from the most common successful methods; up to 85% of
attempts are via drug overdose in the developed world.
In China, the consumption of pesticides is the most common
method. In Japan, self-disembowelment known as seppuku (or
hara-kiri) still occurs; however, hanging and jumping are the
most common. Jumping to one's death is common in both Hong Kong
Singapore at 50% and 80% respectively. In Switzerland,
firearms are the most frequent suicide method in young males, however
this method has decreased relatively since guns have become less
common. In the United States, 57% of suicides involve the
use of firearms, with this method being somewhat more common in men
than women. The next most common cause was hanging in males and
self-poisoning in females. Together, hanging and poisoning
constituted about 40% of U.S. suicides (as of 2005).
There is no known unifying underlying pathophysiology for either
suicide or depression. It is however believed to result from an
interplay of behavioral, socio-environmental and psychiatric
Low levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) are both
directly associated with suicide and indirectly associated
through its role in major depression, posttraumatic stress disorder,
schizophrenia and obsessive–compulsive disorder. Post-mortem
studies have found reduced levels of BDNF in the hippocampus and
prefrontal cortex, in those with and without psychiatric
conditions. Serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter, is believed to
be low in those who die by suicide. This is partly based on evidence
of increased levels of 5-HT2A receptors found after death. Other
evidence includes reduced levels of a breakdown product of serotonin,
5-Hydroxyindoleacetic acid, in the cerebral spinal fluid. Direct
evidence is however hard to gather. Epigenetics, the study of
changes in genetic expression in response to environmental factors
which do not alter the underlying DNA, is also believed to play a role
in determining suicide risk.
As a suicide prevention initiative, this sign promotes a special
telephone available on the
Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge that connects to a
Suicide prevention is a term used for the collective efforts to reduce
the incidence of suicide through preventative measures. Reducing
access to certain methods, such as firearms or toxins can reduce
risk. Other measures include reducing access to charcoal (for
burning) and barriers on bridges and subway platforms.
Treatment of drug and alcohol addiction, depression, and those who
have attempted suicide in the past may also be effective. Some
have proposed reducing access to alcohol as a preventative strategy
(such as reducing the number of bars). Although crisis hotlines
are common there is little evidence to support or refute their
effectiveness. In young adults who have recently thought about
suicide, cognitive behavioral therapy appears to improve
Economic development through its ability to reduce
poverty may be able to decrease suicide rates. Efforts to increase
social connection, especially in elderly males, may be effective.
World Suicide Prevention Day
World Suicide Prevention Day is observed annually on September 10
with the support of the International Association for Suicide
Prevention and the World Health Organization.
There is little data on the effects of screening the general
population on the ultimate rate of suicide. Screening those
who come to the emergency departments with injuries from self harm
have been shown to help identify suicide ideation and suicide
Psychometric tests such as the
Beck Depression Inventory
Beck Depression Inventory or
Geriatric Depression Scale for older people are being used.
As there is a high rate of people who test positive via these tools
that are not at risk of suicide, there are concerns that screening may
significantly increase mental health care resource utilization.
Assessing those at high risk however is recommended. Asking about
suicidality does not appear to increase the risk.
See also: Antidepressants and suicide risk
In those with mental health problems a number of treatments may reduce
the risk of suicide. Those who are actively suicidal may be admitted
to psychiatric care either voluntarily or involuntarily.
Possessions that may be used to harm oneself are typically
removed. Some clinicians get patients to sign suicide prevention
contracts where they agree to not harm themselves if released.
Evidence however does not support a significant effect from this
practice. If a person is at low risk, outpatient mental health
treatment may be arranged. Short-term hospitalization has not been
found to be more effective than community care for improving outcomes
in those with borderline personality disorder who are chronically
There is tentative evidence that psychotherapy, specifically,
dialectical behaviour therapy reduces suicidality in adolescents
as well as in those with borderline personality disorder. It may
also be useful in decreasing suicide attempts in adults at high
risk. Evidence however has not found a decrease in completed
There is controversy around the benefit-versus-harm of
antidepressants. In young persons, some antidepressants, such as
SSRIs, appear to increase the risk of suicidality from 25 per 1000 to
40 per 1000. In older persons, however, they might decrease the
risk. Lithium appears effective at lowering the risk in those with
bipolar disorder and unipolar depression to nearly the same levels as
the general population.
Clozapine may decrease the thoughts
of suicide in some people with schizophrenia. In the United
States, health professionals are legally required to take reasonable
steps to try to prevent suicide.
Epidemiology of suicide
Deaths per million persons from self-inflicted injuries in 2012.
Approximately 0.5% to 1.4% of people die by suicide, a mortality rate
of 11.6 per 100,000 persons per year.
Suicide resulted in
842,000 deaths in 2013 up from 712,000 deaths in 1990. Rates of
suicide have increased by 60% from the 1960s to 2012, with these
increases seen primarily in the developing world. Globally, as of
2008[update]/2009, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death. For
every suicide that results in death there are between 10 and 40
Suicide rates differ significantly between countries and over
time. As a percentage of deaths in 2008 it was: Africa 0.5%,
South-East Asia 1.9%, Americas 1.2% and Europe 1.4%. Rates per
100,000 were: Australia 8.6, Canada 11.1,
United Kingdom 7.6, United States 11.4 and
South Korea 28.9.
It was ranked as the 10th leading cause of death in the United States
in 2009 at about 36,000 cases a year, with about 650,000 people
seen in emergency departments yearly due to attempting suicide.
The country's rate among men in their 50s rose by nearly half in the
decade 1999–2010. Lithuania,
Hungary have the highest
rates. Around 75% of suicides occur in the developing world.
The countries with the greatest absolute numbers of suicides are China
and India, accounting for over half the total. In China, suicide
is the 5th leading cause of death.
Main article: Gender differences in suicide
Suicide rate per 100,000 males (left) and female (right) (data from
Globally as of 2012[update], death by suicide occurs about 1.8 times
more often in males than females. In the Western world, males
die three to four times more often by means of suicide than do
females. This difference is even more pronounced in those over the
age of 65, with tenfold more males than females dying by suicide.
Suicide attempts and self-harm are between two and four times more
frequent among females. Researchers have attributed the
difference between attempted and completed suicides among the sexes to
males using more lethal means to end their lives.
However, separating intentional suicide attempts from non-suicidal
self-harm is not currently done in the United States when gathering
statistics at the national level.
China has one of the highest female suicide rates in the world and is
the only country where it is higher than that of men (ratio of
0.9). In the Eastern Mediterranean, suicide rates are nearly
equivalent between males and females. The highest rate of female
suicide is found in
South Korea at 22 per 100,000, with high rates in
South-East Asia and the Western Pacific generally.
Due in part to social stigmatisation and the resulting depression,
people whose gender identity does not align with their assigned sex
are at a high risk of suicide.
A number of reviews have found an increased risk of suicide among
transgender, lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. Among transgender
persons rates of attempted suicide are between 30 and 50%.
In many countries the rate of suicide is highest in the
middle-aged or elderly. The absolute number of suicides
however is greatest in those between 15 and 29 years old due to the
number of people in this age group. In the United States it is
greatest in Caucasian men older than 80 years, even though younger
people more frequently attempt suicide. It is the second most
common cause of death in adolescents and in young males is second
only to accidental death. In young males in the developed world
it is the cause of nearly 30% of mortality. In the developing
world rates are similar, but it makes up a smaller proportion of
overall deaths due to higher rates of death from other types of
trauma. In South-East Asia in contrast to other areas of the
world, deaths from suicide occur at a greater rate in young females
than elderly females.
Main article: History of suicide
Death of Seneca (1684), painting by Luca Giordano, depicting the
Seneca the Younger
Seneca the Younger in Ancient Rome
In ancient Athens, a person who committed suicide without the approval
of the state was denied the honors of a normal burial. The person
would be buried alone, on the outskirts of the city, without a
headstone or marker. However, it was deemed to be an acceptable
method to deal with military defeat. In Ancient Rome, while
suicide was initially permitted, it was later deemed a crime against
the state due to its economic costs.
Aristotle condemned all
forms of suicide while
Plato was ambivalent. In Rome some reasons
for suicide included volunteering death in a gladiator combat, guilt
over murdering someone, to save the life of another, as a result of
mourning, from shame from being raped, and as an escape from
intolerable situations like physical suffering, military defeat, or
Suicide came to be regarded as a sin in Christian Europe and was
condemned at the
Council of Arles (452) as the work of the Devil. In
the Middle Ages, the Church had drawn-out discussions as to when the
desire for martyrdom was suicidal, as in the case of martyrs of
Córdoba. Despite these disputes and occasional official rulings,
Catholic doctrine was not entirely settled on the subject of suicide
until the later 17th century. A criminal ordinance issued by Louis XIV
of France in 1670 was extremely severe, even for the times: the dead
person's body was drawn through the streets, face down, and then hung
or thrown on a garbage heap. Additionally, all of the person's
property was confiscated.
Attitudes towards suicide slowly began to shift during the
Renaissance. John Donne's work Biathanatos, contained one of the first
modern defences of suicide, bringing proof from the conduct of
Biblical figures, such as Jesus,
Samson and Saul, and presenting
arguments on grounds of reason and nature to sanction suicide in
The secularization of society that began during The Enlightenment
questioned traditional religious attitudes toward suicide and brought
a more modern perspective to the issue.
David Hume denied that suicide
was a crime as it affected no one and was potentially to the advantage
of the individual. In his 1777 Essays on
Suicide and the Immortality
of the Soul he rhetorically asked, "Why should I prolong a miserable
existence, because of some frivolous advantage which the public may
perhaps receive from me?" A shift in public opinion at large can
also be discerned;
The Times in 1786 initiated a spirited debate on
the motion "Is suicide an act of courage?".
By the 19th-century, the act of suicide had shifted from being viewed
as caused by sin to being caused by insanity in Europe. Although
suicide remained illegal during this period, it increasingly became
the target of satirical comments, such as the Gilbert and Sullivan
The Mikado that satirized the idea of executing someone
who had already killed himself.
By 1879, English law began to distinguish between suicide and
homicide, although suicide still resulted in forfeiture of
estate. In 1882, the deceased were permitted daylight burial in
England and by the middle of the 20th century, suicide had become
legal in much of the western world. The term suicide first emerged
shortly before 1700 to replace expressions on self-death which were
often characterized as a form of self-murder in the West.
Social and culture
A tantō knife prepared for seppuku (abdomen-cutting)
Samurai about to perform seppuku
In most Western countries, suicide is no longer a crime. It was,
however, in most Western European countries from the
Middle Ages until
at least the 1800s. It remains a criminal offense in most
In Australia suicide is not a crime. It however is a crime to
counsel, incite, or aid and abet another in attempting to die by
suicide, and the law explicitly allows any person to use "such force
as may reasonably be necessary" to prevent another from taking their
own life. The Northern Territory of Australia briefly had legal
physician-assisted suicide from 1996 to 1997.
No country in Europe currently considers suicide or attempted suicide
to be a crime. England and Wales decriminalized suicide via the
Suicide Act 1961
Suicide Act 1961 and the Republic of Ireland in 1993. The word
"commit" was used in reference to its being illegal, however many
organisations have stopped it because of the negative
In India, suicide used to be illegal and surviving family could face
legal difficulties. The Indian government repealed this law in
2014. In Germany, active euthanasia is illegal and anyone present
during suicide may be prosecuted for failure to render aid in an
Switzerland has recently[when?] taken steps to
legalize assisted suicide for the chronically mentally ill. The high
court in Lausanne, Switzerland, in a 2006 ruling, granted an anonymous
individual with longstanding psychiatric difficulties the right to end
his own life.
In the United States, suicide is not illegal but may be associated
with penalties for those who attempt it. Physician-assisted
suicide is legal in the state of Washington for people with terminal
diseases. In Oregon, people with terminal diseases may request
medications to help end their life.
Canadians who have attempted suicide may be barred from entering the
US. US laws allow border guards to deny access to people who have a
mental illness, including those with previous suicide
Main article: Religious views on suicide
Hindu widow burning herself with her husband's corpse, 1820s
In most forms of Christianity, suicide is considered a sin, based
mainly on the writings of influential Christian thinkers of the Middle
Ages, such as
St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, but suicide was
not considered a sin under the
Byzantine Christian code of Justinian,
for instance. In Catholic doctrine, the argument is based on
the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" (made applicable under the New
Jesus in Matthew 19:18), as well as the idea that life is
a gift given by God which should not be spurned, and that suicide is
against the "natural order" and thus interferes with God's master plan
for the world. However, it is believed that mental illness or
grave fear of suffering diminishes the responsibility of the one
Judaism focuses on the importance of valuing this life, and as such,
suicide is tantamount to denying God's goodness in the world. Despite
this, under extreme circumstances when there has seemed no choice but
to either be killed or forced to betray their religion, Jews have
committed individual suicide or mass suicide (see Masada, First French
persecution of the Jews, and
York Castle for examples) and as a grim
reminder there is even a prayer in the Jewish liturgy for "when the
knife is at the throat", for those dying "to sanctify God's Name" (see
Martyrdom). These acts have received mixed responses by Jewish
authorities, regarded by some as examples of heroic martyrdom, while
others state that it was wrong for them to take their own lives in
anticipation of martyrdom.
Islamic religious views are against suicide. The
Qu'ran forbids it
by stating "do not kill or destroy yourself". The hadiths also
state individual suicide to be unlawful and a sin. Stigma is often
associated with suicide in Islamic countries.
In Hinduism, suicide is generally frowned upon and is considered
equally sinful as murdering another in contemporary
Hindu Scriptures state that one who dies by suicide will become part
of the spirit world, wandering earth until the time one would have
otherwise died, had one not taken one's own life. However,
Hinduism accepts a man's right to end one's life through the
non-violent practice of fasting to death, termed Prayopavesa. But
Prayopavesa is strictly restricted to people who have no desire or
ambition left, and no responsibilities remaining in this life.
Jainism has a similar practice named Santhara. Sati, or
self-immolation by widows, was prevalent in
Hindu society during the
Main article: Philosophy of suicide
A number of questions are raised within the philosophy of suicide,
included what constitutes suicide, whether or not suicide can be a
rational choice, and the moral permissibility of suicide.
Arguments as to acceptability of suicide in moral or social terms
range from the position that the act is inherently immoral and
unacceptable under any circumstances to a regard for suicide as a
sacrosanct right of anyone who believes they have rationally and
conscientiously come to the decision to end their own lives, even if
they are young and healthy.
Opponents to suicide include Christian philosophers such as Augustine
of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, Immanuel Kant and, arguably, John
Stuart Mill – Mill's focus on the importance of liberty and autonomy
meant that he rejected choices which would prevent a person from
making future autonomous decisions. Others view suicide as a
legitimate matter of personal choice. Supporters of this position
maintain that no one should be forced to suffer against their will,
particularly from conditions such as incurable disease, mental
illness, and old age, with no possibility of improvement. They reject
the belief that suicide is always irrational, arguing instead that it
can be a valid last resort for those enduring major pain or
trauma. A stronger stance would argue that people should be
allowed to autonomously choose to die regardless of whether they are
suffering. Notable supporters of this school of thought include
Scottish empiricist David Hume and American bioethicist Jacob
See also: Advocacy of suicide
In this painting by Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, the palette, pistol,
and note lying on the floor suggest that the event has just taken
place; an artist has taken his own life.
Advocacy of suicide has occurred in many cultures and subcultures. The
Japanese military during World
War II encouraged and glorified
kamikaze attacks, which were suicide attacks by military aviators from
the Empire of
Japan against Allied naval vessels in the closing stages
of the Pacific theater of World
War II. Japanese society as a whole
has been described as "suicide tolerant" (see
Suicide in Japan).
Internet searches for information on suicide return webpages that
10-30% of the time encourage or facilitate suicide attempts. There is
some concern that such sites may push those predisposed over the edge.
Some people form suicide pacts online, either with pre-existing
friends or people they have recently encountered in chat rooms or
message boards. The Internet, however, may also help prevent suicide
by providing a social group for those who are isolated.
See also: List of suicide sites
Some landmarks have become known for high levels of suicide
attempts. These include San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge,
Aokigahara Forest, England's Beachy Head and
Toronto's Bloor Street Viaduct.
As of 2010[update], the
Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge has had more than 1,300 die
by suicide by jumping since its construction in 1937. Many
locations where suicide is common have constructed barriers to prevent
it; this includes the
Luminous Veil in Toronto, the Eiffel
Tower in Paris, the
West Gate Bridge
West Gate Bridge in
Melbourne and Empire State
Building in New York City. They appear to be generally
Japanese general Hideki Tojo, receiving life-saving treatment
immediately after attempted suicide, 1945
Main article: List of suicides
An example of mass suicide is the 1978
Jonestown killings/suicide in
which 909 members of the Peoples Temple, an American religious group
led by Jim Jones, ended their lives by drinking grape
Flavor Aid laced
with cyanide and various prescription drugs. Thousands
of Japanese civilians took their own lives in the last days of the
Battle of Saipan
Battle of Saipan in 1944, some jumping from "
Suicide Cliff" and
The 1981 hunger strikes, led by Bobby Sands, resulted in 10 deaths.
The cause of death was recorded by the coroner as "starvation,
self-imposed" rather than suicide; this was modified to simply
"starvation" on the death certificates after protest from the dead
strikers' families. During World
Erwin Rommel was found
to have foreknowledge of the July 20 Plot on Hitler's life; he was
threatened with public trial, execution and reprisals on his family
unless he took his own life.
Main article: Animal suicide
As suicide requires a willful attempt to die, some feel it therefore
cannot be said to occur in non-human animals.
has been observed in salmonella seeking to overcome competing bacteria
by triggering an immune system response against them. Suicidal
defenses by workers are also noted in the Brazilian ant Forelius
pusillus, where a small group of ants leaves the security of the nest
after sealing the entrance from the outside each evening.
Pea aphids, when threatened by a ladybug, can explode themselves,
scattering and protecting their brethren and sometimes even killing
the ladybug. Some species of termites have soldiers that explode,
covering their enemies with sticky goo.
There have been anecdotal reports of dogs, horses and dolphins killing
themselves. There, however, has been little scientific study of
Animal suicide is usually put down to romantic
human interpretation and is not generally thought to be intentional.
Some of the reasons animals are thought to unintentionally kill
themselves include: psychological stress, infection by certain
parasites or fungi, or disruption of a long held social tie, such as
the ending of a long association with an owner and thus not accepting
food from another individual.
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Library resources about
Resources in your library
Resources in other libraries
Gambotto, Antonella (2004). The Eclipse: A Memoir of Suicide.
Australia: Broken Ankle Books. ISBN 0-9751075-1-8.
Goeschel, Christian (2009).
Suicide in Nazi Germany. Oxford University
Press. ISBN 0-19-953256-7.
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