Suicide (from Latinsui caedere, to kill oneself) is the act of ending one's own life. It is considered a sin in many religions, and a crime in some jurisdictions. 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.
To be considered suicide, the death must be a central component and intention of the act and not just an almost certain consequence; hence, suicide bombing is considered a kind of bombing rather than a kind of suicide, and martyrdom, self sacrifice in the service of others in emergencies and reckless bravery in battle usually escape religious or legal proscription. In the case that suicide has legal consequences this is reflected in law in that there must be proof of intent as well as death for the act to be suicide.
It is probable that the incidence of suicide is widely under-reported due to both religious and social pressures, possibly by as much as 100% in some areas. Nevertheless, from the known suicides certain trends are apparent. But since the data are skewed, attempts to compare nation to nation are statistically unwise.
In the USA, males are 4 times more likely to die by suicide than females. Male suicide rates are higher than females in all age groups (the ratio varies from 3:1 to 10:1). In other western countries, males are also much more likely to die by suicide than females (usually by a factor of 3-4:1). The suicide rate in the USA is 0.02% per annum for males, and 0.005% per annum for females.
Children of either sex are 10-20 times less likely to die by suicide, and teenagers 1.5-2 times less likely, than adults of the same gender. The incidence of suicide among males over 75 years old is roughly twice that of other adult males.
While there are more male suicides than female, women are more likely to attempt suicide. Men also tend to use more violent and certain methods than do women.
Certain time trends can be related to the type of death. In the United Kingdom for example, the steady rise in suicides from 1945 to 1965 was curtailed following the removal of carbon monoxide from domestic gas supplies with the change from coal gas to natural gas. It seems that different cultures have different favorite methods, and the easy availability of lethal methods plays a role. Certainly cultures influence suicide rates.
Higher levels of social and national cohesion reduce suicide rates. Suicide levels are highest among the retired, unemployed, divorced, the childless, urbanites and those living alone. The rate also rises during times of economic uncertainty (although poverty is not a direct cause). Widespread war is always associated with a steep fall in suicides; for example, during World War I and World War II the rate fell markedly, even in neutral countries. The majority of suicides also suffer from some psychological disorder. Depression in bipolar disorder is an especially common cause. Severe physical disease or infirmity are also recognized causes. There is no "class" distinction to suicide.
The idea that suicide is more common during the winter holidays (including Christmas) is actually a myth, generally reinforced by media coverage associating suicide with the holiday season. The National Center for Health Statistics found that suicides drop during the winter months, and peak during spring.
Suicide is more common among alcoholics, especially after loss of affectional relationships, such as the death of a spouse, a divorce, loss of a friend, parental alienation, or being left behind after a friend moves from a shared residence. But regardless statistical correlations, it is difficult to tell if affectional loss is causally associated with suicide among alcoholics or is a circumstance common among many alcoholics in general.
Perhaps contrary to intuitive assumptions, suicide is not often associated with a terminal illness. The presence of physical illness, though, is found in nearly half of suicides.
On an individual level the meaning of suicide varies across a range of common themes. Simply seeking an end is uncommon. Stated reasons include concepts such as a reunion with the dead (bereavement is an additional factor in some suicides), a need for change from an unbearable situation, a desire to cause pain through causing remorse or grief, or the belief that one can watch over the living after death. Multiple motives are common.
The common means of suicide, roughly in order of use (US), are by gunshot, asphyxia, hanging (there is often considerable overlap between hanging and asphyxia due to lack of expertise), drug overdose, carbon monoxide poisoning, jumping from height, stabbing or exsanguination from cuts, and drowning.
Current medical advice is that people who are seriously considering suicide should go to the nearest Emergency Room, or call the emergency services. Severe suicidal ideation, according to this advice, is a condition that requires immediate emergency medical treatment.
A suicidal act that does not end in death is usually called a "suicide attempt" or a "suicidal gesture". Some people prefer the use of the neologismparasuicide, or describe such acts as "deliberate self-harm" - both of these terms avoid the question of the intent of the action. Those who attempt suicide are, as a group, quite different from those who actually commit suicide. Suicide attempts are far more common, and the vast majority are female and aged under 35. They are rarely physically ill and while psychological factors are highly significant, they are rarely clinically ill and severe depression is uncommon. Social issues are key -- attempted suicide 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 suicide. The motivation may be a desire for relief from emotional pain or to communicate feelings, although the motivation will often be complex and confused. Attempted suicides may also result from an inner conflict between the desire to end life and to continue living.
In Roman society, suicide was an accepted means by which honor could be preserved. Those charged with capital crimes, for example, could prevent confiscation of their family's estate by taking their own lives before being convicted in court. It was sardonically said of the emperor Domitian that his way of showing mercy was to allow a condemned man to take his own life.
During World War II, Japanese units would often fight to the last man rather than surrender. Towards the end of the war, the Japanese navy sent kamikaze pilots to attack Allied ships. These tactics reflect the influence of the samurai warrior culture, where seppuku was often required after a loss of honor. It is also suggested that the Japanese treated Allied POWs harshly because, in Japanese eyes, by surrendering rather than fighting to the last man, these soldiers showed they were not worthy of honorable treatment.
Spies have carried suicide pills or pins to use when captured, partly to avoid the misery of captivity, but also to avoid being forced to disclose secrets. For the latter reason, spies may even have orders to kill themselves if captured - for example, Gary Powers had a suicide pin but did not use it when he was captured.
A study of suicide in literature was written by the poet Al Alvarez, entitled The Savage God.
Jean Améry;, in his book On Suicide: a Discourse on Voluntary Death (originally published in German in 1976), provides a moving insight into the suicidal mind. He argues forcefully and almost romantically that suicide represents the ultimate freedom of humanity, attempting to justify the act with phrases such as "we only arrive at ourselves in a freely chosen death", lamenting the "ridiculously everyday life and its alienation". He killed himself in 1978.
The United Kingdom abolished the crimes of suicide and attempted suicide in the suicide act of 1961. By the early 1990s only two USA states still listed suicide as a crime, and these have since removed that classification. Increasingly, the term commit suicide is being consciously avoided, as it implies that suicide is a crime by equating it with other acts that are committed, such as murder or burglary.
In many jurisdictions it is a crime to assist someone directly or indirectly in committing suicide. Sometimes an exception applies for physician assisted suicide (PAS), under strict conditions, see Euthanasia.
In the Netherlands, being present and giving moral support during someone's suicide is not a crime; neither is supplying general information on suicide techniques. However, it is a crime (except when the exception applies, see Euthanasia in The Netherlands) to carry out any act that is part of the preparation or execution, including putting an object or substance nearby and giving instructions.
According to Buddhism, our past heavily influences our present. Furthermore, what an individual does in the present moment influences his or her future, in this life or the next. This is cause and effect, as taught by Gautama Buddha. Otherwise known as karma, intentional action by mind, body or speech has a reaction and its repercussion is the reason behind the conditions and differences we come across in the world.
One's suffering primarily originates from past negative deeds or just from being in samsara (the cycle of birth and death). Another reason for the prevalent suffering we experience is due to impermanence. Since everything is in a constant state of flux, we experience dissatisfaction with the fleeting events of life. To break out of samsara, one simply must realize their true nature, by Enlightenment in the present moment; this is Nirvana.
For Buddhists, since the first precept is to refrain from the destruction of life (including oneself), suicide is clearly considered a negative form of action. But despite this view, an ancient Asian ideology similar to seppuku (hara-kiri) persists to influence Buddhists by, when under oppression, committing the act of "honorable" suicide. In modern times, Tibetan monks have used this ideal in order to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the People's Republic of China's human rights violations against Tibetans.
Christianity is traditionally opposed to suicide, and assisted suicide.
In Catholicism specifically, suicide has been considered a grave and sometimes mortal sin. The chief Catholic argument is that one's life is the property of God, and that to destroy one's own life is to wrongly assert dominion over what is God's. This argument runs into a famous counter-argument by David Hume, who noted that if it is wrong to take life when a person would naturally live, it must be wrong to save life when a person would naturally die, as this too seems to be contravening God's will.
On a different line, many Christians believe in the sanctity of human life, a principle which, broadly speaking, says that all human life is sacred -- a wonderful, even miraculous creation of the divine God -- and every effort must be made to save and preserve it whenever possible.
Nevertheless, even while believing that suicide is generally wrong, liberal Christians may well recognise that people who commit suicide are severely distressed and so believe that the loving God of Christianity can forgive such an act.
In Hinduism, murdering one's own body is considered equally sinful as murdering another. However, under various circumstances it is considered acceptable to end one's life by fasting. This practice, known as prayopavesha, requires so much time and willpower that there is no danger of acting on an impulse. It also allows time for the individual to settle all worldly affairs, to ponder life and to draw close to God.
Like other Abrahamic religions, Islam views suicide strictly as sinful and detrimental to ones spiritual journey. However, human beings are said to be liable to committing mistakes, thus, Allah (God) forgives the sins and wipes them out if the individual is truly sincere in repentance, true to the causes and determined in intention.
For those who believed, but eventually disbelieved in God in the end, the result seems unambiguously negative. In the Qur'an, the holy book for Muslims, although Allah (God) is said to be 'the Most Merciful, the Most Kind' and forgives all sins, the great sin of unbelief is deemed unforgivable. According to the Sunnah (life and way of the Prophet Muhammad), any person who dies by suicide and shows no regret for his wrongdoing will spend an eternity in hell, re-enacting the act by which he took his own life. Some Islamic jurists hold the interpretation that hell is not eternal but indefinite and only remains to exist while the earth endures at its present state. Once the Day of Recompense passes, Hell will eventually be emptied.
Despite this, a small minority of Muslim scholars take the view that actions committed in the course of jihad where one's own death is assured (e.g. suicide bombing) are not considered suicide. Such acts are instead considered a form of martyrdom. There is Quranic evidence to the contrary, stating those involved in the killing of the innocent are wrongdoers and transgressors. Nevertheless, many claim Islam does permit the use of suicide - though only against the unjust and oppressors - if one feels there is absolutely no other option available and life otherwise would end in death.