In The Know Zone

Why do people commit suicide?

Why do people commit suicide?

Suicide, contrary to a common belief, is not generally an insane act. While major depression – a clinical psychiatric diagnosis – is associated with two out of three completed suicides in this country, it is a condition characterized by intense emotional pain and a sense of profound hopelessness, not a psychotic splitting off from reality.

About two-thirds of people who complete suicide are depressed at the time of their deaths, and one of every 16 people diagnosed with depression ultimately takes his or her own life. [13]

Among people with diagnosed mental illness other than depression – schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, primarily – there is a somewhat elevated risk of suicidal behavior. [14]

Alcohol, drug abuse and organic brain disease also point to increased suicide risk. [15] . However, the rate of suicide attempts and completions in which these factors are dominant is clouded by their frequent appearance as symptoms or causes of depression.

The incidence of suicide among patients with terminal illness is estimated to be between 2 and 4 percent, [16] and researchers who have studied the attitudes of the dying assert that depression, not their terminal illness, is the principal reason for their suicide attempts. [17]

There is evidence that people from families in which a close relative either committed suicide or was hospitalized for a major mental illness may have a greater risk of suicidal behavior. A Danish study found that the risk of suicide was two and a half times greater among people with family members who committed suicide, while those from families in which relatives had been hospitalized for mental illnesses had a 50% greater likelihood of sucide. [18]

There are certain professions in which the incidence of suicide is especially high. They include physicians (especially psychiatrists), dentists, military personnel and police officers. Whether this reflects a higher incidence of suicidal behavior or ready access to lethal means is unclear.

[12] The Merck Manual, Sect. 15, Chap. 190

[13] Some Facts About Suicide and Depression, American Association of Suicidology,, 2004

[14] Steinwachs, D.M. et al. Family perspectives on meeting the needs for care of severely mentally ill relatives: a national survey. School of Public Hygiene and Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, 1992., cited in Suicide: One of the Consequences of Failing to treat severe Mental Illnesses,, 2004

[15] The Merck Manual, Sect. 15, Chap. 190

[16] Skelly., Fiona, "Don't dismiss depression, physicians say," American Medical News, September 7, 1992, p.28

[17] Brown, Henteleff, Barakat, & Rowe, Is It Normal for Terminally Ill Patients to Desire Death? American Journal of Psychiatry. Vol. 143, No. 2 (February 1986), p. 210.

[18] Qin, P, The Relationship of Suicide Risk to Family History of Suicide and Psychiatric Disorders, Psychiatric Times, December, 2003, Vol. XX, Issue 13

In The Know: At Risk Pamphlet/ DVD Package
In The Know: At Risk DVD Package