Psychology Wiki

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Clinical: Approaches · Group therapy · Techniques · Types of problem · Areas of specialism · Taxonomies · Therapeutic issues · Modes of delivery · Model translation project · Personal experiences ·

There is no single cause for which suicide can be directly attributed. Environmental factors, childhood upbringing, and mental illness each play a large role. Sociologists today consider external circumstances, such as a traumatic event, as a trigger instead of an actual independent cause. Suicides are more likely to occur during periods of socioeconomic, family and individual crisis. Most people with suicidal tendencies tend to suffer from some mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder, or some degree of anxiety disorder. These diagnosable mental disorders are associated with more than 90% of suicide victims. As a result, many researchers study the causes of depression to understand the causes of suicide.[1]

Other factors that may be related are as follows (Note that this is not meant as a comprehensive list, but rather as a summary of notable causes)  :

Many theories have been developed to explain the causes of suicide. Psychiatric theories emphasize mental illness. Psychological theories emphasise personality and poor coping skills, while sociological theories stress the influence of social and environmental pressures.

Socio-Cultural Influences[]

Today, most social scientists believe that a society's unity can influence suicide deaths. Emile Durkheim claimed that greater social integration translates to fewer suicides. Suicide rates among adults are lower for married people than for divorced, widowed, or single people, a statistic confirming Durkheim's argument.

Although people with suicidal tendencies do not necessarily have greater life stress, they have a more difficulty coping with the stress that results. Suicide attempts usually follow a traumatic event.

Social influences such as economic cycles with high unemployment rates, influence of religion, acceptance, and peer pressure all play a factor. For example, suicide rates were abnormally high during the Great Depression in America.

According to the World Health Organization's report on international male suicide rates, nine of ten of the nations with the highest male suicide rates are strongly irreligious nations with the highest levels of atheism, while countries with the lowest male suicide rates are highly religious nations with statistically insignificant levels of organic atheism.Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many Sociologist Phil Zuckerman also published these same results concerning male suicide rates and atheism.[3] The American Psychiatric Association reported that "religiously unaffiliated subjects had significantly more lifetime suicide attempts and more first-degree relatives who committed suicide than subjects who endorsed a religious affiliation."[4] Moreover, individuals with no religious affiliation had fewer moral objections to suicide than believers.[4]

Biological Causes[]

Genetic and biological factors play a large role in suicide likelihood. Research has shown that suicidal behaviour runs in families. A notable example are the suicides of the Hemingway family in which five members committed suicide. In 1985, the American Journal of Medical Genetics studied an Amish community in Pennsylvania. The studies revealed that four families, representing only 16 percent of the total Amish population, accounted for 73 percent of all Amish suicides. Some scientists claim 10 to 15 genes account for triggering suicide attempts. Similarly how depression is linked genetically, family ties may also have a large effect on one's suicide risk.[5]

Main article: Genetic factors in suicide
Main article: Biological causes of suicide

Psychological Theories[]

In the early 1900s Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud developed some of the first psychological theories of suicide. Karl Menninger followed up on this principle theory and suggested that all suicides have three interrelated emotions: revenge, depression, and guilt. Edwin Shneidman argues victims of suicide show a sense of unbearable psychological pain, a sense of isolation, and the perception that death is the only solution to their problems.


Those who have ended their lives throughout history have done so for a variety of reasons, both conscious and unconscious (particularly among those suffering psychological distress). Suicide is often seen as a means to end suffering, pain, or shame.

  • Altruism/heroism. This is when someone voluntarily dies for the good of another or others. Examples include the Greek (Spartan) military at Thermopylae, Japanese kamikaze pilots, Buddhist monks and others who, starting in 1963, protested the persecution of Buddhists in South Vietnam by burning themselves to death as well as after the Fall of Saigon to protest the Communist regime(self-immolation), and elderly people, who, feeling themselves to be a burden on their families, no longer wish to bring such strain upon them.
  • Tactical. Terrorists and guerilla factions often use suicide bombings and attacks to fight against a more powerful faction, as it prevents more casualties and is much more surprising and cost-effective than a normal attack.
  • Philosophy. Certain philosophical groups (e.g., existentialists and stoics) have advocated suicide under some circumstances.
  • Religion. Often, this takes the form of martyrdom. It was common in Norse believers and in early Christianity. However, it may be argued that these are not usually suicides since martyrs are usually put to death by authorities opposed to the religion in question.
  • In order to escape from an unbearable situation. Examples are numerous, and "unbearable" is defined according to the person who must experience it (such as a criminal proceeding or torture by one or more enemies). If one commits suicide to prevent themselves from betraying information to their torturers, it could be classified under the Altruism motive.
  • Psychiatric conditions, such as depression or schizophrenia. On the other hand, a person who has committed suicide is more likely to be classified as such, for the sole reason that they committed the act, a "chicken or the egg" scenario.
  • Romantic love or attraction (e.g., death or unattainability of the loved one). Although perhaps most celebrated among the young, as in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, it is more common among elderly couples who have lived together for many years, after one of them dies. It also occurs among men frustrated at their repeated inability to form relationships with women. According to Dr. Brian Gilmartin, 36% of the love-shy men he interviewed contemplated suicide, but none of the non-shy men [6] (see love-shyness and The Sorrows of Young Werther).

Theories of the effects of age on suicide have changed over time. Initially, it was believed that across all demographic populations, suicides increased with age. However, new research indicates that while this is true for men, suicide rates in women rate peak around the age of 35, plateau and only decline past the age of 85.

Theories about the effects of social status on suicide rates are diverse. This is partly due to difficulty in quantifying social status. Some theorists believe that suicide rates increase in direct proportion to social status. Others believe that the inverse is true.

Socio-economic factors such as unemployment, poverty, homelessness, and even discrimination trigger such suicidal thoughts [7][8]. It's also noted that poverty may not be a direct cause but it can increase the risk of suicide, as it is a major risk group for depression [9]. Discrimination and bullying is another major factor in suicides, as bullying and discrimination can lower self-esteem which could lead to depression and then suicide.

Suicide is more common among alcoholics, especially after loss of intimate relationships, such as the death of a spouse, divorce, loss of a friend and parental alienation. However, it is difficult to ascertain whether suicide and experience of loss by an alcoholic are causally related, since no data regarding causal relationships between alcoholism itself and suicide exists.

Suicide and Physical illness[]

Terminal illness has not been shown to be directly linked to higher suicide rates. Despite this, physical illness is found in nearly half of suicides.

Main article: Suicide and physical illness

Suicide and mental health[]

Main article: Suicide and personality disorder
Main article: Suicide and anxiety

Suicide and divorce[]

Divorced or separated men commit suicide 40% more than women.[10] This may be due to a combination of legal and cultural tendencies that favor women in these situations. For example, 85% of protection orders are awarded to females, and only 7% of these petitions are denied.[11] Since 1994, only 15% of American men are granted custody of their children in divorce settlements.[12] Furthermore, when the father lives outside the home, 40% of children have no contact with them; the other 60% average just 69 days a year.[13] These factors may help explain why divorce situations are higher risk.

On an individual level, the driving forces behind suicide vary across a range of themes. Common intentions behind suicidal actions include those of guilt, remorse, escapism and the provoking of guilt in those left behind. Media reports or local knowledge of a suicide can trigger copycat suicides in vulnerable people.

Honor suicide[]

Various cultures have promoted the moral value and psycho-sociological conception that it is better for the individual to commit suicide than to "lose" honor. Examples can be seen in Japanese seppuku as well as in the classical Mediterranean cultures of Greece, Rome, and even among the ancient Hebrews.

Evolutionary explanations[]

Evolutionary psychologists have developed several models to explain the apparent contradiction of suicide and evolutionary theory. Denys de Catanzaro has conducted a lot of research into this field. Others, such as Donald H. Rubinstein, and Anne Campbell have also done work in this field. The major difficulty for evolutionary psychologists is to explain why an organism would so deliberately harm its own potential reproductive capacity. Suicide seems to be perhaps the ultimate maladaptive trait, other than, perhaps, infanticide of one's own children.

Main article: Evolutionary psychology and suicide

Suicide methods[]

Main article: Suicide methods

The means of achieving suicide varies and is greatly influenced by availability, perceived effectiveness and final bodily state. For example, in the United States, firearms are relatively easy to obtain and suicide by this method is four times more common than the next method. However, one must take into account how Japan bans all firearms yet suffers from an extremely high suicide rate.

The common means of suicide, roughly in order of use (U.S.), are by gunshot (the so-called "Hemingway solution"), 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, and drowning.[14]

Physician-assisted suicide (see euthanasia) is typically by a lethal dosage of a prescription drug supplied by the physician. It may be taken orally, by intravenous drip, or infusion pump with a switch operated by the patient.

See also[]

References & Bibliography[]

Key texts[]



  1. Staff (March 2006). Suicide. About Mental Illness. Canadian Mental Health Association. URL accessed on 2006-04-11.
  3. Phil Zuckerman. Atheism: Contemporary Rates and Patterns. Pitzer College. URL accessed on 13 November 2010.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Michael Martin. Religious Affiliation and Suicide Attempt. American Psychiatric Association. URL accessed on 13 November 2010.
  5. includeonly>Guynup, Sharon. "A Suicide Gene: Is there a genetic cause for suicide?", Genome News Network, May 12, 2000. Retrieved on 2006-04-11.
  6. Gilmartin, Brian, Ph.D. (1987). Shyness & Love Causes, Consequences, and Treatment (PDF), Removed from printed circulation, available at URL accessed 2006-07-06. cf. page 64
  10. (2004-12-01). Suicide in the U.S.A.: Based on Current (2002) Statistics. (PDF) American Association of Suicidology. URL accessed on 2006-04-12. cf. items 5 and 15 in the numbered list at the start of this reference
  11. (to be determined). (PDF) Eleventh District Court of New Mexico. URL accessed on 2006-04-12. This is a broken link; an e-mail message has been sent to the webmaster of the host site in search of the new location of this document.
  12. Grall, Timothy S. (October 2003). Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2001. (PDF) Current Population Reports. United States Census Bureau. URL accessed on 2006-04-12. cf. page 1
  13. Halle, Tamara, Ph.D. (2002-07-09). Executive Summary. Charting Parenthood: A Statistical Portrait of Fathers and Mothers in America. Child Trends. URL accessed on 2006-04-12.
  14. Stone, Geo (2004-10-09). Suicide and Attempted Suicide: Methods and Consequences. URL accessed on 2006-04-12.

Additional material[]



External links[]