Causes of Suicide
This essay examines the reasons why a person of good physical health decides to terminate their own life. It does not consider euthanasia, assisted or forced suicide. Compared to most aspects of psychological health it is limited in scope for research – no “follow-up” can be performed, if the act is completed, and no ethical panel would approve experiments to demonstrate a causal link. Suicide has “no one single cause or stressor” according to the Lancet 2011.
Before elaborating on what causes suicide it should be understood what we mean by cause. The Oxford English Dictionary defines cause as “a person or thing that gives rise to an action, phenomenon or condition.” This essay will in part examine the methods employed by suicidal patients though this is secondary to whatever caused them to make this decision. The essay will consider the epidemiology of suicide (also regarding suicide clustering) followed by the potential genetic risk factors. This will be followed by the psychological factors such as depressive disorders, and finally the environmental risk factors such as low socioeconomic status and substance abuse.
Another complication in analysing causes of suicide is the variation between cases. Some will be clearly planned events, with finances and family situations adjusted beforehand, notes written. Others will be on the spur of the moment, with difficulty establishing whether it was deliberate or accidental. Some will be violent, immediate acts whilst others will be drawn out affairs with low lethality (dependent on availablilty of help). Most importantly, some individuals will not succeed – or chillingly, not at first. One of the greatest predictors for completed suicide is attempted previous suicide/ self harm.
Samaritans 2009 informs us that the suicide rates across the UK are consistently higher for men than for women, which becomes most apparent in middle age. The trend of suicide frequency has stayed relatively stable over the past ten years though there has been a sharp increase since the economic downturn according to WHO data in Europe. This has been put down to effects of the crisis – with the greatest increase in Greece and lowest in Finland. It also corresponds with findings of increased prescribing of antidepressants.
Suicide was the cause of 9% (second biggest cause) of male deaths in the 16-24yrs, 2009 (ONS), 1 in 5 in the 24-34yr age group.
When looking at the causes of suicide it may be useful to look from an epidemiological/ public health perspective. This is owing to the potential for “copycat suicides” or mass/point clusters of suicide. This phenomenon is not a new one, going back to the “Sorrows of Young Werter” – people often share behaviours with those they associate with (similarity bias) or look up to (prestige bias). The latter is where the influence of the media comes into consideration, an aspect which has been under supervision for fear of the effect on “social...