Chances are that if you’ve been depressed for awhile, or you’re experiencing ongoing hopelessness, some aspect of yourself has begun to drop not so subtle hints about checking out of life. However, is suicide an option?
Suicide was defined by the sociologist Emile Durkheim as applying to ‘all cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows will produce this result’.
A person’s risk of committing suicide can be increased by a number of demographic and social risk factors. Demographic risk factors for suicide include being male; being relatively young; and being single, widowed, or separated or divorced. Social risk factors for suicide include being unemployed, insecurely employed, or retired; having a poor level of social support as is often the case for the elderly, prisoners, immigrants, refugees, and the bereaved; and having been through a recent life crisis such as losing a close friend or relative or being the victim of physical or sexual abuse.
As well as demographic and social risk factors, a person’s risk of committing suicide can also be increased by a number of clinical risk factors. The most important predictor of suicide is a previous act of deliberate self-harm, and a person’s risk of completing suicide in the year following an act of deliberate self-harm is approximately 100 times greater than that of the average person. Conversely, up to half of all people who complete suicide have a history of deliberate self-harm. Suicidal behavior tends to cluster in families, so a family history of deliberate self-harm also increases a person’s risk of suicide. This is perhaps because suicide is a learned behaviour or, more likely, because family members share a generic predisposition to psychiatric disorders that are associated with a higher risk of suicide. People with a psychiatric disorder who are resistant to their prescribed medicationor non-compliant with it are also at a higher risk of suicide, as are people experiencing certain specific symptoms such as delusions of persecution, delusions of control, delusions of jealousy, delusions of guilt, commanding second person auditory hallucinations (for example, a voice saying ‘Take that knife and kill yourself’), and passivity which is the feeling that one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions are under the control of an external agency. Physical illness can also increase the risk of suicide, and this is particularly the case for physical illnesses that are terminal, that involve long-term pain or disability, or that affect the brain. Examples of such physical illnesses include cancer, early-onset diabetes, stroke, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and AIDS.
If you are assailed by suicidal thoughts, the first thing to remember is that many people who have attempted suicide and survived ultimately feel relieved that they did not end their lives. At the time of attempting suicide they experienced intense feelings of despair and hopelessness because it seemed to them that they had lost control over their lives and that things could never get better. The only thing that they still had some control over was whether they lived or died, and committing suicide seemed like the only option left. This is never true.
Some of the thoughts that may accompany suicidal thoughts include:
• I want to escape my suffering.
• I have no other options.