Suicide can best be described as the destructive act of voluntarily taking one’s own life. Suicide often presents a real and often tragic puzzle to be solved by friends and family, and any other professionals who have been involved with someone who has committed suicide. To be able to definitively answer the question as to why an individual would commit such a deadly act seems to be a highly complex task. The victim himself or herself, is perhaps the least aware of the answer to this ninth leading cause of death. Scientists have discovered that the cause of this fatal behavior can be found both within and without the individual. Whether biological, sociological or psychological the question remains as to which one will provide explanations to suicidal behavior. Or perhaps, could the answer be that all these factors are somehow interrelated. Whatever the case may be the statistics are frighteningly real.
There is more suicide deaths than homicides in the United States every year. Unbelievably so, suicide is in fact the ninth leading cause of death in the United Stated. For the young, consisting up to the age of fifteen, it is the third cause of death in the United States. Rounded to the nearest second, on average, every seventeen seconds one person will complete this self-destructive act resulting in death. Men account for eighty percent of all suicides in the United States and are more likely than women to be successful at killing themselves. There are, rounded to the nearest person, one female suicide completion to every four male suicide completions. Suicides committed using firearms make up over sixty percent of the population that has committed suicide. Of this sixty- percent of firearm suicide, white men make up eighty percent of this statistic. Every year there are seven hundred seventy-five thousand suicide attempts in the United States. It is estimated that five million Americans have attempted suicide. For every male suicide attempt there are three female attempts. The majority of overdose attempts is unsuccessful and account for seventy percent of suicide attempts (SFSP: U.S. Suicide Statistics, 1996).
It is estimated that for every suicide there is six survivors close to the victims that are affected. The statistics are stunning. How can we understand better why individuals would take their own life (McIntosh, 1997)
The conclusion that suicide is closely related to psychiatric illness is what researchers have come up with. The three diagnoses with the highest risk are depression, alcoholism and schizophrenia. Seventy percent of suicides would have been diagnosed with major depression. Fifteen percent would have been diagnosed with alcoholism and four percent from schizophrenia. Researchers have used two methods to come up with these findings. The first one, the researchers find out what proportion of people who have committed suicide have been diagnosed with a psychiatric illness in their past. The second method of research involves what is called psychological autopsy. Psychological autopsy involves carefully questioning the family members and friends of the suicide victim. These questions are in reference to the individual state of mind, mood and behavior of the deceased individual preceding his or her death. The conclusion that the majority of suicides were the result of psychiatric illness before death has been strongly supported by these two research techniques (Williams, 1997).
Major depression carries a fifteen- percent lifetime risk associated with suicide. Depression is a state of mind that results in feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, alienation, and uncontrollable urges to shed an unwanted self. Often, depression includes a variety of physical complaints that cannot be diagnosed as a physical illness. It is normal for any individual to feel depression at one time or another. In addition, there are many factors associated with depression. Any individual dealing with overwhelming amounts of stress can experience depression. However, it is when a person stays depressed for extended periods of time, that the likelihood of having suicidal urges increases (Williams, 1997).
Similar to that of depressed individuals, Alcoholics also carry a fifteen- percent lifetime risk of suicide. Alcohol dependence can be expressed in one of three ways. By consuming alcohol excessively on a daily basis. Second, by consuming excessive amounts of alcohol on a regular weekend basis. Third, by excessively consuming alcohol on binges lasting weeks or months. With alcoholics in mind, men are six times more likely to commit suicide than women are (Williams, 1997).
One percent of the population suffers from schizophrenia at one time or another. Schizophrenia involves a range of symptoms including delusions, disorder in the form of thought, disorders of perception, or a change in moods. Consequently, these individuals often have a difficult time associating with other people in society. Studies have been proven that up to fifteen percent of the population of schizophrenics will commit suicide. In addition, as in the case of alcoholics, men are more prone to suicide than women (Williams, 1997)
The very field of sociology was in part founded on the discovery that suicide rates are just as much a sociological phenomenon as they are psychological. Around the turn of the century, French sociologist Emile Durkeim found that single people were more likely to be victims than married individuals, Protestants more likely than Catholics, urban residents more likely than rural residents. Arguing that suicide was related to the nature of bonds between self and society, Durkheim argued that either excessive or deficient levels of integration and regulation lead to four ideal types of suicide (Spalding & Simpson, 1951).
The four ideal types of suicide consist of egoistic, altruistic, anomic, and fatalistic. Perhaps the most prevalent form in the United States is egoistic. Egoistic is explained as the result of too little social integration. An example, would be the suicide of a retired elderly widow. The second, altruistic is the consequence of excessive integration. Such as the death of a Japanese kamikaze pilot during World War II or the act of self-sacrifice upon finding out that a leader or chief is dead.
Altruistic is when an individual strips himself or herself of their well being for another cause or to feel a part of something. The third ideal type is anomic, which results from too little regulation or the shattering of one’s ties with society. A good example would be such as when an individual goes through a divorce or an individual suddenly finds himself or herself unemployed. Fatalistic is the fourth ideal type. This form is the result of excessive regulation coupled with high personal needs for an individual to control his or her environment. An example of this would be such as when a straight A college student fails an exams and upon doing so, takes his own life (Spalding & Simpson, 1951).
So what is the conclusion in understanding why individuals take their own lives? In 1996, Margaux Hemingway committed suicide with an overdose of sedatives. This brought back memories of other suicides in her family such as her grandfather, his brother, his sister and his father. Could the answer be genetic? Do people inherit certain vulnerabilities toward depression that results in death by suicide? Or does this story indicate an intergenerational socialization pattern, by which committing suicide is an acceptable way of addressing a problem learned by an acceptable family way. What if certain personality types are more predisposed? However, historical and anthropological studies show how different cultures seem to produce distinctive spectrums of personality types and that these types can change over time. In other words, the proportion of suicidal-prone individuals in a population is socioculturally determined. Further, changing social conditions can either trigger or suppress the suicidal urge of these types of selves. In conclusion, suicide seems to be a highly complex phenomenon that involves interactions between genetic, biochemical, psychological, societal and cultural factors (Hendin, 1984).
I personally believe that suicide is a selfish act committed by an individual as an answer to their problems. Many times, such as written in this research paper, the cause of suicide can be determined by psychiatric illness such as depression, alcoholism, and schizophrenia.
However, I do believe in the concept that suicide can result from a lack of integration of the individual into society. The question remains is it psychological, biological or sociological? Suicide results from such complex factors that the answer would have to be all of the above. How an individual operates in society involves biological, psychological and sociological factors. Therefore the conclusive answer to such a complex question would have to be that it carries such factors that would make it a product of psychological, biological, and sociological.
Twenty-four years ago, when my mother was sixteen, she was at school when she had two police officers come get her out of her class. The police officers would not tell her why. They only explained that they were taking her home. Upon arriving home, she found out that her father had shot himself. He left behind a wife and four daughters that were devastated and had to learn to deal with it. Silence was their form of dealing with it. For many years I have had questions as to why. Also, how did it affect my mother and how does she feel about. But, I have never gotten any complete answers to these questions. Nobody in the family has ever wanted to talk about the suicide. It is not a death that survivors go through the grieving process and then all of the sudden one-day feel free and at peace with the death. This is the type of death that survivors never feel at peace with. In fact, it affects generations of family members, to this day I do not feel at peace with the suicide of my grandfather.
However, upon being so curious I can ascertain that my grandfather was a human being that was not well. My mother grew up in a very poor atmosphere. Here clothes were borrowed from other families who did not want them anymore or the clothes were handed down from her older sisters. They had a small farm and could only afford to eat what they grew on their farm. At the time of his suicide, my grandfather was unemployed. He had an awful argument with my grandmother. He left for several days and no one could find him. Later, they found out that he had been sleeping in the crawl space underneath the house. He had over time completely isolated himself from his friends and family.
In addition, he started to have regular outbursts of anger. In the aftermath of this event, there is not one picture that you will find of him. Before he shot himself, he went through every picture and cut his face and in some his entire body. To conclude, sociologically speaking he had isolated himself from society. Furthermore, he was definitely in a state of major depression. Whether he was depressed first and therefore became isolated from society or isolated from society first therefore becoming depressed is unclear to me. The conclusion that I can make is fact that many factors were involved in this suicide.
If you have every read the Story of Romeo and Juliet this was a suicide that occurred because of the social conflict of the two families. Because they were in love, they stepped out of their societies to try to make it work. Was it fate that brought these star-crossed lovers to such fatal self-destruction? Or was it caused by two families that refused to step out of their societies to allow such a thing Romeo and Juliet to be together?
There is only one alternative to suicide that I can think of. Individuals seem to commit suicide when they feel pressured by society. Suicidal people have problems and feel there is no alternative, their best solution would be to die. The individual cannot fathom the fact that maybe they can fix their problems. Unquestionable suicide is not the answer to anyone’s problems. If society worked together to help suicidal individuals in distress know that there is a solution, then maybe we would have less suicide.
In conclusion, the alternative to suicide is that there is no problem so large that in constitutes self-killing. No matter what solutions anyone came up with, there is always going to be suicide. However, by understanding suicide and the many factors that cause it, we could start to try to lessen the statistics.