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SuicideSuicide, intentional, self-inflicted death. A uniquely human act, suicide occurs in all cultures. People who attempt or complete suicide usually suffer from extreme emotional pain and distress and feel unable to cope with their problems. They are likely to suffer from mental illness, particularly severe depression, and to feel hopeless about the future.Crows in the Wheatfields Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh, who suffered from symptoms of mental illness, shot himself in 1890 just after completing Crows in the Wheatfields. He died two days later. A portion of the painting is shown here.FPG International, LLC II PREVALENCE AND TRENDS Suicide ranks as a leading cause of death worldwide, making it a significant public-health problem. In addition, some researchers believe official statistics underestimate the actual number of suicides.Suicide Rates in the United States Suicide ranks as one of the top ten causes of death in the United States. People over the age of 75 have the highest suicide rates, apparently due to the debilitating effects of physical illness, loss of social roles, and untreated depression.© Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved. In the United States, suicide ranks in the top ten causes of death, accounting for about 1.5 percent of all deaths. The annual number of suicides has averaged about 30,000 since the late 1980s and has consistently exceeded the annual number of homicides. The suicide rate (number of suicide deaths per 100,000 people) in the United States has remained relatively stable since the 1950s, ranging between 10 and 13 per 100,000 each year.The suicide rate varies by age group. Of all age groups, the elderly have the highest suicide rates, particularly white men over the age of 75. The increased rate of suicide among elderly people appears mostly due to the debilitating effects of physical illness, loss of social roles and relationships, and untreated depression. Suicide rates for people between the ages of 15 and 24 tripled between 1950 and 1993. The reasons for this increase are not entirely clear, but researchers have associated it with a greater prevalence of mental illness in young people, an increased use of drugs in this population, and the increased availability of firearms in the home.Suicide rates also vary between men and women and between ethnic groups. Men complete about 80 percent of all suicides. However, women attempt suicide three times as frequently as men. Among men, Native Americans have the highest suicide rate, followed by whites. White men and women account for about 90 percent of all suicides. In Other Countries Canada’s suicide rate has historically been similar to or slightly higher than that of the United States. About 3800 suicides are recorded in Canada each year. Countries with the highest suicide rates include Latvia (42.5 suicides per 100,000 people), Lithuania (42.1), Estonia (38.2), Russia (37.8), and Hungary (35.9). Countries with the lowest suicide rates include Guatemala (0.5), the Philippines (0.5), Albania (1.4), the Dominican Republic (2.1), and Armenia (2.3). However, an accurate comparison of suicide rates among countries is difficult because of the unreliability of official suicide statistics and varying methods of certifying how deaths occurred.III METHODS Researchers believe that a small proportion of fatal single-occupant automobile accidents are suicides. Methods of suicide vary from culture to culture. Hanging is the leading method of suicide worldwide. In the United States about 60 percent of all suicides are committed with firearms. In Canada, where guns are less accessible, about 30 percent of suicides are committed with guns. Poisoning, such as taking an overdose of medication, accounts for about 18 percent of U.S. suicides. Researchers believe that a small proportion of fatal single-occupant automobile accidents are actually suicides. Only 15 to 25 percent of those who kill themselves leave suicide notes.IV CAUSES Suicidal behavior has numerous and complex causes. The biology of the brain, genetics, psychological traits, and social forces all can contribute to suicide. Although people commonly attribute suicide to external circumstances—such as divorce, loss of a job, or failure in school—most experts believe these events are triggers rather than causes in themselves.The majority of people who kill themselves suffer from depression that is often undiagnosed and untreated. Because depression so often underlies suicide, studying the causes of depression can help scientists understand the causes of suicide (see Depression: Causes). Other mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders may also contribute to suicidal behavior.Biological Perspectives Ernest Hemingway American author Ernest Hemingway suffered from bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness) and committed suicide at the age of 61, during a period of depression. The author’s father, brother, and a sister all committed suicide, and in 1996 Hemingway’s granddaughter, American actor and model Margaux Hemingway, also committed suicide. Scientific research on suicide suggests that genetic and biological factors play a role in suicidal behavior.Archive Photos Research indicates that suicidal behavior runs in families, suggesting that genetic and biological factors play a role in one’s suicide risk. Among one community of Amish people in Pennsylvania, almost three-quarters of all suicides that occurred over a 100-year period were in just four families. Studies of twins reared apart provide some support for a genetic influence in suicide.People may inherit a genetic predisposition to certain psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia and alcoholism, that increase the risk of suicide. In addition, an inability to control impulsive and violent behavior may have biological roots. Research has found lower than normal levels of a substance associated with the brain chemical serotonin in people with impulsive aggressiveness. Psychological Theories In the early 1900s Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud developed some of the first psychological theories of suicide. He emphasized the role of hostility turned against the self. American psychiatrist Karl Menninger elaborated on Freud’s ideas. He suggested that all suicides have three interrelated and unconscious dimensions: revenge/hate (a wish to kill), depression/hopelessness (a wish to die), and guilt (a wish to be killed).An American psychologist considered to be a pioneer in the modern study of suicide, Edwin Schneidman, has described several common characteristics of suicides. These include a sense of unbearable psychological pain, a sense of isolation from others, and the perception that death is the only solution to problems about which one feels hopeless and helpless. Cognitive theorists, who study how people process information, emphasize the role of inflexible thinking or tunnel vision (“life is awful, death is the only alternative”) and an inability to generate solutions to problems. According to psychologists, many suicide attempts are a symbolic cry for help, an effort to reach out and receive attention. Sociological Theories Émile Durkheim French sociologist Émile Durkheim believed that suicide is related to the degree to which an individual feels connected to society. Durkheim found suicide was more likely when a person lacked social bonds or close relationships.THE BETTMANN ARCHIVE Most social scientists believe that a society’s structure and values can influence suicide rates. French sociologist Émile Durkheim argued that suicide rates are related to social integration—that is, the degree to which an individual feels part of a larger group. Durkheim found suicide was more likely when a person lacked social bonds or had relationships disrupted through a sudden change in status, such as unemployment. As one example of the significance of social bonds, suicide rates among adults are lower for married people than for