Every year 1 million people take their own life and suicide is thought to be vastly under-reported. Who are these people and why do they do it?
Over the past 45 years, the global suicide rate has risen by 60%. In the United States, it’s more common than car accident deaths making it a worrisome public health issue. So what’s going on? Why are people killing themselves?
It’s a loaded question obviously, but researchers at the University of British Columbia are trying to put the pieces together. They just published the largest study ever done on the motivations for suicide.
What they found was that many of the assumed motivations for suicide aren’t reality. Things like impulsive personality types, attention seekers, or financial problems weren’t the cause. For 100% of the participants, they found that suicide was a way to solve a problem—a problem of ongoing and overwhelming emotional pain, the problem of hopelessness so profound that it consumes you completely. It’s a dark place that some of us might visit briefly but then move on when we recover.
Suicide happens when a person cannot escape their misery. Understanding suicide as a problem-solving behavior is an uncomfortable thing to sit with. But the hope is that ongoing research will eventually help us understand how to help people who are at risk for suicide and help people who have made suicide attempts to recover.
The question still lingers though. We know that emotional pain is at the heart of suicide, but what causes that emotional pain in the first place?
The short answer is…well, we don’t quite exactly know that yet. Another study released by Stanford University examined suicide trends across 7 million Swedish adults and found that depression was the highest risk factor for suicide. Clinical depression makes someone 32 times more likely to commit suicide.
Lots of other mental illnesses are at high risk too, like schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder.
Some risks are social though. They come from a person’s environment. For instance, having a poor social support system, someone who just moved to a new city, who is divorced, who has trouble making friends, who doesn’t have support of family, or even their gender.
Men are three times more likely to kill themselves than women. For men, being young and uneducated are risk factors. The biggest one is being single. For women, the biggest risk factor was being unemployed, ongoing bully, harassment, serious relationship problems, chronic illness and having attempted suicide before all raise the risks as well.
If you are worried about someone in your life who’s threatened to commit suicide or if you are feeling suicidal yourself, please do take it seriously. You may not fully understand this yet but that doesn’t mean that we can’t support each other through it. So reach out as soon as possible and let someone understand the pain you are in.