Suicide is the act of intentional self-destruction. While most suicidal acts are self-performed and are clearly recognized by the means employed (gun, rope, knife, etc) other acts may be judged as apparent suicides, as in some cases of drowning and falling. Undetected suicide also occurs and may be a factor, for example, in automobile accident fatalities.
Another kind of suicidal act involves using other people. For example, some murderers have committed their crimes in order to receive the death penalty; some criminals have asked the police to shoot them during apprehension; and many military personnel, during combat, have made solitary attacks to earn their death.
Beyond all these forms, psychologists indicate that there are those who subconsciously wish to die, with implications for everyone they come into contact with, and physicians attest to psychic suicides among the critically ill or very old - people who will themselves to die and actually do so. Suicidal acts may be committed during insanity, temporary insanity, or gross dysfunctioning of the mind due to disease, drugs, drug or alcohol addiction, brain damage, shock or neural depression. As such, they may be neither voluntary nor intended.
Suicide kills at least 1,110 people every day worldwide. Suicide statistics are subject to problems of faulty and incomplete record keeping, attempts at concealment and differences of definition. However, since the early 19th Century it has been recognized that differences in rate between countries are too great to be explained away in terms of differential accuracy of registration. Examples are: Ireland, less than 3 per 100,000; Denmark and Hungary, over 20 per 100,000; France, Germany (West) and Sweden, between 15-20; USA, England and Wales, 10-12; Spain, Italy and Norway between 5-10; Chile, less than 3; Uruguay over 10.
Suicide can occur as a result of mental illness, usually treatable; depression is by far the most common. Over half those who commit suicide were at the time or in the recent past consulting a doctor, and often a psychiatrist, although only the minority of suicidal individuals have a serious psychiatric disorder. Alcoholics and people with skin disease also contribute a disproportionately high number of suicides.
Suicide often occurs when the patient seems to be recovering from an emotional crisis; approximately half occur within 90 days of such a crisis. Common motives include ill-health, domestic difficulties, and unhappy love affairs. Isolation is a risk factor. Up to 70% of people who kill themselves have given many clues and warnings, communicating their intent often to several people, and about 40% state their intent unequivocally. Most suicidal people are unhappy but not fully intent on dying; they are undecided about living or dying, and they gamble on death, leaving it to others to save them.
Suicide increases with increasing age and in both sexes there is a rise in the fifth and sixth decades, with a fall after 65 years. Suicide occurs proportionately among all levels of society. It does not run in families, but the larger the family, the smaller the risk of suicide. Suicides are more frequent among those who are divorced. Most suicides occur in the early morning hours and more occur on Monday and Tuesday than on any other day of the week. The spring is the season with highest incidence of suicide. Contrary to the myth, suicides do not increase over the Christmas and New Year holiday season. In fact November and December are months with the lowest suicide rates. April is the highest, perhaps when the disappointment of not living up to expectations hits the hardest. Men outnumber women by three or four times, but there is an increasing disproportion between male and female suicide rates. Over the period 1974-86, the percentage increase in the male/female suicide ratio is Scotland 75%, England/Wales 63, Australia 58, Greece 56, Northern Ireland 46, Japan 41, USA 37, Canada 35, New Zealand 26, and Italy 24. Figures for men for 1986 give, per million population: Finland 430, Austria 421, Denmark 337, Switzerland 330, France 329. For women: Denmark 199, Austria 158, Japan 149, Belgium 141, Switzerland 132.
In the USA, suicide is the eighth leading cause of death and the third leading cause of death among teenagers. In 1998 over 30,000 Americans took their own lives.
Ambulatory potential suicides may be vectors of nihilism, to whom nothing matters and by whom nothing is considered worth doing. They may be like black holes in society in which acts of interest, love and help can often disappear without a trace. Social apathy, political indifference and, in general, a torpid personality and will, may be characteristics of what Freud called the mortido, a kind of death-wish or destructive force in man's nature.
Suicide is a rare act which, in order to qualify as voluntary and consciously intended, must be free of any constraint or force. In this sense the suicide, who is supposed to be morally responsible for his act, must not only by in perfectly sound mind and body, but must be free from any motive. From this point of view, the world's figures concerning so called suicides are in reality statistics of victims. They are in part victims of disease and in part victims of their fellow man. Despair, loneliness and selfish, callous societies are their murderers.