The legacy of Suicide

"The paper called it suicide
A bullet from a .45
Nobody cared and nobody cried
Don't that make you feel sad"
Thin Lizzy. Suicide. 1975

Have you ever sat in a chair, detached, dejected, in crushing despair?

Your life; meaningless. Your head filled with self-loathing. Numb, your insides are bound with the knot of hopelessness.

You're surprised for a second by the heft of the gun; it's a lot heavier loaded than it looked on the desk. A glimmer of golden oil shines on the grey stainless steel frame; the copper snubs of the bullets peek menacingly from the cylinder. You sniff the gun oil; it's smell mechanical; familiar. In one motion you put the muzzle of the barrel to your temple. It's cold. Leaning your head against it, your thumb rests on the rough edge of the hammer. With a little effort you draw back on the hammer spring and c--- the gun; hearing the clicks as the sear engages.

A last breath; your heart beats in your chest. No thoughts now; calm envelopes; a light surge of adrenaline; your forefinger takes the slack…

Too people many reading this are familiar with it; if not the action, certainly the feeling. 16,000 Americans do 'take the slack' every year and commit suicide with firearms. Double that comprise the annual suicide statistic. Countless more get to that point and put the gun down, either through changing their minds or intervention.

Suicide is the intentional taking of one's own life. It's one of the leading causes of death in the world with 1 million suicides a year - more than all the deaths from murder and war combined.

In 2005 32,367 people or 1.5% of deaths were attributable to suicide in the U.S. Of that number hanging and suffocation accounts for 22%, poisoning 18%, suicide by firearm 52%. Typically at risk were young and old white men. That however has changed over the years so that there is a broader spread in the risk demographics, particularly among middle aged white women.

There are as many causes to suicide as their are methods. These include, a previous suicide attempt, mental or physical illness, a history of sexual assault or abuse, a family history of suicide or mental illness, access to lethal methods (firearms, pills); alcohol or drug intoxication, stressful life events, hopelessness, violence perpetration or victimization, exposure to suicide in the media, or a firearm in the home.

Suicide is the result of an inability to cope; of intolerance to pain and suffering, physical and mental. It's described by some as a cowardly act; the action of a weakling. It's not. It takes incredible courage for someone to decide when and where to end their lives. They must, in the time prior to carrying out the act, go through a seeming lifetime of self-incrimination and self-loathing; face an avalanche of hopelessness to conclude that the world would be better off without them. They die many times prior to the final act. There is no upside for the suicidal; it's not an escape to somewhere; it's an end. A termination.

Sometimes nobody is left behind and the person becomes a footnote in a medical examiners report. More often there is family who have to deal with the mixture of suicide-derived emotions in addition to the normal feelings of dealing with a death. There's a social stigma still attached to the news of a suicide; a tendency to flinch, hold back, as if perhaps it's dirty, contagious. There is also something else

Suicide is hereditary. Once a family member carries it out, a Pandora's box is opened for other family members by creating an acceptable or alternative end-of-life option. Ernest Hemingway killed himself in 1961. His granddaughter Margaux did so also in 1996. Bing Crosby's two sons Dennis and Lindsay committed suicide. In this writers dealings with researching families with a history of abuse, one family had eight suicides in their immediate relatives. Eight. Suicide creates a precedent; bestows permission; forms a familial legacy that may be impossible to eliminate.

The issue of suicide prevention is not without controversy. Politicians and medical professionals alike question whether governments should interfere with the personal decision to end one's life. The counter argument is that suicidal people are mentally ill as only a mentally deranged person would want to end their life.

The World Health Organization noted that someone commits suicide every 39 seconds. There are an estimated 10 to 20 million non-fatal attempted suicides every year worldwide. One million attempts are successful. Several studies reveal the close correlation between alcohol consumption and suicide rates. Suicide as a recorded cause of death is being reported more frequently as cultural and religious barriers against it erode.

People die by suicide more often during spring and summer. The idea that suicide is more common during Christmas is a common misconception. In the USA, males over the age of seventy die by suicide more often than younger males. There is no such trend for females. Females attempt more than men, however men are successful 3 to 4 times more often.

There are 'good' suicides. Those who are terminally ill, in terrible pain, deserve the opportunity to decide to end their life early to extinguish their suffering. Unfortunately society is reluctant to allow them the legal method or the opportunity.

If you're reading this for information on prevention, it's best to explore the resources here - American Association of Suicidology.


American Association of Suicidology

An Increasing Problem in U.S. Whites, 1999-2005
Guoqing Hu, PhD, Holly C. Wilcox, PhD, Lawrence Wissow, MD, MPH, Susan P. Baker, MPH

CIS: UN Body Takes On Rising Suicide Rates

Evin Daly is the publisher and a journalist for the Contact: edaly E ditors: Leah Tobin