Suicide is defined as the act of intentionally causing one’s own death. There are many factors that play a role in influencing whether someone decides to commit suicide. Nearly everyone experiences suicidal thoughts at one point or another throughout their existence. Everyone deals with tough times, but some people have been dealt a tougher hand when it comes to life circumstances, past trauma, mental and/or physical illness, social standing, and ability to cope with depressive emotions.
People are most driven to suicide when they view their current situation as being completely hopeless and feel as if they have no way to change things for the better. Common causes of suicide include: depression, drug abuse, financial problems, as well as difficulties with relationships. Although there are crisis hotlines that have been developed to help people feeling suicidal, the jury is out as to whether they even help.
Some ideas for preventing suicide include things like: banning firearms, developing better treatment for mental illness, and economic improvement. Most people that commit suicide do so because they are in some sort of pain and cannot seem to find a way out. Much work still needs to be done on coming up with more effective ways to help individuals that struggle with suicidal thinking as up to 1,000,000 people die every year from suicide. Listed below are some of the most common causes of suicide throughout the world.
15 Common Causes of Suicide: A List of Possibilities
Listed below are some common causes of suicide and a brief explanation regarding why it may lead a person to become suicidal. The most common cause of suicide is untreated depression, as 90% of individuals who commit suicide are depressed. However, there are other causes beyond the realm of mental illness that should be discussed including: trauma, drug addiction, existential crises, chronic pain, and terminal illnesses.
1. Mental illness
Among the most common causes of suicide is that of mental illness. Although there are a variety of treatment options for people with mental illnesses, they are far from perfect. Most people end up trying a variety of psychiatric drugs and/or talk therapies. After years of trying various medications (and cocktails), going through medication withdrawals, and experimenting with therapies, some people are stuck in a constant state of mental pain and despair.
- Anxiety: Having generalized anxiety, social phobia, panic attacks, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can drive a person crazy. Some forms of anxiety make it extremely difficult to maintain friendships, finish school, or hold down a steady job. The combination of loneliness and fear can lead a person to contemplate suicide.
- Bipolar disorder: There are a couple of subtypes of Bipolar disorder, but essentially it involves fluctuations in mood from states of severe depression to elevations in mood such as mania and hypomania. These mood fluctuations can make it difficult for people with this disorder to maintain relationships and a balanced life. Additionally the depression can lead a person to feel suicidal.
- Depression: Major depression is a leading cause of suicide throughout the world. People that do not treat their depressive symptoms have a greater risk for following through with suicide. Individuals with major depression are typically genetically wired in a way that makes it difficult to feel pleasure and happiness in life. 90% of people who commit suicide suffer from untreated depression.
- Schizophrenia: This is a highly severe mental illness with an array of symptoms including severe depression, hallucinations, and cognitive impairment. Having this illness makes it difficult to function in life and can serve as a major challenge due to the fact that most medications to treat this illness carry severe side effects. Anywhere from 20% to 40% of people with this illness attempt suicide.
2. Traumatic Experience
Any type of traumatic experience can lead a person to feeling helpless, guilty, and/or ashamed. If you were victim of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and/or dealt with trauma in war, you are much more likely to end up with post-traumatic stress disorder. This disorder and the feelings associated with traumatic experiences can lead a person to become suicidal.
PTSD: Many people with PTSD or “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” develops after a person is faced with a traumatic experience such as warfare, being seriously injured, or assaulted. The illness is characterized by flashbacks and numbing or blockage of memories surrounding the traumatic experience. People with this illness often live in a state of intense, and sometimes debilitating anxiety and/or fear that can interfere with leading a normal life. When people feel helpless about their situation and permanently traumatized, they may turn to suicide.
- Physical abuse: People who are victim to physical abuse either growing up or in a relationship can be traumatized. They may harbor feelings of guilt and shame that stay trapped inside for years. When someone is abused it may go unrecognized and unreported for an extended period of time. A person who is being physically abused may view suicide as the only way in which they can escape their situation.
- Sexual abuse: Any form of sexual abuse can lead a person to feeling depressed and suicidal. In cases of molestation and rape, a person is forced to perform sexual acts against their will. This can result in significant psychological trauma caused to the victim. When unreported or not addressed, this trauma can make a person feel highly suicidal.
- War: Being involved in a war can lead a person to see death, horrendous injuries, and feel fearful for their own life. This intense anxiety and paranoia over whether the soldier will stay alive coupled with seeing others die and injured can lead to trauma. People see things in war that make them physically sick and in many cases, they have a tough time mentally healing. The lack of support for veterans and not understanding their psychological diagnosis can sometimes result in suicide.
Most people experience bullying to some degree while growing up and going through school – it’s an inevitable part of life. Bullying can have a profound effect on the way people think and how they feel. Most people that are bullied end up feeling extremely depressed, worthless, and hopeless to change their situation.
Unfortunately in many cases, bullying goes completely unrecognized until the victim can’t take it anymore and sees suicide as the only way to escape the pain that they are experiencing. Some kids view bullying others as a way to fit in and/or prove themselves in regards to social hierarchy. Kids that get bullied are often viewed as being either physically weak and/or socially weak to not come up with witty responses.
Additionally, now there is a phenomenon called “cyber bullying” in which people fall victim to being bullied online. This happens on social media sites, comments sections of websites, and various blogs that aim to ruin people’s reputations and make people feel ashamed. When a person is bullied online and/or has privacy exposed online, they may view a ruined reputation as the end of the world and feel helpless to change their situation – which could lead to suicide.
4. Personality Disorders
Personality disorders can be closely related to mental illness, but are considered a set of traits that make it difficult to function within society. People with a personality disorder may have trouble maintaining relationships, holding down a steady job, and/or coping with life. For example, someone with dependent personality disorder may be too afraid to leave an abusive relationship. This “dependency” may lead the person with this disorder to consider suicide as an escape from their circumstances.
On the same token, avoidant personality disorder can lead individuals to avoid social contact because they are afraid they will be rejected or won’t fit in. This can result in feelings of isolation and a person thinking that they will never have any friends. An individual with a personality disorder may feel as if there is no hope for escaping the problems caused by their personality and may consider suicide.
The bottom line is that if you have a personality disorder, you are at increased risk of suicide. The personality disorder that is most associated with increased suicide risk is that of borderline personality disorder (BPD). This disorder is characterized by impulsive behavior, difficulty regulating emotions, and instability in relationships.
5. Drug Addiction / Substance Abuse
People that are addicted to drugs and/or abuse drugs or alcohol on a consistent basis are more likely to become depressed. Many people use drugs to escape painful feelings of depression and hopelessness of their current life situation. Being addicted to drugs or alcohol may provide some short-term relief from the pain that they feel, but over the long term, drug use tends to alter brain functioning and neurotransmitters.
Eventually a person will build up such a high tolerance to whatever drug they are addicted to, that they won’t experience anymore lift in mood that they got when they first started using. In many cases, substance abuse can temporarily change the way we think by altering neurotransmitter levels and overall brain function.
If you have an addiction, it could escalate to feelings of deep depression. You may feel helpless to overcome whatever addiction you face and some people see suicide as an only way out of the addiction trap.
6. Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are defined as a series of dysfunctional eating patterns that satisfy the person in ways other than nutrition. Many eating disorders are thought to be caused by body image problems, low self-esteem, and other mental health issues. It is thought that eating disorders are a way a person attempts to cope with unrelated issues such as: abuse, troublesome emotions, communication problems, or an identity crisis.
By eating in a certain way it allows the person to feel a sense of control over their life and situation. A common disorder is that of anorexia, which is the refusal to eat enough food to maintain a healthy body weight. Others include: bulimia, compulsive overeating, and purging disorder. All of these disorders tend to affect both physical and mental health negatively.
A person dealing with an eating disorder may constantly feel suicidal as a result of a nutrient-deficient diet. Poor diets can lead a person to feel depression and constant negative emotions. Only when the diet is corrected can a person experience improvements in mental health and pain associated with their situation. Additionally in cases of eating disorders, other underlying issues usually need to be addressed in therapy before progress can be made.
Being unemployed can lead to feelings of isolation and make your life feel as if it is void of purpose. With a poor economy, many people lose their jobs and look for new work, but since the competition is fierce, landing a new job can be difficult. In many cases being unemployed not only makes people feel as if they have no purpose in life, it can lead to depression over lack of an income as well.
Individuals who are unemployed aren’t earning any money and may get especially stressed out when it comes time to pay bills. Being unable to earn money and provide for yourself and/or a family can result in significant depression and anxiety. In addition to unemployment, hating your current job can also lead to suicidal thoughts and possibly actions if you feel as if there is no alternative option.
Employment provides most people with a sense of purpose and belonging to a specific group or company. If you are unemployed you may find yourself socially isolated and lacking purpose and structure in your day. Being employed helps individuals stay busy and can actually take their mind off of
8. Social Isolation / Loneliness
Being socially isolated from society can take a toll on mental health and lead a person to become depressed and consider suicide. Socializing and interacting with other people is a basic human need. If social needs are not met, a person can start to feel lonely which leads to depression and possibly suicidal thoughts. Loneliness is defined as a general feeling of sadness as a result of being alone or feeling disconnected from others.
Isolation is being separated from others in your environment. Someone can become isolated based on circumstances (i.e. employment) or as a result of personal decisions. Various reasons that a person could feel lonely or isolated include: living alone, death of a close friend or family member, poor physical health, mental illness, being introverted, fear of rejection, and/or retirement.
Living isolated from others can lead to an array of problems including mental health conditions, low energy, substance abuse, negative feelings, and/or sleep problems. If the loneliness and/or social isolation is not addressed, it may lead someone to consider suicide as an escape from their situation.
9. Relationship problems
Many people struggle with relationships including: being in abusive relationships, not feeling appreciated, and/or going through break-ups. There are many different types of relationships that a person could struggle with. Some people may have difficulties making friends and maintaining a close group for socialization. Others may struggle with staying in abusive relationships just so that they can avoid feeling isolated and lonely.
The need for human belonging is so strong that some people are willing to join gangs and/or humiliate themselves just to be in a relationship with another person. As far as romantic relationships are concerned, the act of a break-up can trigger intense feelings of depression, anxiety, guilt and panic – leading a person to deal with a lot of emotional pain. Often times in the news we read about people committing suicide as the result of a break-up with a significant other.
Among individuals that are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered, the leading cause of suicide isn’t family rejection, it’s relationship troubles. Most research suggests that these individuals deal with significantly more relationship stress than those who are heterosexual.
10. Genetics / Family History
A lot of suicide risk has to do with genetics and family history. Those who are from a family in which suicide is common are more likely to commit suicide themselves. Additionally if a mental illness is inherited such as major depression, this can further increase risk of suicide. Family, twin, and adoption studies have all established genetic links to suicidal behavior.
Various traits including: aggression, borderline personality disorder, cognitive inflexibility, and stress sensitivity are all linked to influencing suicidal behavior. If you inherit any of these traits, they could put you at an increased risk of suicide. Although there is a genetic link, it is not certain as to what degree this affects someone’s decision to follow through with the act of suicide.
Additionally epigenetics or the activation or deactivation of genes based on environmental factors is thought to play a role. In other words, your circumstances, the people you hang out with, where you live, etc. could all influence your genetic expression and thus be partially influential in determining whether a person becomes suicidal.
11. Philosophical Desire / Existential Crisis
When life seems void of meaning, people tend to question why they are even living and/or the entire purpose of their existence. This is often referred to as an “existential crisis” and can be difficult to overcome because people dealing with this issue often think themselves in circles of logic as to why there is no point to life. In many cases, people facing an existential crisis consider suicide because they feel as if their entire existence is void of purpose.
This crisis can result from major depression, trauma, loneliness, seeking meaning and/or general dissatisfaction with life. Some reports suggest that this crisis may affect individuals with above-average levels of intelligence. Facing an existential crisis can be difficult and can take awhile to get over. Usually the individual needs to make some sort of changes in life for their existential outlook to change.
I personally have faced this crisis and would spend entire days dwelling on the fact that life is pointless and that eventually I’m going to face either: an afterlife or nothingness when I die. This crisis can last years and result in highly suicidal feelings if not addressed in some way.
12. Terminal Illness
Many people with terminal illnesses that have no hope of improving their situation based on current science and medicine may become depressed. This depression is usually a result of feeling powerless to one’s condition. People with terminal illnesses aren’t able to treat or make any sort of improvement towards getting better. In many cases they are simply living and being controlled by the impairments that their illness causes.
Terminal illnesses such as various types of cancer usually leave a person frustrated, shocked and feeling hopeless. Other terminal illnesses end up causing physical or other handicaps and take a serious toll on a person’s energy levels, willpower, and ability to partake in daily functions. Many elderly individuals who are terminally ill have fought for euthanasia rights and/or traveled to other countries where it has been legalized.
13. Chronic Pain
If you have chronic pain, it means that you have had daily pain that has persisted for between three and six months. This pain often impairs your ability to function throughout the day and can affect mobility, the ability to perform certain tasks, and even a person’s mental health. Although pain levels differ among chronic pain sufferers, one thing that they all have in common is an inability to escape the daily discomfort associated with their pain.
They may take painkillers just to make it through the day, but these painkillers are not considered a “cure,” and many people find them relatively ineffective once they build up a tolerance. There aren’t many promising treatment options for people that have chronic pain other than various forms of therapy and medication. Dealing with pain on a daily basis can drive some people into depression, and in some cases, suicide.
14. Financial Problems
People who are struggling financially sometimes see no end in sight to their debt and bills. The financial stress can take a major toll on a person’s mental health. There have been cases of even millionaires committing suicide because they spent all of their money or had to file for bankruptcy. In a difficult economy, unemployment is linked to increased financial stress, but even if you are employed, you may still have financial problems.
Those who have accumulated a serious amount of debt as a result of an unforeseen emergency, excessive shopping, and/or medical bills may panic and feel suicidal when they can’t pay their bills. The stress of having a poor credit score and constant phone calls from bill collectors may make some people feel ashamed and hopeless to change their financial situation.
Although most people in financial troubles eventually end up working their way out of debt, some people are afraid to deal with this situation. In the event that a person becomes embarrassed about their finances and feels depressed about their debt, they may consider suicide as a way to escape this situation.
15. Prescription Drugs
The side effects of various prescription drugs such as antidepressants can result in suicidal ideation. In other words, these drugs affect levels of neurotransmitters that can sometimes put a person at increased risk for suicide. Some antidepressants actually end up making people significantly more depressed because they are targeting neurotransmitter levels, when the original cause of depression wasn’t a result of a chemical imbalance. (Read the article, “Can antidepressants cause suicidality?” for more information).
Although many people respond well to SSRI’s that prevent the reuptake of serotonin, thereby increasing serotonin levels in the brain, others have poor reactions. There are black box warnings on most antidepressants stating that they may cause an increase in suicidal thinking. In addition to feeling suicidal while on antidepressants, many people end up with a chemical imbalance upon withdrawal from these drugs. It is also disputed as to whether dopamine vs. serotonin is more important or whether low norepinephrine causes depression.
The chemical imbalance is usually caused by changes in neurotransmitter levels and functioning as a result of taking an antidepressant. In many cases serotonin levels are abnormally low when a person withdraws from an SSRI, leaving the person to feel even more depressed and suicidal than they originally were. It takes the brain awhile to recover after withdrawal and reestablish normal serotonin levels. Further recommended reading: Do antidepressants cause a chemical imbalance?
Other psychiatric drugs that can lead a person to feel suicidal include: antipsychotics and benzodiazepines. It is always important to monitor sudden changes in mood while taking a psychiatric drug so that suicide can be prevented. Most people are lead to believe that psychiatric drugs will always work to prevent suicide, when in reality if someone has a bad reaction, they can actually trigger these thoughts.
Why do some people kill themselves in these situations?
Feeling trapped and unable to cope with a particular situation in life tends to lead people to consider suicide. Whether a person has been dealing with a mental illness, faced trauma, or they have been bullied at school, it is the pain and continuous suffering from these experiences that becomes overwhelming. When pain exceeds our abilities to cope, we feel hopeless to change and feel suicidal.
It is important to recognize that pain is an inevitable part of life, everyone deals with pain to a certain extent. Escaping the everyday pain and suffering associated with life is impossible. So what can be done if you are suicidal? Either find a way to reduce the amount of pain you are experiencing and/or increase your coping resources.
If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, be sure to seek professional help. The article I wrote called “I Want To Die” may provide you with some useful suggestions as to where you can get help for yourself if you feel hopeless. In many cases, the pain leading a person to feel suicidal can be overcome and reduced to the point where an individual is able to find pleasure and purpose in life again.