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Why is it that only humans commit suicide?

Why is it that only humans commit suicide?



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Many animals do 'brave' things to protect their children or family, and some male spiders sacrifice themselves so that they can impregnate the females.

However, humans commit suicide without necessarily any intention to help their kin. Why?


Such behavior does exist in the wider animal world, not just in humans.

See the Wikipedia page on Animal Suicide, particularly the section titled "Suicidal behavior".
(if you have done any preliminary research on this, be aware that your question doesn't reflect it).

There are a number of linked studies in that section, some of which may give you good or relevant information.

What it comes down to is twofold:

  1. We can't reasonably say that animals are pursuing suicidal behavior for similar reasons that humans do, as we don't have a good enough view into the cognitions of other animals, and
  2. We still don't fully understand the etiology of suicide (much less depression!) in humans, either, which confounds the entire issue.

Why is it that only humans commit suicide? - Psychology

by Kevin Caruso

People do not choose to have clinical depression.

People do not choose to have bipolar disorder.

People do not choose to have schizophrenia.

People do not choose to have cancer.

People do not choose to have post-traumatic stress disorder

People do not choose to have obsessive-compulsive disorder.

People to not choose to have tourette's syndrome.

People do not choose to be autistic.

People do not choose to have seasonal affective disorder.

People do not choose to have heart disease.

People do not choose to have dysthymia.

People do not choose to have narcolepsy.

People do not choose to have muscular dystrophy.

People do not choose to have Alzheimer's disease.

People do not choose to have dementia.

People do not choose to have anxiety attacks.

People do not choose to have delusions.

People do not choose to have psychosis.

People do not choose to have phobias.

People do not choose to be paralyzed.

People do not choose to have migraine headaches.

People do not choose to be victims of crime.

Children do not choose to be bullied.

Children do not choose to be sexually molested.

Children do not choose to be abused.

Women do not choose to be brutally beaten by their husbands.

Women do not choose to have postpartum depression.

Women do not choose to be raped.

People do not choose to be discriminated against.

People do not choose to be mistreated.

So why do some people think that people choose to die by suicide?

Answer: ignorance.

Many people (including some who are supposed to be "professionals" in the area of suicide, psychology, and religion) maintain the misguided, ignorant, outdated -- and idiotic -- belief that people "choose" suicide.

Over 90 percent of the people who die by suicide have a mental illness at the time of their death. And the vast majority of those mental illnesses are untreated, under-treated, or not properly treated.

People who die by suicide are not thinking clearly -- and they cannot possibly think clearly -- because their brain is not functioning properly at the time they pass away from suicide.

Their brain is giving them overwhelming signals to die.

They have a chemical imbalance in their brain, are in extreme emotional pain, and their mind is saying "you must die by suicide to end this."

Again -- it is an overwhelming condition.

They do not "choose" do die -- their mental illness causes them to die -- just like some people die from heart disease, cancer, or other things that are out of their control.

And every time an ignorant person makes the statement that "people choose to die by suicide" the stigma of suicide is perpetuated.

Let me draw an analogy between suicide and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): People with OCD have recurrent, overwhelming, obsessive thoughts that compel them to act in ways that others do not understand. For instance, a person with OCD may believe that his or her house is contaminated -- even though it is immaculately clean -- and thus compulsively washes his or her hands to get rid of the "germs."

So do people who are otherwise very intelligent simply "choose" to wash their hands 500 times a day?

No.

They have a disorder and need treatment.

Now, someone with severe depression -- and untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide -- has a similar signal that their brain is sending to them, and that signal is this: you must die by suicide.

That "signal" is incessant and overwhelming.

Again, the person does not "choose" suicide the mental illness causes the suicide.

One more time: People do not choose suicide their mental illness causes the suicide.

People who die by suicide are strong, intelligent, loving, caring people -- who happen to have a mental illness.

And there should be no stigma whatsoever associated with that mental illness -- regardless of what it is -- as well as no stigma associated with suicide.

The people who do not understand these basic, irrefutable truths about suicide are part of a serious problem -- and that problem is ignorance. And, unbelievably, many psychologists, psychiatrists, suicidologists, and members of the clergy are part of this problem -- and thus they actually perpetuate stigma instead of fighting it!

So, don't be part of the problem. Share your understanding about suicide with others, and help combat this ignorance.

And be as supportive, helpful, and understanding as possible to suicide survivors. They deserve our unconditional love.

And always remember this: People who die by suicide do not choose to die, they have a mental illness -- and it is the mental illness that causes them to pass away.

Please understand that although people who die by suicide do not "choose" to die, suicide can most definitely be prevented -- Effective treatment can unquestionably prevent suicide.

The vast majority of people who receive treatment for their mental illness get better, or are able to control their mental illness -- so treatment is the key to preventing suicide.

Suicide can be prevented.

Immediate, effective treatment is the key to preventing suicide.

Please be familiar with the Suicide Warning Signs and be prepared to get help for yourself or someone else when you spot them -- always seek treatment immediately if you or someone you know is suicidal.

The number one cause for suicide is untreated depression -- and depression is highly treatable. So please be familiar with the signs of depression and always act immediately if you or someone you know may have depression.

Please click below for additional information:

Depression and Suicide

Suicide can be prevented -- immediate, effective treatment is the key to preventing suicide.

Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, postpartum depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other similar disorders can cause suicide if untreated or not effectively treated.

So if you think that you may have a mental illness of any kind, please immediately make appointments with a medical doctor and a therapist so you may be evaluated.

Suicide can be prevented -- immediate, effective treatment is the key to preventing suicide.

And if you or someone you know is suicidal, please go to the Home Page of this website and take action.

Suicide can be prevented -- immediate, effecitve treatement is the key to preventing suicide.

If you or so someone you know is ever acutely suicidal, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.

Suicide can be prevented -- immediate, effective treatment is the key to preventing suicide.

Never try to treat yourself if you have a mental illness or are suicidal -- always seek help from trained professionals, and always do so immediately.

Suicide can be prevented -- immediate, effective treatment is the key to preventing suicide.

If you need help right now because you are suicidal, call 911 or 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-723-TALK or call your local emergency or crisis number, or click the following link for a list of suicide hotlines: Suicide Hotlines -- Do not hesitate. Pick up the phone now and call. Right now. Go! Pick up the phone and reach out for help -- people want to help you.

Suicide can be prevented -- immediate, effective treatment is the key to preventing suicide.

If you or someone you know is suicidal, please go to the Home Page of this website for immediate help.

Thank you.

I love you.

Take care,

Kevin Caruso

Military Veterans
Suicide Hotline:
1-800-273-TALK
(Press 1)


About the expert: Samuel Knapp, EdD

Samuel Knapp, EdD, is a licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania who has worked in rural community mental health centers delivering psychotherapy and crisis intervention services. He is the author of the book, “Suicide Prevention: An Ethically and Scientifically Informed Approach”, published in August 2019 by APA. Knapp is currently the director of professional affairs of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association. He has written or edited 16 books, nearly 100 peer-reviewed articles and about 500 professional presentations on ethics, suicide prevention and other topics.


A Word From Verywell

While certain generalizations can be made about gender differences in suicide behavior, it should be noted that general tendencies cannot be taken as absolute guidelines for suicide prevention efforts.

Suicide attempts should always be taken seriously and not dismissed as attention-seeking behavior, nor should it be assumed that only people of a particular gender will use any given method.

It is important to note that more research is needed to better understand gender differences in suicide and to develop gender-targeted intervention strategies.


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.


Why is it that only humans commit suicide? - Psychology

by Kevin Caruso

People do not choose to have clinical depression.

People do not choose to have bipolar disorder.

People do not choose to have schizophrenia.

People do not choose to have cancer.

People do not choose to have post-traumatic stress disorder

People do not choose to have obsessive-compulsive disorder.

People to not choose to have tourette's syndrome.

People do not choose to be autistic.

People do not choose to have seasonal affective disorder.

People do not choose to have heart disease.

People do not choose to have dysthymia.

People do not choose to have narcolepsy.

People do not choose to have muscular dystrophy.

People do not choose to have Alzheimer's disease.

People do not choose to have dementia.

People do not choose to have anxiety attacks.

People do not choose to have delusions.

People do not choose to have psychosis.

People do not choose to have phobias.

People do not choose to be paralyzed.

People do not choose to have migraine headaches.

People do not choose to be victims of crime.

Children do not choose to be bullied.

Children do not choose to be sexually molested.

Children do not choose to be abused.

Women do not choose to be brutally beaten by their husbands.

Women do not choose to have postpartum depression.

Women do not choose to be raped.

People do not choose to be discriminated against.

People do not choose to be mistreated.

So why do some people think that people choose to die by suicide?

Answer: ignorance.

Many people (including some who are supposed to be "professionals" in the area of suicide, psychology, and religion) maintain the misguided, ignorant, outdated -- and idiotic -- belief that people "choose" suicide.

Over 90 percent of the people who die by suicide have a mental illness at the time of their death. And the vast majority of those mental illnesses are untreated, under-treated, or not properly treated.

People who die by suicide are not thinking clearly -- and they cannot possibly think clearly -- because their brain is not functioning properly at the time they pass away from suicide.

Their brain is giving them overwhelming signals to die.

They have a chemical imbalance in their brain, are in extreme emotional pain, and their mind is saying "you must die by suicide to end this."

Again -- it is an overwhelming condition.

They do not "choose" do die -- their mental illness causes them to die -- just like some people die from heart disease, cancer, or other things that are out of their control.

And every time an ignorant person makes the statement that "people choose to die by suicide" the stigma of suicide is perpetuated.

Let me draw an analogy between suicide and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): People with OCD have recurrent, overwhelming, obsessive thoughts that compel them to act in ways that others do not understand. For instance, a person with OCD may believe that his or her house is contaminated -- even though it is immaculately clean -- and thus compulsively washes his or her hands to get rid of the "germs."

So do people who are otherwise very intelligent simply "choose" to wash their hands 500 times a day?

No.

They have a disorder and need treatment.

Now, someone with severe depression -- and untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide -- has a similar signal that their brain is sending to them, and that signal is this: you must die by suicide.

That "signal" is incessant and overwhelming.

Again, the person does not "choose" suicide the mental illness causes the suicide.

One more time: People do not choose suicide their mental illness causes the suicide.

People who die by suicide are strong, intelligent, loving, caring people -- who happen to have a mental illness.

And there should be no stigma whatsoever associated with that mental illness -- regardless of what it is -- as well as no stigma associated with suicide.

The people who do not understand these basic, irrefutable truths about suicide are part of a serious problem -- and that problem is ignorance. And, unbelievably, many psychologists, psychiatrists, suicidologists, and members of the clergy are part of this problem -- and thus they actually perpetuate stigma instead of fighting it!

So, don't be part of the problem. Share your understanding about suicide with others, and help combat this ignorance.

And be as supportive, helpful, and understanding as possible to suicide survivors. They deserve our unconditional love.

And always remember this: People who die by suicide do not choose to die, they have a mental illness -- and it is the mental illness that causes them to pass away.

Please understand that although people who die by suicide do not "choose" to die, suicide can most definitely be prevented -- Effective treatment can unquestionably prevent suicide.

The vast majority of people who receive treatment for their mental illness get better, or are able to control their mental illness -- so treatment is the key to preventing suicide.

Suicide can be prevented.

Immediate, effective treatment is the key to preventing suicide.

Please be familiar with the Suicide Warning Signs and be prepared to get help for yourself or someone else when you spot them -- always seek treatment immediately if you or someone you know is suicidal.

The number one cause for suicide is untreated depression -- and depression is highly treatable. So please be familiar with the signs of depression and always act immediately if you or someone you know may have depression.

Please click below for additional information:

Depression and Suicide

Suicide can be prevented -- immediate, effective treatment is the key to preventing suicide.

Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, postpartum depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other similar disorders can cause suicide if untreated or not effectively treated.

So if you think that you may have a mental illness of any kind, please immediately make appointments with a medical doctor and a therapist so you may be evaluated.

Suicide can be prevented -- immediate, effective treatment is the key to preventing suicide.

And if you or someone you know is suicidal, please go to the Home Page of this website and take action.

Suicide can be prevented -- immediate, effecitve treatement is the key to preventing suicide.

If you or so someone you know is ever acutely suicidal, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.

Suicide can be prevented -- immediate, effective treatment is the key to preventing suicide.

Never try to treat yourself if you have a mental illness or are suicidal -- always seek help from trained professionals, and always do so immediately.

Suicide can be prevented -- immediate, effective treatment is the key to preventing suicide.

If you need help right now because you are suicidal, call 911 or 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-723-TALK or call your local emergency or crisis number, or click the following link for a list of suicide hotlines: Suicide Hotlines -- Do not hesitate. Pick up the phone now and call. Right now. Go! Pick up the phone and reach out for help -- people want to help you.

Suicide can be prevented -- immediate, effective treatment is the key to preventing suicide.

If you or someone you know is suicidal, please go to the Home Page of this website for immediate help.

Thank you.

I love you.

Take care,

Kevin Caruso

Military Veterans
Suicide Hotline:
1-800-273-TALK
(Press 1)


About the expert: Samuel Knapp, EdD

Samuel Knapp, EdD, is a licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania who has worked in rural community mental health centers delivering psychotherapy and crisis intervention services. He is the author of the book, “Suicide Prevention: An Ethically and Scientifically Informed Approach”, published in August 2019 by APA. Knapp is currently the director of professional affairs of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association. He has written or edited 16 books, nearly 100 peer-reviewed articles and about 500 professional presentations on ethics, suicide prevention and other topics.


The Maladaptive Perfectionism Explanation

One of the challenges with identifying and preventing suicide is that our current medical model treats it solely as a mental health issue, and seeks to explore and explain suicide in in terms of mental illness. To be sure, there is a great deal to be gained from this approach, but unfortunately it stops just short of capturing the whole picture. It doesn’t, for example, explain suicide among highly successful people with no prior history of clinically diagnosed symptoms, mental health treatment, or attempts at suicide, as was the case with Violier.

To better understand the whys and hows of these types of suicides, or suicides without warning, researchers have come up with an interesting theory that may, in part, help unravel the mystery. In a recent research article by Parvin Kiamanesh et al., researchers deconstructed the suicides of several highly successful men by conducting in-depth interviews with friends and family members of the deceased. What they discovered not only reaffirmed previous findings—chiefly, that there is a direct link between maladaptive perfectionism and suicide—but they also identified four characteristics common among each of the men.

Before we look at the four characteristics, it’s important to define terms. Perfectionism in and of itself is not a bad thing many among us identify as perfectionists in some form or fashion. There is nothing overtly unhealthy about normal perfectionism quite the contrary, as Kiamanesh and colleagues put it: “Normal perfectionism enables individuals to strive for success in a flexible manner and derive a sense of pleasure from painstaking effort. Normal perfectionists may strive to excel, but are able to lower standards when required.”

In other words, they are able to adapt. It’s when perfectionists fail to adapt that problems occur. This maladaptive perfectionism is one of the driving forces behind highly prosperous people who take their own lives. Kiamanesh et al., distinguish between the two types by clarifying, “[A]daptive perfectionism reflects a positive pursuit toward achievement, whereas maladaptive perfectionism reflects a concern with evaluation and fear of failure when attempting to achieve an unobtainable ideal.”


At some stage in evolution, it must have dawned on human beings that the death of the body brings with it the death of the mind. The idea that death means mental oblivion is a sophisticated one that can be reached only by deduction, not observation we assume no non-human animal could grasp it.

Let’s suppose that this idea of death originated alongside language and symbolism about 100,000 years ago, and that it spread rapidly across human culture. The consequences for people’s hold on life must have been momentous. For those who, like Roth, would fear oblivion, it could provide a new reason to stay alive. But for others so unfortunate that they would welcome oblivion, it could provide a reason to die. Thus, a major advance in human knowledge could have had a dangerous outcome for human fitness: it could have made suicide – self-serving, egoistic suicide – a potentially attractive option.

Suicide among humans is, in fact, dreadfully common. In the United States, someone kills him or herself every 12 minutes. Across the world, more people die from suicide than in all wars and homicides combined. It’s true that some do it for altruistic reasons, so as to bring benefits to group members or kin. But the great majority are primarily concerned with obliterating their own minds. Far from hoping to benefit others, these self-killers are motivated by self-interest. They do not care about the effect on others, or sometimes even intend a kind of vengeance. And, whether they intend it or not, the effects on family and friends are often devastating. The anthropologist Charles MacDonald at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, reviewing the motives for suicide, concludes:

From the viewpoint of evolutionary biology, altruistic suicide on behalf of others might possibly be genetically advantageous. But egoistic suicide, simply to stop the self from hurting, could only be severely disadvantageous. Many of those who do it are young. It’s now the second most common cause of death in teenagers. If these young people had not died by their own hand, they would likely have got over the hurt and gone on to make a success of their lives. At a stroke, they have ruined their own biological fitness and that of related individuals too. At the level of biology, egoistic suicide is clearly a mistake, a sure path to genetic extinction. But it is precisely because humans, alone among animals, rise above biology that they can make this mistake. Humans have reason to believe that by killing themselves they can escape from pain. Thus, suicide might seem a rational solution to an immediate problem. Self-killing may be undertaken as self-euthanasia.

Indeed, while other possible remedies would take time and effort, suicide can seem easy and fast. It requires neither emotional intelligence nor practical expertise to leap from a cliff, drink poison or slit one’s wrists. In parts of Asia, people are known to ‘hang’ themselves simply by kneeling and leaning into the rope. In The Volcano Lover (1992), Susan Sontag wrote:

Real suicides are often unplanned and impulsive. A survey of 306 Chinese patients who had been hospitalised following a suicide attempt, found that 35 per cent had contemplated suicide for less than 10 minutes, and 54 per cent for less than two hours.

T he trouble is, all human beings have moments of despair. It is a grand, if tragic, truth that because humans have ambition that is so much higher than other animals, hurting is bound to be a part of life. The Italian poet Cesare Pavese said it explicitly: ‘No one ever lacks a good reason for suicide.’ The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once told a friend that ‘all his life there had hardly been a day, in which he had not at one time or other thought suicide a possibility’. More typically, among today’s US high-school students, 60 per cent say they have considered killing themselves, and 14 per cent have thought about it seriously in the past year.

In light of contemporary evidence, I think we’re obliged to ask how far suicide would have impacted pre-historic human life. Today, there exist cultural deterrents – religious, legal, civic – which, though obviously not wholly effective, help to keep suicide under control. But they have not always been there.

When our ancestors first discovered that mental oblivion could be bought so cheaply, how vulnerable would they have been? I can only suppose that, lacking any previous exposure to it, they would have been caught off-guard, with no kind of immunity, either innate or acquired. In which case I think it’s realistic to imagine a scenario where suicide would have spread like measles in an unprotected population. Indeed, measles could be an alarmingly apt analogy, because, even today, the suicide ‘meme’ is highly infectious. It jumps all too easily from one mind to the next.

Suicide contagion has been dubbed the Werther effect, after the hero of Goethe’s 18th century novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther. In the novel Werther kills himself after falling hopelessly in love with a married woman. Following its publication in 1774 there were hundreds of copy-cat deaths in Germany. Recent research has confirmed just how strong the effect is. Every time a celebrity suicide is given exposure in newspapers or on television, the copy-cats follow. It is estimated that Marilyn Monroe’s death in August 1962 was responsible for 200 extra suicides within a month. After a popular South Korean actress hung herself in 2008, suicides jumped 66 per cent that month, with young hanging victims accounting for most of the increase.

There are still parts of the world today where rates of suicide are ten times the average found elsewhere, apparently as the result of a local chain reaction. Studying the generally contented and peaceful people on the island of Palawan in the Philippines, MacDonald found evidence of waves of suicide spreading through small villages. ‘The child grows up accustomed to the idea,’ he comments. ‘[He or she] sees or hears about elders, uncles, aunts, older cousins, and friends’ parents killing themselves. Thus suicide becomes an accepted model of behaviour, an option open to the individual.’

Yet, what could have set off the chain reaction to begin with? MacDonald has put forward what he calls the ‘wave theory’. He believes suicide was probably at a ‘normal’ level on Palawan, until, early last century when some kind of catastrophe occurred – a cholera epidemic, a slave raid? – that wrecked the villagers’ lives. This caused a surge in suicides, and the wave has been propagating ever since.

So how prevalent was suicide in the neolithic past? It is a question archaeologists have never thought to ask, and for which we cannot expect fossil evidence. But let’s suppose humans first became at risk about 100,000 years ago. We can assume that in the early days the infection rate would have remained relatively low. But once humans left Africa, living conditions were set to become increasingly harsh. In the icy climate of central Europe 50,000 years ago, with people struggling to survive the elements and in murderous competition with neighbouring humans, there would have been plenty of occasion for short-term despair. If the rate of suicide then reached a critical level, it could well have become epidemic.

Did suicide threaten the survival of entire populations of early humans? There have been several genetic bottlenecks in human history, suggesting that populations crashed almost to nothing. These have been attributed to external factors such as internecine strife, or volcanic winter, or disease. But was the real cause a worm internal to the human mind?

is emeritus professor of psychology at the London School of Economics. He is the author of many books on the evolution of human intelligence and consciousness, the latest being Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness (2011). He lives in Cambridge.


Genius, Suicide and Mental Illness: Insights into a Deep Connection

In his stand-up and best-loved comedies, including Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire, Robin Williams was known for his rapid-fire impersonations and intensely playful energy. His most critically acclaimed work, however, including his Oscar-winning turn in Good Will Hunting, married humor with sharp introspection and appreciation for melancholy.

Reports of his death from apparent suicide on August 11 at the age of 63 have prompted much speculation about the actor&rsquos personality and mental health. Williams had been seeking treatment for severe depression, and many commenters have labeled that as the reason for his death. Whereas the majority of people who commit suicide suffer from depression, less than 4 percent of those eventually take their lives.

Clearly, more factors are at work as causes of suicide than depression alone. The severity of mood disorders, past suicide attempts and substance abuse are all thought to increase the risk. Recent evidence also suggests that the mixed-depressive form of bipolar disorder can be a particularly dangerous time that can often go undetected or masquerade as general depression and irritability.

In 2006 Williams told interviewer Terry Gross on the radio show Fresh Air that he had experienced depressive episodes, but said that he had not been diagnosed with clinical depression or bipolar disorder&mdashan illness typified by extreme emotional highs and lows, where people alternate between states of manic energy and deep depression. He also discussed his struggles with addiction and substance abuse&mdashcocaine in the 1970s, and later, alcohol, for which he entered treatment in 2006. "Do I perform sometimes in a manic style? Yes," Williams said. "Am I manic all the time? No. Do I get sad? Oh yeah. Does it hit me hard? Oh yeah," he said at the time.

Depression, which affects about 16 million people in the U.S. according to the National Institutes of Mental Health, and more than 350 million globally according to the World Health Organization, is thought to be the result of interacting social, biological and environmental factors. The word &ldquodepression&rdquo is tossed around casually, but in reality the condition can be quite debilitating. People with major depressive disorder (also known as clinical, major or unipolar depression) exist beyond the realm of sadness. In fact, they can feel numb to the world and often become lethargic and lose interest in people and activities that formerly brought them joy. When the disorder is at its most severe, people with depression may even experience psychosis&mdashseeing or hearing things that aren&rsquot there.

Unsurprisingly, the more severe the depression symptoms the more likely the person is at risk for suicide. Mild to moderate depression or dysthymia&mdashchronic gloominess that is less serious than major depression&mdashis not considered a risk factor for suicide. When left untreated, however, moderate depression can turn severe over time as the episodes build on one another.

Although women attempt suicide more often, men are more likely to complete the act. That morbid fact is frequently attributed to the method: Men use firearms or hanging&mdashmuch harder to recover from than overdosing on pills, women&rsquos method of choice. Yet men are also more likely to be depressed for a longer period of time and to have their depression go undetected than are women.

The longstanding biological explanation of depression&mdashthat people with the disorder have low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin&mdashis now considered overly simplistic. But serotonin, which facilitates learning and memory, is thought to be involved in some capacity people with depression struggle to break negative, recursive thought patterns that inhibit their ability to learn from new information. In a 2014 study, John Keilp, a neuropsychologist at Columbia University, and colleagues found that people with depression who attempt suicide tend to have shorter attention spans and worse memory capacity than those with the disorder who do not attempt suicide.

Cognitive behavioral therapy and medication can work together to correct those counterproductive thought patterns, but that type of recovery becomes more difficult when mind-altering recreational substances are added to the equation. This challenge is particularly true with the introduction of sedatives, or &ldquodowners,&rdquo such as benzodiazepines and alcohol. Alcohol depresses the brain&rsquos reward centers even further, making it harder bounce back. Approximately 60 percent of people who commit suicide have consumed alcohol at the time of death.

Another condition that may appear as depression but is actually a facet of bipolar disorder, called a mixed-depressive episode, can also elevate the risk for suicide. This condition is characterized by a depressive episode with three or more &ldquohypomanic&rdquo symptoms&mdashwhich can include irritability, distractibility and agitation. Mixed episodes combine the racing thoughts of a manic episode, but with a distinctly negative instead of euphoric tinge Mixed states in turn may deepen depression and make it more resistant to treatment. A 2013 review in The American Journal of Psychiatry suggests that suicidal ideation and past suicide attempts are more frequent in people during mixed-depressive episodes compared with those experiencing depression alone.

This summer Williams reportedly entered Hazelden, an addiction treatment center in Minnesota. He had not fallen off the wagon, but was taking the opportunity to &ldquofine-tune and focus on his continued commitment to [sobriety].&rdquo Although it was not enough in the end&mdashthe effects of addiction can linger for years after substance abuse has stopped, and depression is a supremely intractable disorder&mdash hopefully the bravery he displayed in addressing his problems head-on will encourage more people seek help before it's too late.

A number of other factors can contribute to suicide risk&mdashpoverty, for one, family history of suicide, for another. But the tragedy of Williams&rsquos death should remind us that the most debilitating and life-threatening mood disorders can strike anyone, and once they do, it can be awfully hard to find release.


Is killing yourself adaptive? That depends: An evolutionary theory about suicide

Most psychological science is the science of being and feeling like a human being, and since there is only one human being that I have or ever will have experience in being, it is not always clear to me where my career ends and my personal life begins. And this is especially salient to me right now because, like many other adult gay commentators and horrified onlookers, the raft of gay teen suicides in recent weeks has reawakened memories of my own adolescent battles with suicidal thought. There is so much I want to say about this, in fact, that I&rsquoll be breaking this column up into two separate posts, for I&rsquom reminded of the many illuminating theories and studies on suicide I&rsquove come across over the years that helped me to understand—and more importantly to overcome and to escape from—that frighteningly intoxicating desire to prematurely rid myself of a seemingly interminable hell.

If only I could have reached out and gotten hold of Tyler Clementi&rsquos shirttail before he lunged off the George Washington Bridge, or eased my fingertips between the rope and the neck of thirteen-year-old Seth Walsh before he hanged himself from a tree in his backyard, I would have pointed out to them that, one day, they will find beauty even in this fleeting despair. I would tell them that their sexual orientation places them in the company of some of the greatest figures and secular angels in creative history—to name just a few, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Oscar Wilde, Andy Warhol, Leonardo da Vinci, Marcel Proust, Jean Genet, Hans Christian Anderson and Tchaikovsky. Finally, I&rsquod tell them about the scientific research and ideas that I&rsquom going to share with you, razor-sharp reasoning by bright scholars that may have pierced their suicidal cognition just enough to allow them to breathe a little more easily through those suffocating negative emotions.

In fact, a scientific understanding of suicide is useful not only for vulnerable gay teens, but for anyone ever finding themselves in conditions favoring suicide. I say &ldquofavoring suicide&rdquo because there is convincing work—all tracing back to McMaster University&rsquos Denys deCatanzaro&rsquos largely forgotten ideas from the early 1980s—indicating that human suicide is an adaptive behavioral strategy that becomes increasingly likely to occur whenever there is a perfect storm of social, ecological, developmental and biological variables factoring into the evolutionary equation. In short, deCatanzaro has posited that human brains are designed by natural selection in such a way as to encourage us to end our own lives when facing certain conditions, because this was best for our suicidal ancestors&rsquo overall genetic interests.

For good-hearted humanitarians, it may sound rather bizarre, perhaps even borderline insensitive, to hear that suicide is &ldquoadaptive.&rdquo But remember that this word means a very different thing in evolutionary terms than it does when used in clinical settings. Because natural selection operates only on phenotypes, not human values, even the darkest of human emotions may be adaptive if they motivated gene-enhancing behavioral decisions. It&rsquos not that evolution is cruel, but as a mindless mechanism it can neither care nor not care about particular individuals selection, after all, is not driven by an actual brain harboring any feelings about, well, anything at all. In no case does this sobering fact come into sharper focus than with the case of adaptive suicide. (I notice a similar reactionary confusion, incidentally, among &ldquoNew Atheists&rdquo who bleat and huff in a Dawkinsian manner whenever they hear mention of the empirically demonstrable fact that religion is adaptive, something I&rsquoll save for another day.)

Saying that suicide is adaptive may also sound odd to you from an evolutionary perspective, because on the surface it seems to fly in the face of evolution&rsquos first rule of thumb, which is to survive and reproduce. However, as William Hamilton&rsquos famous principle of inclusive fitness elucidated so clearly, it is the proportion of one&rsquos genetic material surviving in subsequent generations that matters and so if the self&rsquos survival comes at the expense of one&rsquos genetic kin being able to pass on their genes, then sacrificing one&rsquos life for a net genetic gain may have been adaptive ancestrally.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let&rsquos first ease into the suicide-as-adaptation argument with a few nonhuman examples, which come mostly from the insect and arthropod worlds. Take male Australian redback spiders (Latrodectus hasselti), for instance, which seem content to be cannibalized by—to say the least—sexually aggressive female redback spiders during sex. Aside from putting a damper on an otherwise enjoyable act, being eaten alive while copulating would seem rather counterintuitive from an evolutionary perspective. But when biologists looked more closely at this spidery sex, they noticed that males that are cannibalized copulate longer and fertilize more eggs than males that are not cannibalized and the more cannabilistic a female redback spider is, it turns out, the more desirable she is to males, even rejecting more male suitors. Another example is bumblebees (Bombus lucorum), a species that is often parasitized by invidious little conopid flies that insert their larva in the bee&rsquos abdomen. Once infected, the bumblebee dies in about twelve days, and the parasitical flies pupate until their emergence the following summer. What&rsquos interesting about this, however, is that parasitized bumblebees essentially go off to commit suicide by abandoning their colony and spending their remaining days alone in far-away flower meadows. In doing so, these infected bumblebees are leading the flies away from nonparasitized kin, increasing inclusive fitness by protecting the colony from infestation.

What is critical to take away from these examples is that the suicidal organism is not consciously weighing the costs of its own survival against inclusive fitness gains. Redback spiders and bumblebees aren&rsquot mindfully crunching the numbers, engaging in self-sacrificial acts of heroic altruism, or waxing philosophically on their own mortality. Instead, they are just puppets on the invisible string of evolved behavioral algorithms, with neural systems responding to specific triggers. And, says evolutionary neurobiologist Denys deCatanzaro, so are suicidal human beings whose emotions sometimes get the better of them.

So let&rsquos turn our attention now to human suicide. To crystallize his position, I present deCatanzaro&rsquos &ldquomathematical model of self-preservation and self-destruction&rdquo (circa 1986):

Where &Psii = the optimal degree of self-preservation expressed by individual i (the residual capacity to promote inclusive fitness)

&rhoi = the remaining reproductive potential of i

&rhok = the remaining reproductive potential of each kinship member k

bk = a coefficient of benefit (positive values of b k ) or cost (negative values of b k ) to the reproduction of each k provided by the continued existence of i (-1 &le b &le 1)

rk = the coefficient of genetic relatedness of each k to i (sibling, parent, child = .5 grandparent, grandchild, nephew or niece, aunt or uncle = .25 first cousin = .125 etc.).

For the mathematically disinclined, this can all be translated rather straightforwardly as follows: People are most likely to commit suicide when their direct reproductive prospects are discouraging and, simultaneously, their continued existence is perceived, whether correctly or incorrectly, as reducing inclusive fitness by interfering with their genetic kin&rsquos reproduction. Importantly, deCatanzaro, as well as other independent researchers, have presented data that support this adaptive model.

In a 1995 study in Ethology and Sociobiology, for example, deCatanzaro administered a 65-item survey including questions about demographics (such as age, sex and education), number and degree of dependency of children, grandchildren, siblings and siblings&rsquo children, &ldquoperceived burdensomeness&rdquo to family, perceived significance of contributions to family and society, frequency of sexual activity, stability/intimacy/success of relations to the opposite sex, homosexuality, number of friends, loneliness, treatment by others, financial welfare and physical health, feelings of contentment, depression, and looking forward to the future. Respondents were also asked about their suicidal thoughts and behaviors—for example, whether they had ever considered suicide, whether they had ever attempted it in the past, or ever intended to do so in the future. The survey was administered to a random sample of the general Ontario public, but also to theoretically targeted groups, including elderly people from senior citizen housing centers, psychiatric inpatients from a mental hospital, male inmates incarcerated indefinitely for antisocial crimes and, finally, exclusively gay men and women.

Many fascinating—and rather sad—findings emerged from this study. For instance, the greatest levels of recent suicide ideation were in male homosexuals and the psychiatric patients, whereas the prison population showed the most previous suicide attempts. &ldquoIt gets better,&rdquo sure, but we&rsquore always at risk, and this evolutionarily informed model helps gay individuals to come to grips with that lamentable reality. But the important takeaway message is that the pattern of correlational data conformed to those predicted by deCatanzaro&rsquos evolutionary model. Although the author offers the important disclaimer that &ldquothe observational nature of this study limits strong causative inferences,&rdquo nevertheless:

One noteworthy thing to point out in such data is the meaningful developmental shift that occurs in the motivational algorithm. Whereas heterosexual activity is the best inverse predictor of suicidal thoughts among younger samples, this is largely replaced among the elderly by concerns about finances, health and especially the sense of &ldquoperceived burdensomeness&rdquo to family. A few years after this Ethology and Sociobiology report, a follow-up study in Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, conducted by an independent group of investigators seeking to further test deCatanzaro&rsquos model, replicated the same predicted trends.

As persuasive as I find this model, I still had a question left unanswered by deCatanzaro&rsquos basic argument, so last week I dropped him an email seeking clarification. Basically, I wanted to know how the suicidal patterns of contemporary human beings relates to those of our ancestral relatives, who presumably faced the conditions in which the adaptation originally evolved, but who in many ways lived in a very different world than our own. After all, even with guns, knives and drugs at our disposal, committing suicide is not always an easy thing to do, logistically speaking. In an article published earlier this year in Psychological Review, for instance, University of Rochester psychiatrist Kimberly Van Orden and her colleagues cite the case of a particularly tenacious suicidal woman:

Now consider the suicide methods that would have been available to our ancient relatives in a technologically sparse environment—perhaps a leap from a great height where, if one weren&rsquot successful, might have at least led to wounds sufficient enough for the person to eventually die from infection. Starvation. Exposure. Drowning. Hanging. Offering oneself to a hungry predator. Okay, so maybe there were more methods available to our ancient forebears than I realized. You see what I mean, though. Today, moving your fingertip but by a hairsbreadth is a surer route to oblivion than anything our species has ever known before gun-owners might as well have an &ldquooff&rdquo button, it&rsquos so simple now. (This is one of the many reasons that I don&rsquot own a gun—deCatanzaro&rsquos suicide algorithm is stochastic, which means that the figure it generates for a given individual is in a constant state of flux.) But deCatanzaro doesn&rsquot see technological advances as particularly problematic for his adaptationist model. Fossils of suicidal australopithecines or early Homo sapiens aren&rsquot easy to come by, of course. But, as he told me in his email response to my questions:

Evidence indicates appreciable rates of suicide throughout recorded history and in almost every culture that has been carefully studied. Suicide was apparently quite common in Greek and Roman civilizations. Anthropological studies indicate many cases in technologically primitive cultures as diverse as Amerindians, Inuit, Africans, Polynesians, Indonesians, and less developed tribes of India. One interesting old review was written by [S. R.] Steinmetz in 1894 (American Anthropologist 7:53-60). Self-hanging was one of the most prevalent methods of suicide in such cultures. There are also data from developed countries comparing suicide rates from the late 19th century through the 20th century. These data show remarkable consistency in national suicide rates over time, despite many technological changes. So, the data actually do not show a major increase in suicide in modern times, although this inference must be qualified in that there may have been shifts in biases in recording of cases.

Interestingly, the methods of suicide have changed much more than the rates. For example in Japan, hanging prevailed until 1950, after which pills and poisons became the primary method. In England and Wales, hanging and drowning were common in the late 19th century, but were progressively replaced by drugs and gassing. Motives may have been more constant than means (italics added).

I find deCatanzaro&rsquos argument that suicide is adaptive both convincing and intriguing. But I do think it begs for more follow-up research. For example, his inclusive fitness logic should apply to every single social species on earth, so why is there such an obvious gap between frequency of suicide in human beings and other animals? Each year, up to 20 million people worldwide attempt to commit suicide, with about a million of these completing the act. That&rsquos a significant minority of deaths—and near deaths—in our species. And there is reason to be suspicious that nonhuman animal models (such as parasitized bumblebees, beached whales, leaping lemmings and grieving chimpanzees) are good analogues to human suicide. In our own species, suicide usually means deliberately trying to end our psychological existence—or at least this particular psychological existence. And whereas most other accounts of &ldquoself-destruction&rdquo in the natural world seem to involve some type of interspecies predation or parasitical manipulation, human suicides are more often driven by negative interpersonal appraisals made by other members of our own species. In fact, Robert Poulin, the University of Otago zoologist who first reported on the altered behavior of those parasitized bumblebees, even urges researchers to use caution in referring to such examples as &ldquosuicide&rdquo:

I've got a hunch that suicide, like fantasy-enabled masturbation, may require recently evolved social cognitive processes that are relatively unique—in this case, painfully so—to our species. There are anecdotes aplenty, of course, but there are no confirmed cases of suicide in any nonhuman primate species. Although there are certainly instances of self-injurious behaviors, such as excessive self-grooming, these are almost always limited to sad or abnormal social environments such as biomedical laboratories and zoos. Yes, grieving young chimps have been known to starve to death from depression in the wake of their mothers&rsquo death, but there is no evidence of direct self-inflicted lethal displays in monkeys and apes. Perhaps Jane Goodall can correct me if I&rsquom wrong about this, but as far as I&rsquom aware, there are no cases in which a chimpanzee has been observed to climb the highest branch it could find—and jump.

I think part of the answer to this cross-species mystery can be found in another theoretical model of suicide, this one by Florida State University psychologist Roy Baumeister, which I&rsquove always viewed as the &ldquoproximate&rdquo level to deCatanzaro&rsquos &ldquoultimate&rdquo level of explanation for suicide. These are not alternative accounts of human suicide, but deeply complementary ones. While deCatanzaro explains suicide in terms of evolutionary dynamics, Baumeister zeros in on the specific psychological processes, the subjective lens by which a suicidal person sees the world. His model describes the engine that actively promotes the adaptive response of suicide. I should hasten to add that I don&rsquot think either of them— deCatanzaro or Baumeister—necessarily see their models as being complementary in this way. I don&rsquot even know if either is aware of the other. But this is how the two approaches have always struck me. Baumeister&rsquos 1990 Psychological Review article on the subject, titled &ldquoSuicide as Escape From Self,&rdquo is, quite honestly, one of the most shockingly insightful manuscripts I have ever read, in any research literature.

And it&rsquos that piece that I&rsquoll kick off with later this week in &ldquoPart II&rdquo on the science of suicide along with other evolutionary tidbits. I&rsquoll also discuss more current work, including some thoughts about why I believe modern schools place vulnerable adolescents, such as gay teens, at heightened risk of suicide simply by creating an artificial social environment of exclusively same-age peers, one in which specific pressure-points of ancestral conflict are bizarrely exacerbated. &ldquoIt gets better&rdquo for gay teens only because we eventually get out of that unnatural zoo that is high school.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


Combating Terrorism with Science

He was a Muslim man with a long beard, a desire to kill, and no plans to survive his attack. He rapidly approached his target: a military building. There was yelling and running and an attempt to stop him, but it happened too fast. Minutes later four service members lay dead, along with the suicide attacker. A fifth victim would succumb to his injuries and perish two days later.

But what if this recent shooting had not occurred in Chattanooga, Tennessee? What if Mohamad Youssef Abdulazeez had grown up in Palestine, Iraq, or Afghanistan, and committed a suicide attack there instead? Would he have been hailed as a &ldquoholy martyr&rdquo by terrorist sympathizers? Would he have been described in the news as a man solely driven by ideology, and considered by Western scholars to be &ldquopsychologically normal&rdquo?

There is still widespread confusion about the psychology of Islamic suicide attackers, whether they strike at home or abroad. Are they attempting to sacrifice their lives for an ideological cause, or do they actually want to die? The answer to this question could help redefine the concept of &ldquomartyrdom,&rdquo with global repercussions. And it may be the key to reducing the number of people who commit these deadly attacks.

According to the conventional wisdom, suicide terrorists are not mentally ill or suicidal&mdashthey are psychologically stable individuals who sacrifice themselves for altruistic reasons. As a 2009 article in Psychiatry concluded, &ldquoStressing the importance of social psychology, [our research] emphasizes the &lsquonormality&rsquo and absence of individual psychopathology of the suicide bombers.&rdquo From this perspective, those who carry out &ldquomartyrdom operations&rdquo in service of radical Islamic ideologies are the product of their contexts. They become the psychological equivalent of the American Marines who were killed in Chattanooga: both sides are willing to risk their lives&mdashand die, if necessary&mdashfor a cause they passionately believe in. Not surprisingly, terrorist leaders love this perspective, and they use it to glorify the next wave of suicide attackers.

However, a growing number of scholars are now challenging these assumptions. Ariel Merari&rsquos research team conducted psychological tests of preemptively arrested suicide bombers and found evidence of suicidal tendencies, depressive tendencies, and previous (non-terrorist) suicide attempts. David Lester found that many female suicide bombers seem driven, at least in part, by post-traumatic stress disorder, hopelessness, and despair. And in several recent articles, I summarize evidence of psychological similarities between suicide terrorists and people who commit nonviolent suicides, coerced suicides, and mass-murder-suicides.

At first glance, the Chattanooga shooter might have seemed like a violent but psychologically normal young man. He had been researching martyrdom for at least two years, which could be interpreted as ideological commitment. And he was not a social outcast: he apparently fit in as an &ldquoArab redneck.&rdquo One friend who spent time with him just two weeks before the attack explained that &ldquoHe was always the most cheerful guy. If you were having a bad day, he would brighten your day.&rdquo Similarly, a professor who was with him just six days before the killings recalled &ldquoI just saw the same friendly guy.&rdquo

But that is not the whole story. For those who care about accurately understanding suicide attackers, we are fortunate that this offender grew up in the United States. Investigators have access to many of his acquaintances and friends, and his family has not tried to conceal their son&rsquos personal problems, as is common in other cultures.

Far from being a blind supporter of all radical Islamicist causes, Abdulazeez actually told a friend that ISIS &ldquowas a stupid group and it was completely against Islam.&rdquo And far from being psychologically healthy, he reportedly struggled with bipolar disorder, depression, and substance abuse, and expressed suicidal thoughts in his writings.

Once Abdulazeez made the decision to end his life, his options were immediately limited. In the Islamic religion, there are powerful prohibitions against conventional suicide, and shooting oneself in the head&mdashwhich many mass murderers do&mdashwould be considered an unforgiveable crime against god.

Unfortunately, &ldquomartyrdom&rdquo has become a dangerous loophole: it is the only way Islamic suicide attackers believe they can guarantee their own death, and yet go to heaven instead of hell. In the Middle East and Asia, they typically commit suicide bombings. In the United States, they tend to use firearms instead of bombs, and plan on dying via &ldquosuicide by cop.&rdquo In both cases, these attack methods help disguise their suicidal motives. It is commonly claimed that they do not want to die, they just care more about harming the enemy than they do about their own survival.

But the disguise is wearing thin. As I have argued elsewhere, the key to deterring Islamic suicide attackers&mdashboth in the United States and around the world&mdashis to expose their suicidal motives and close the &ldquomartyrdom&rdquo loophole, once and for all. Until suicide attackers are widely seen for the desperate, traumatized, and mentally ill people they really are&mdashinstead of &ldquopsychologically normal&rdquo altruists&mdashAmerica will continue to suffer Islamic mass shooters who seek glory and heavenly rewards through death.

Because we know so much about him, Abdulazeez is an important case for changing perceptions worldwide. In fact, behaviorally, he appears similar to other suicidal mass murderers. In a recent study, I found that offenders who carry out public mass killings in the United States are 12.3 times more likely to die than those who commit other types of attack. Those who strike alone are more prone to die as well. I have also found that for each additional weapon rampage shooters arm themselves with, their likelihood of dying is 1.7 times higher. With Abdulazeez we can mark each of these boxes: he was a (1) public mass killer (2) who attacked alone (3) after arming himself with three weapons. His death was almost assured.

Once we recognize Abdulazeez&rsquos suicidal motives, the irony becomes that the first responders who killed him gave him exactly what he wanted. By contrast, in an odd twist of fate, Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan was shot in the spine, paralyzed, and ultimately survived his attack. Stymied, Hasan has spent the last few years trying to sabotage his legal defense so he could get himself executed.

Along with broad efforts to change global perceptions of suicide attackers, it is thus worth considering whether there is some less lethal method we could employ to more often keep these individuals alive. For those who desperately want to be killed in action, this might actually make them reconsider.

Are you a scientist who specializes in neuroscience, cognitive science, or psychology? And have you read a recent peer-reviewed paper that you would like to write about? Please send suggestions to Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook. Gareth, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, is the series editor of Best American Infographics and can be reached at garethideas AT gmail.com or Twitter @garethideas.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

Adam Lankford is an associate professor of Criminal Justice at The University of Alabama and the author of The Myth of Martyrdom: What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers, which was recognized as a &ldquoBook to Watch Out For&rdquo by The New Yorker and named to Foreign Policy&rsquos annual list of &ldquoWhat to Read.&rdquo


Inside the Mind of a Suicide Jumper

People who jump to their death may do it because it's convenient.

July 2, 2008 — -- Twenty-year-old European model Ruslana Korshunova and 44-year-old New York attending physician Douglas Meyer had little in common until the very moment they decided to take their own lives.

Both Korshunova and Meyer jumped out of Manhattan high-rises within days of each other earlier this week, the model plummeting from her ninth-floor apartment and the doctor from a window at the city hospital where he worked.

Their method of suicide is relatively unusual. The latest statistics recorded in 2005 show that firearms made up for 52.1 percent of all suicides, hanging for 22.2 percent and poison for 17.6 percent.

Jumping from tall buildings or high bridges seems to be reserved for those who are determined to die.

"People who think about committing suicide fear that they're going to hurt themselves but not kill themselves, and just make their situation worse," said Adam Kaplin, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical Institute, who estimates that only five to ten percent of all suicides are committed by jumping. "Jumping is sort of like using a gun – once you make that decision to [kill yourself], it's pretty much a done deal."

Without Guns, Jumping is Lethal Enough to Work

"When people don't have access to firearms and get it into their head that they don't think pills are going to work, they think there is something about the finality of [jumping] and think 'If I just do this it will be over,'" said Kaplin, who told ABCNEWS.com that while men and women are equally likely to attempt suicide by jumping, women are less likely to die after the fall because of their lighter body weight.

How lethal the chosen method is, said Richard McKeon, a clinical psychologist at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, is likely to reflect the person's degree of ambivalence about dying.

"Many people who die by suicide, as best we can determine, may have had some level of ambivalence right up until that final moment," said McKeon. "If you use a less lethal means like an overdose, there is still a possibility of taking it back [by calling for help]."

"But with a firearm, once someone pulls the trigger the likelihood that they'll be mortally wounded is high," added McKeon. "Similarly, jumping off a bridge or a high story of a skyscraper has a high likelihood of death."

In Urban Centers, Convenience Makes Jumping More Common

And while jumping is considered to be one of the more lethal ways of committing suicide – like guns, there is not a large margin of error in suicide attempts by these means -- Madelyn Gould, a clinical psychologist and a suicide expert, told ABCNEWS.com that jumping from buildings is often chosen by suicidal people simply as a matter of convenience.

"In New York City, jumping is certainly more common than in other places because we have high buildings," said Gould. "Usually the method is chosen because it's accessible."

Just like people are more likely to commit suicide in their homes simply because of the vast amount of time they spend there, Gould said that accessibility to firearms and prescription drugs also influences how a person will try to take his or her own life.

"The accessibility of the method is likely the most significant factor [that influences a person choice], so that if someone has a firearm in the home there may be a greater likelihood of them using it," said SAMHSA's McKeon. "If they have medication that's prescribed to them they may be more likely to use that."

"So in general, for people who live in areas with bridges or tall buildings, [jumping] is going to be the accessible and lethal means for them," added McKeon.

Chosen Suicide Method Can Be Contagious

With the suicides of the model and the doctor occurring in such a short time span and in the same way, psychologist Gould told ABCNEWS.com that it's quite possible the model's decision to jump was contagious.

"Suicide contagion or imitation or influence is really a phenomenon," said Gould. "There are a lot of vulnerable people and if they are really thinking about suicide they could start to identify with a method, and we could see a cluster."

"[The doctor] could think that the model definitely accomplished what she was trying to accomplish and then that method could be seen as an option for him, even if he hadn't readily thought about it before," said Gould, who said this sort of copycat syndrome isn't seen in people who are not already severely depressed or contemplating suicide, and usually only affects those who have already mapped out a plan for their death.

Glorification of places known for jumpers – the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, for one – also adds to the appeal of the method, according to Kaplin.

"Sometimes people are so miserable that when they hear about a suicide 'working,' it puts that certain method in their mind," said Kaplin. "[These people] were already suicidal but they hadn't necessarily committed to a way."

Kaplin added that most jumpers have already scouted out the place where they will jump from before actually jumping.

"My guess is that [Korshunova] had sat on that balcony many times before in despair," said Kaplin, who has not treated the model or the doctor. "It's a sort of private, silent suffering."


Watch the video: Why do only human commit suicide but animals dont?In English (August 2022).