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The causes of suicide

As I continue to work on this paper for biostatistics, I’m running into different causes of suicide for different people at different times. By “causes,” I mean those situations and conditions in life that lead to the suicide ideation, planning, and attempt. I don’t mean the way in which the person kills themselves. That one is pretty easy. For the most part, reported suicides are accomplished by firearm. The next method is poisoning, then asphyxia, then all the other methods you can think of (and some that would be suprisingly novel if they weren’t so tragic).

Those above are “intentional” suicides. Then there are those suicides that are accidental, and, frankly, could be considered “dumb ways to die”:


And there are those deaths that are ruled as accidents but could have been suicide attempts. I’m talking about the person who inexplicably drives into oncoming traffic or commits a crime with the hopes that the police responding will shoot them to death. But, again, those are the means of suicide, not exactly the causes.

Popular culture dictates that people commit suicide because they feel hopeless, and they feel that the only way out of their predicament (or maybe bring relief to their loved ones) is to die. We see this a lot in stories about people who lose all of their money on some bad business venture and no longer want to deal with the consequences (or their creditors). We also see it in people who have shame their families or their employer. And we see it in people with terminal illness who want to end their suffering.

There are other reasons why people commit suicide. I saw a documentary on suicide and saw a father tearfully tell the story of his 8 year-old child who died after hanging himself in the closet. The child had been bullied relentlessly at school, and it is believed that he committed suicide to get back at his tormentors. The father explained that the kid had said that maybe his bullies would feel bad if he killed himself. (Not seeing this as a warning, the father just shrugged it off.) So there are those who use suicide as a way to get back at those who wronged them in the hopes that they bully lives with the consequence for the rest of their lives while the victim doesn’t have to live with the bullying anymore.

Seriously, this stuff will make you very, very sad if you dive too deep into it. I’m lucky in that I have access to a mental health counselor with whom I’ve been consulting. I get to tell him all about the situations in my life which have made me sad because people close to me have died or committed suicide. And I get to work things out in my head, with his guidance, as I do the research for this paper. Not everyone is so lucky, however, and they get to deal with these things on their own and without guidance.

And don’t get me started on the lack of access to mental health care by those who are considering suicide.

I won’t post my findings for my paper just yet. I can’t self-plagiarize myself like that. Just let me tell you that the data I’ve obtained confirms some of the theories on the influence of bullying, drug use/abuse, and access to firearms on suicidal ideation and attempt. When the paper is done and graded, I’ll post it here for y’all to read and pick apart. It has a lot of shortcomings because it’s based on a survey (and because I don’t do research for a living), and I’ll speak to those shortcomings within the paper’s discussion section. But I think that this survey, part of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System can give us some warning signs and tell us more about why young people — kids with their entire life to look forward to — attempt suicide, robbing themselves and society of all the contributions they could make.


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René F. Najera, DrPH

I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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