Provided below are the most common contributing factors that lead individuals to complete suicide. Understanding these factors can aid in prevention. This information was provided to me by a friend who has asked to not be named. He has lost his son to suicide, and has worked closely with the U.S. Army in their suicide prevention efforts. He’s also involved with Gold Star families. His list below was revised August 1, 2014.
*Not belonging: peer pressure as a social outcast, rejection, serving no purpose in life.
*Perception of being a burden: feeling of helplessness; the inability to care for one’s self creating problems for loved ones and those respected.
Unacceptable failure: perfectionism and pride, disappointing self and others of importance, lack of performance creating danger for those counting on you.
Anger: out of control rage leading to fatal action against others and/or self.
Stress: overwhelming stress causing mental exhaustion and perception of no hope for relief.
Self-loathing: self-hate often associated with the battered spouse syndrome. Mental abuse over a period of time convinces the victim they are worthless and don’t deserve to live, resulting in overwhelming despair.
Irreplaceable loss of that which is most dear: the most important aspect of one’s life i.e. reputation, marriage, job/finances, a loved one, religious faith, cognitive functions, health, etc. This differs among individuals; what may not be important to one person may mean everything to another.
Poor health: facing a prolonged, painful illness and death without any hope of recovery. Often closely associated with “being a burden.” Poor health and loss of finances are leading factors in elderly suicides.
Physical injury: traumatic injury to the brain and nervous system that disrupts normal thought processes or develops neurodegenerative brain disease. Examples are TBI resulting from serious accidents, contact sports, or military combat.
Untreated mental illness: any clinical mental disorder as defined in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) that becomes life threatening due to lack of proper mental health care.
Childhood abuse: sexual, physical or mental abuse as a child may lead to mental and emotional disorders later in life. Although rare, children under the age of ten are not immune to suicide.
Substance abuse: drugs and alcohol that impairs logic and cognitive functions. Often the result of self-medication to overcome other contributing factors listed. This includes improper use and monitoring of prescription drugs.
Guilt: intentional or careless actions that caused someone else major problems or death. A drunk driver may kill himself after realizing he killed others. This can be associated with honor; a man without honor feels little or no guilt. A man or woman motivated by a high sense of honor may choose death before dishonor. Although unjustified, some military personnel may experience ‘survivor’s guilt’ after losing a battle buddy in combat and feel it should have been them instead, especially if they believe they could have prevented the death.
Self-sacrifice: during war, military forces often see themselves as less important than the cause they are fighting for and will volunteer for ‘suicide missions’ with certain death. The most fearful weapon WWII Japanese forces had on Okinawa was Kamikaze pilots.
Fear: afraid of something about to happen that’s worse than death such as capture and torture by an enemy. An early example would be the 72-73 AD siege of the Jewish fortress Masada by Roman soldiers. During WWII thousands of civilians on Saipan and Okinawa killed themselves rather than allow capture because the Japanese in control convinced them invading American troops would rape and torture their families to death. Although ruled by the New York Medical Examiner’s Office as homicides, many people jumped to their death rather than suffer a painful death from fire September 11, 2001. Fear is closely associated with coerced suicide.
Coerced Suicide: coerced suicide can be defined as a suicide that resulted from the actions of others when the victim was under physical and/or mental control of someone who destroyed their will to live or indoctrinated them into believing that death is more desirable than life. Two good examples of coerced suicide are bullying and cult members being indoctrinated to kill themselves to receive afterlife rewards.
Although any of these factors can result in suicide they become more deadly when in combination. In making a risk assessment one must also consider history of prior attempts and access to lethal means. Given the right set of circumstances no one is immune to suicide!