Suicide (from Latin sui caedere, self killing) is the act of ending one's own life. It is considered a sin in many religions, and a crime in some jurisdictions. On the other hand, some cultures have viewed it as an honorable way to exit certain shameful or hopeless situations.

Note: If you are feeling suicidal or in despair, there is a list of support groups at the bottom of this page, or use a search engine to look for "suicide prevention". See also Clinical depression.

To be considered suicide, the death must be a central component and intention of the act and not just an almost certain consequence; hence, suicide bombing is considered a kind of bombing rather than a kind of suicide, and martyrdom, self sacrifice in the service of others in emergencies and reckless bravery in battle usually escape religious or legal proscription. In the case that suicide has legal consequences this is reflected in law in that there must be proof of intent as well as death for the act to be suicide.

Table of contents
1 Epidemiology
2 Parasuicide
3 Suicide in history
4 Legal views of suicide
5 Religious views of suicide
6 The Pro-Choice Argument
7 External links


It is probable that the incidence of suicide is widely under-reported due to both religious and social pressures, possibly by as much as 100% in some areas. Nevertheless, from the known suicides certain trends are apparent. But since the data are skewed, attempts to compare nation to nation are statistically unwise.

Generally there are more male suicides than female. Men also tend to use more violent and certain methods than women (such as using guns as opposed to taking pills). However in the developed world both sexes are approaching parity. In relation to age, male suicide is an n-shaped curve with the peak at ages 50 to 60. For both sexes suicide is an event for older individuals.

Certain time trends can be related to the type of death. In the United Kingdom for example, the steady rise in suicides from 1945 to 1965 was curtailed following the removal of carbon monoxide from domestic natural gas. It seems that different cultures have different favorite methods, and the easy availability of lethal methods plays a role. Certainly cultures influence suicide rates.

Higher levels of social and national cohesion reduce suicide rates. Suicide levels are highest among the retired, unemployed, divorced, the childless, urbanites, and those living alone. The rate also rises during times of economic uncertainty (although poverty is not a direct cause), while the threat of widespread war is always associated with a steep fall in suicides, even in neutral countries. The majority of suicides also suffer from some psychological disorder. Depression in bipolar disorder is an especially common cause. Severe physical disease or infirmity are also recognized causes. There is no "class" distinction to suicide.

On an individual level the meaning of suicide varies across a range of common themes. Simply seeking an end is uncommon. Stated reasons include concepts such as a reunion with the dead (bereavement is a additional factor in some suicides), a need for change from an unbearable situation, or a desire to cause pain through causing remorse or grief. Multiple motives are common.

Suicide rates are influenced by publicity about suicide of famous people, and even the fictional suicide of a character in a popular drama can raise the suicide rate temporarily.


The means of achieving suicide varies and is greatly influenced by availiability, perceived effectiveness and final bodily state. For example, in the US firearms are relatively commonplace and suicide by this method is four times more common than the next method.

The common means of suicide, roughly in order of use (US), are by gunshot, asphyxia, hanging (there is often considerable overlap between hanging and asphyxia due to lack of expertise), overdose of drugs (see parasuicide), carbon monoxide poisoning, jumping from height, stab or exsanguination from cut, and drowning. See [1]


Nearly half of suicides are preceded by an attempt at suicide that does not end in death. Those with a history of such attempts are 100 times more likely to eventually end their own lives.

A suicidal act that does not end in death is usually called a "suicide attempt" or a "suicidal gesture". Some people prefer the use of the neologism parasuicide, or describe such acts as "deliberate self-harm" - both of these terms avoid the question of the intent of the action. The epidemiology of parasuicides is quite different from that of successful suicides. There are many more parasuicides than suicides. The vast majority are female and aged under 35. They are rarely physically ill and while psychological factors are highly significant, they are rarely clinically ill and severe depression is uncommon. Social issues are key -- parasuicides are most common among those living in overcrowded conditions, in conflict with their families, with disrupted childhoods and history of drinking, criminal behavior and violence. Individuals under these stresses become anxious and depressed and then, usually in reaction to a single particular crisis, they parasuicide. The motivation may be a desire for relief from emotional pain or to communicate feelings, although the motivation will often be complex and confused. Parasuicide may also result from an inner conflict between the desire to end life and to continue living.

Suicide in history

Among the famous people who have committed suicide are Boudicca, Cleopatra VII of Egypt, Hannibal, Nero, Adolf Hitler, Ernest Hemingway, Alan Turing, Sylvia Plath, Marina Tsvetaeva, and Vincent van Gogh.

In ancient times, suicide was sometimes committed after defeat in battle to avoid capture and possible subsequent torture, mutilation, or enslavement by the enemy. The Caesarian assassins Brutus and Cassius, for example, committed suicide after their defeat at the battle of Philippi. Insurgent Jews committed mass suicide at Masada in 74 AD rather than face enslavement by the Romans.

In Roman society, suicide was an accepted means by which honor could be preserved. Those charged with capital crimes, for example, could prevent confiscation of their family's estate by taking their own lives before being convicted in court. It was sardonically said of the emperor Domitian that his way of showing mercy was to allow a condemned man to take his own life.

In the late 18th century, Goethe's Die Leiden des jungen Werthers, ("The Sorrows of Young Werther"), the romantic story of a young man who commits suicide because his love proves unattainable, caused a wave of suicides in Germany.

Emile Durkheim, the founder of sociology, wrote a very famous study of suicide in the late 1800s.

During World War II, Japanese units would often fight to the last man rather than surrender. Towards the end of the war, the Japanese navy sent kamikaze pilots to attack Allied ships. These tactics reflect the influence of the samurai warrior culture, where seppuku was often required after a loss of honor. It is also suggested that the Japanese treated Allied POWs harshly because, by surrendering rather than fighting to the last man, these soldiers showed they were not worthy of honorable treatment in Japanese eyes.

Albert Camus saw the goal of existentialism in establishing whether suicide was necessary in a world without God.

A study of suicide in literature was written by the poet Al Alvarez, entitled The Savage God.

Jean Améry, in his book On Suicide: a Discourse on Voluntary Death (originally published in German in 1976), provides a moving insight into the suicidal's mind. He argues forcefully and almost romantically that suicide represents the ultimate freedom of humanity, attempting to justify the act with phrases such as "we only arrive at ourselves in a freely chosen death", lamenting the "ridiculously everyday life and its alienation". He committed suicide in 1978.

Legal views of suicide

Ironically, the punishment for attempted suicide in some jurisdictions has been death. Although a person who has successfully committed suicide might be thought to be beyond the reach of the law, there could still be legal consequences. For example, in the UK prior to 1961 their estate was forfeit.

The United Kingdom abolished the crimes of suicide and attempted suicide in the suicide act of 1961. By the early 1990s only two USA states still listed suicide as a crime.

In many jurisdictions there are still laws against assisted suicide: helping someone to commit suicide, directly or indirectly.

Religious views of suicide


According to Buddhism, our past heavily influences our present. Furthermore, what an individual does in the present moment influences his or her future, in this life or the next. This is cause and effect, as taught by Gautama Buddha. Otherwise known as karma, intentional action by mind, body or speech has a reaction and its repercussion is the reason behind the conditions and differences we come across in the world.

One's suffering primarily originates from past negative deeds or just from being in samsara (the cycle of birth and death). Another reason for the prevalent suffering we experience is due to impermanence. Since everything is in a constant state of flux, we experience unsatisfactoriness with the fleeting events of life. To break out of samsara, one simply must realize their true nature, by Enlightenment in the present moment; this is Nirvana.

For Buddhists, since the first precept is to refrain from the destruction of life (including oneself), suicide is clearly considered a negative form of action. But despite this view, an ancient Asian ideology similar to seppuku (hara-kiri) persists to influence Buddhists by, when under oppression, committing the act of "honorable" suicide. In modern times, Tibetan monks have used this ideal in order to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet and Chinas supposed human rights violations against Tibetans.


Christianity is traditionally opposed to suicide, and assisted suicide.

In Catholicism specifically, suicide has been considered a grave and sometimes mortal sin. The chief Catholic argument is that one's life is the property of God, and that to destroy one's own life is to wrongly assert dominion over what is God's. This argument runs into a famous counter-argument by David Hume, who noted that if it is wrong to take life when a person would naturally live, it must be wrong to save life when a person would naturally die, as this too seems to be contravening God's will.

On a different line, many Christians believe in the sanctity of human life, a principle which, broadly speaking, says that all human life is sacred -- a wonderful, even miraculous creation of the divine God -- and every effort must be made to save and preserve it whenever possible.

Nevertheless, even while believing that suicide is generally wrong, liberal Christians may well recognise that people who commit suicide are severely distressed and so believe that the loving God of Christianity can forgive such an act.


In Hinduism, murdering one's own body is considered equally sinful as murdering another. However, under various circumstances it is considered acceptable to end one's life by fasting. This practice, known as prayopavesha, requires so much time and willpower that there is no danger of acting on an impulse. It also allows time for the individual to settle all worldly affairs, to ponder life and to draw close to God.

Interestingly, this behavior is also observed in animals.


Like other Abrahamic religions, Islam views suicide strictly as sinful and detrimental to ones spiritual journey. However, human beings are said to be liable to committing mistakes, thus, Allah (God) forgives the sins and wipes them out if the individual is truly sincere in repentance, true to the causes and determined in intention.

For those who believed, but eventually disbelieved in God in the end, the result seems unambiguously negative. In the Qur'an, the holy book for Muslims, although Allah (God) is said to be 'the Most Merciful, the Most Kind' and forgives all sins, the great sin of unbelief is deemed unforgivable. According to the Sunnah (life and way of the Prophet Muhammad), any person who commits suicide and shows no regret for one's wrongdoing will spend an eternity in hell, re-enacting the act by which they took their own lives. Some Islamic jurists hold the interpretation that hell is not eternal but indefinite and only remains to exist while the earth endures at its present state. Once the Day of Recompense passes, Hell will eventually be emptied.

Despite this, there is an unpopular view that actions committed in the course of jihad resulting in one's own death are not considered suicide, even if by the nature of the act death is assured (e.g. suicide bombing). Such acts are instead considered a form of martyrdom. However, there is Quranic evidence to the contrary stating those involved in the killing of the innocent are wrongdoers and transgressors. Nevertheless, many claim Islam does permit the use of suicide only against the unjust and oppressors if one feels there is absolutely no other option available and life otherwise would end in death.


Judaism views suicide as one of the most serious of sins. Suicide has always been forbidden by Jewish law, except for three specific cases. If one is being forced by someone to commit murder, forced to commit an act of idolatry, or forced to commit adultery or incest, then in those cases alone would suicide be permissible. However, outside those cases, suicide is forbidden, and this includes taking part of assisted suicide. One may not ask someone to assist in killing themselves for two separate reasons: (a) killing oneself is forbidden, and (b) one is then making someone else accomplice to a sin.

The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the body of scholars of Jewish law in Conservative Judaism, has published a teshuva on suicide and assisted suicide in the summer 1998 issue of "Conservative Judaism" Vol. L, No.4. It affirms the above stated prohibition, and then goes on to its real purpose -- to counter the growing trend of Americans and Europeans who are asking their friends and family to help kill themselves. As the Conservative teshuva points out, many people get sick, often with terminal illnesses, but most people don't try to commit suicide. So we are obligated to find out why some people do ask for suicide, and we are then obligated to remove these reasons so that people don't want to kill themselves in the first place.

The Conservative responsa states that:

"...those who commit suicide and those who aid others in doing so act out of a plethora of motives. Some of these reasons are less than noble, involving, for example, children's desires to see Mom or Dad die with dispatch so as not to squander their inheritance on 'futile' health care, or the desire of insurance companies to spend as little money as possible on the terminally ill."
The paper discusses the fact that some patients want to die because they are in pain, but they point out that the proper response to this is not suicide, but simply better pain control and more pain medication. The paper then points out that there is crisis in medical care of elderly and terminally ill patients: Many doctors are deliberately keeping such patients in pain by refusing to grant them adequete amounts of pain killers. Some do this out of ignorance, others do it because they claim they want to avoid any possibility of the patient becoming a drug addict. Some doctors recommend a stoic attitude. The position of Conservative Judaism holds that all such forms of reasoning are "bizarre" and cruel. With today's medications, there is no reason for people to be in this kind of perpetual torture.

It then investigates the psychological reasons for the hopelessness felt by some patients. It points out that:

"Physicians or others asked to assist in dying should recognize that people contemplating suicide are often alone, without anyone taking an interest in their continued living. Rather than assist the patient in dying, the proper response to such circumstances is to provide the patient with a group of people who clearly and repeatedly reaffirm their interest in the patient's continued life... Requests to die, then, must be evaluated in the terms of degree of social support the patient has, for such requests are often withdrawn as soon as someone shows an interest in the patient staying alive. In this age of individualism and broken and scattered families, and in the antiseptic environment of hospitals where dying people usually find themselves, the mitzvah of visiting the sick (bikkur Holim) becomes all the more crucial in sustaining the will to live"

The Pro-Choice Argument

In contrast to the views above, there are also arguments in favour of allowing an individual to choose between life and suicide. This view sees suicide as a valid option.

This line rejects the widespread belief that suicide is always or usually irrational, saying instead that it is a genuine, albeit severe, solution to real problems -- a line of last resort that can legitimately be taken when the alternative is considered worse.

Furthermore, the Pro-Choice position asserts, in the spirit of liberalism, that a person's life belongs only to him or her, and nobody else should try to enforce their own view that life must be lived on them. Rather, only the individual involved can make such an important decision, and whatever decision he or she does make, it should be respected.

See also: euthanasia, seppuku (hara-kiri), kamikaze, suicide bombing, list of famous suicides, cult suicide, copycat, self-harm

External links

Support groups:

Other links:

For the rock band named Suicide, see Suicide (band).