Suicide

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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What are the effects of suicide?

The effects of suicidal behavior or completed suicide on friends and family members are often devastating. Individuals who lose a loved one to suicide (suicide survivors) are more at risk for becoming preoccupied with the reason for the suicide while wanting to deny or hide the cause of death, wondering if they could have prevented it, feeling blamed for the problems that preceded the suicide, feeling rejected by their loved one, and stigmatized by others. Survivors may experience a great range of conflicting emotions about the deceased, feeling everything from intense emotional pain and sadness about the loss, helpless to prevent it, longing for the person they lost, questioning of their own religious beliefs, and anger at the deceased for taking their own life to relief if the suicide took place after years of physical or mental illness in their loved one. This is quite understandable given that the person they are grieving is at the same time the victim and the perpetrator of the fatal act.

Individuals left behind by the suicide of a loved one tend to experience complicated grief in reaction to that loss. Symptoms of grief that may be experienced by suicide survivors include intense emotions, like depression and guilt, as well as longings for the deceased, severely intrusive thoughts about the lost loved one, extreme feelings of isolation and emptiness, avoiding doing things that bring back memories of the departed, new or worsened appetite or sleep problems, and having no interest in activities that the sufferer used to enjoy.

What are some possible causes of suicide?

Although the reasons why people commit suicide are multifaceted and complex, life circumstances that may immediately precede someone committing suicide include recent discharge from a psychiatric hospital or a sudden change in how the person appears to feel (for example, much worse or much better). Examples of possible triggers (precipitants) for suicide are real or imagined losses, like the breakup of a romantic relationship, moving, death (especially if by suicide) of a loved one, or loss of freedom or other privileges.

Firearms are by far the most common methods by which people take their life, accounting for half of suicide deaths per year. Older people are more at risk for killing themselves using a gun compared to younger people. Another suicide method used by some individuals is by threatening police officers, sometimes even with an unloaded gun or a fake weapon. That phenomenon is commonly referred to as "suicide by cop." Although firearms are the most common way people complete suicide, trying to overdose on pills is the most common way that people attempt to kill themselves.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/31/2016

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