Why do people commit suicide?

People who kill themselves see this as the only remaining solution to their problems. People differ in their ability to handle the troubles that cause such desperate feelings. Many find it difficult to recognize and solve personal problems in a calm and ordered way. Researchers believe this inability to cope may be connected to biological and chemical imbalances.

Some suicides are the result of impulsive decisions based on a situation that seems hopeless - loss of a job, divorce, or a breakup with one's girlfriend or boyfriend. These “reasons” for suicide are not the actual “causes” of the suicide. Rather, they are “triggers” for suicide in a person suffering from a mental illness. Suicide attempts triggered by major disappointments, such as romantic rejection, problems with peers, or failing a big exam, are common among depressed teenagers, who haven't had the life experience to realize that these “injuries” heal with time.

Ninety percent of the people who commit suicide have a mental or substance abuse disorder (or both). More than half of the people who kill themselves are seriously or clinically depressed. Although most depressed people are not suicidal, most suicidal people are depressed. Serious depression is considered a medical illness by the World Health Organization. Serious or major depression is a long-lasting sadness that doesn't let up for two weeks or more. In children, depression is often indicated by irritability.

Some of the signs of depression are:

  • Sadness and crying.
  • Feeling tired all the time or complaining of having no energy.
  • Changes in appetite or sleep.
  • Loss of interest in doing things.
  • Trouble thinking or concentrating.
  • Spending more time alone.
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless.
  • Having suicidal thoughts.

Twenty to twenty-five percent of people who kill themselves are intoxicated. Of course, most people who drink do not kill themselves. Alcohol by itself is not a cause of suicide. However, alcohol lowers self-control and increases impulsive behavior. Someone with a mental disorder who drinks is at increased risk of suicide.

Other people are depressed due to circumstances such as chronic illness or pain. The elderly are prone to this type of depression and can be a suicide risk. They can be helped by medication, pain management, counseling and family support.

  • Call 9-1-1 if you or someone you know is in suicidal danger.
  • Call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) – National Hope Line Network.
    (Available 24 hours/7 days)
  • Call National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

To learn more:

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance offers information about depression and support to those who suffer from depression. Publications, resources, and local chapters are listed.
The International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression (iFred)
The International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression (iFred) gives explanations of severe depression and bipolar disorder (manic depression). Provides a checklist of symptoms and ways to get help.

next » Who is at risk to commit suicide?

Written by: Janice C. May, M.P.A.
Reviewed by: Jeffrey G. Schultze, M.D.
Last Modified: Thursday November 07, 2019 11:28 AM