Why do People Commit Suicide?

March 25, 2015

#doctorstress #doctorsuicide #workplacestress #suicideprevention #SAVE

I have to admit that this one was hard to write. The statistics are overwhelming. The stories I’ve been reading are very compelling – and sad.

Even someone as powerful (scary?) as Tony Soprano knew that there would be repercussions if it came out that he was seeking help from a mental-health professional to help him deal with the conflicts and stresses of his private and “professional” lives.

In the last post (read it here), I said I’d research and then write about the reasons people commit suicide. It’s a hard, emotional topic for all of us. It seems as though many of us are touched by the act in some way – we know someone that has tried to commit suicide, has committed suicide, or we are friends with someone that knows someone that tried it, or was successful.

Normally I try to keep everything about the blog surrounding workplace stress in general, and doctor’s s stress in particular. But this topic made me look at it in a more generic sense, as I began the research process, so we’ll stray just a tad from our normal focus today.

The SAVE organization

One of today’s main background articles is “Suicide Facts” authored by the SAVE organization (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education). It can be found on-line here: <http://www.save.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.viewPage&page_id=705D5DF4-055B-F1EC-3F66462866FCB4E6>

According to the CDC, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US.

There were 41,149 suicides in the US in 2013, as you can see from this CDC chart, below, from the study referred to above:


I grew up in a town that had a population of about 9,000 people in it. That means that 4.57 times the population of my hometown kills themselves every year.

Another way to look at it – every day, about 105 Americans take their own lives.

That’s about 1 every 13 minutes.

Think about that for a minute.

According to this SAVE study (and quoting the CDC), the US Suicide rate over the last decade is 12.1 out of every 100,000 people, which is up from 10.4 per 100,000 during the previous decade. I’m sure that the Great Recession had a significant impact, with it’s high unemployment rate, the financial collapse of the stock market, the significant reduction in housing prices/values, and other reasons.

So, why …?

The short answer to the question “why do people commit suicide?” is obvious, and the basic fact remains the same. Simply put, we may never know the truth of the matter for that person. We’ll never really know for sure why someone did it – even when a note is left behind, we cannot be completely sure as to the reason. In fact, the victim may not even know for sure why they are doing it themselves.

And each individual case is different as well. Many times, we can surmise at causes, but overall, all we’re doing is guessing.

Depression is generally accepted to be a significant cause. Substance abuse. Bullying. Chemical imbalances in the brain. Frustration. PTSD. Unemployment. Chronic pain.

An extraordinary amount of stress (as a possible contributing factor to major depression) is considered a prime causation, and is the main focus of this blog, and so this post. The SAVE report shares that 90% of all successful suicides have an existing mental health issue, or substance abuse problem within the month of their taking their own lives.

Primarily in the medical arena, amongst doctors and other medical professionals, to reiterate from research I’ve found and quoted in a previous post (read it here), doctors kill themselves at a rate twice that of the general population. Around 400 per year take their own lives. That’s roughly equivalent to one graduating class from a single medical school.

Each year.

It goes without saying that the cost to their families and circle of friends is emotionally overwhelming. There can be no monetary value – no price can possibly be – put on the life of another human being.

And the cost to society overall is stunning as well. It is thought that a single general practitioner has about 2,200 – 2,500 patients in their panels. That means that about one million people a year are impacted by the loss of their doctors.

And again – in no way do I wish to minimize or reduce the emotional pain felt by the physician’s family and circle of friends – in no way. Doctors are human, just like the rest of us. They have families and friends. They are people with stresses we lay professionals simply don’t face on a daily basis. And they have very few outlets for stress relief available to them, for many reasons.

Because the societal stigma is still attached

According to a Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) study, 80-90% of all people that seek help via therapy and medication are successfully treated, but only about half of those impacted by major depression will seek help.

The personal and professional stigma that doctors might face seems greater to me than if one of us were to seek help from a mental-health professional. Because of that, many doctors do not seek the help that may save their very lives. Anecdotes that I’ve read say that, for those that do choose to seek help, they drive several miles away to another town, and make appointments under false names. They then pay in cash, so to avoid paper trails.

Isn’t that a sad statement on our society overall? A friend, when he found out I was writing this particular blog post, sent me this “cartoon” about how ridiculous it would sound if we were to question a person with a physical malady.

Helpful advice cartoon

My personal favorite is the middle one on the left column – “Have you tried … you know… not having the flu?”

See how ludicrous that sounds? And yet we do it every day, either intentionally or unintentionally to people that have mental-health issues and are “brave enough” to ask for help.

Why is that? It probably goes back to this famous quote that has been attributed to many people. Here is Dan Brown’s version of it:

“What we don’t understand, we fear.  What we fear, we judge as evil.
What we judge as evil, we attempt to control. And what we cannot control…we attack.”

― Dan Brown,
author of The DaVinci Code,
Angels and Demons, others

The human brain is an organ, plainly put. It does not actually contain our “selves” – our makeup; our personality. And yet, if we see someone that is suffering from a mental illness, we inadvertently tend to think less of them, don’t we?

Let’s take the correlation to a farther conclusion. Would you think twice about someone that is seeking treatment for their liver? A kidney? Their heart? Probably not – you’d wish them well, and possibly send a get-well card, depending on how well you know them. But when there’s “trouble with the brain,” we tend to think less of them, don’t we? We may even think they are weak. We want to avoid speaking with them about it. Or we may go so far as to think they might be “crazy…” If they were our doctor, we certainly wouldn’t want them operating on us now, would we?

And so it is human to fear that which we don’t understand. And we laymen do not understand brain functionality well at all, if we admit the truth to ourselves. We’re just not sure where that line is from “being angry” to “going postal” in the minds, hearts, and the actions of another.

The CDC says that 20-25% of all Americans over the age of 18 experience depression every year. That’s one out of four or five. I’m not saying that to be overly obvious, but merely because it is so prevalent – emphasis by repetition – if you will.

There are about 350 million people in the US. That means then that 87.5 million of us experience depression at some level, each year. And that’s a big number.

Get help if you need it

To anyone that may be considering suicide at this very moment – please reconsider. We need you here on this earth. You are unique and valuable, and someone loves you and values you.

And no one else can play your role here.

Please – I’m not a psychologist or a psychoanalyst – so I simply cannot provide the type of help that someone in need, needs. Not because I don’t want to – I simply don’t know how. Please, if you (or someone you know) are feeling depressed, get help. Start with your doctor. Get a physical. Find out if something over which you have no control – such as a chemical imbalance – is at work.

And doctor? Call your doctor for help if you need it, OK?

Please get help – it is proven to work over 90% of the time. Those are great odds.

Start on-line here: <http://www.sprc.org/>

Find the suicide-prevention line in your area, and call it. Talk to them.

And the problem is international in scope

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. There is one death by suicide every 40 seconds, somewhere in the world.

Over 800,000 people commit suicide each year. Is it because other societies stigmatize depressed/stressed individuals as much as we do, here in the US? More?

Now let’s remove the stigma – begin the conversation. Understand.

Ignorance is fixed with information. Let us all make it a point to open our minds and learn something about mental health, so we can better understand it, and more effectively treat it, and possibly save a life.

Alan Kay, one of the members of the original Macintosh team at Apple, once said “Perspective is worth 80 IQ points.” Something like that, anyway…

In conclusion of today’s post, I’ll quote Dan Brown again:

“The power of human thought grows exponentially
with the number of minds that share that thought.”

― Dan Brown,
author of The DaVinci Code,
Angels and Demons, others

Next post: Causes of doctor/workplace stress and research on coping strategies


2 thoughts on “Why do People Commit Suicide?

  1. Beautifully written with great facts and strong emotional component. What a society we are that seems to remain ignorant or in denial of the necessity of good mental health without the stigma. There should be mental health facilities in every place possible – and close to home.

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