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Suicide is the process of purposely ending one's own life. The way societies view suicide varies widely according to culture and religion. For example, many Western cultures, as well as mainstream Judaism, Islam, and Christianity tend to view killing oneself as quite negative. One myth about suicide that may be the result of this view is considering suicide to always be the result of a mental illness. Some societies also treat a suicide attempt as if it were a crime. However, suicides are sometimes seen as understandable or even honorable in certain circumstances, such as in protest to persecution (for example, hunger strike), as part of battle or resistance (for example, suicide pilots of World War II; suicide bombers) or as a way of preserving the honor of a dishonored person (for example, killing oneself to preserve the honor or safety of family members).

Nearly 1 million people worldwide commit suicide each year, with anywhere from 10 million to 20 million suicide attempts annually. About 30,000 people reportedly kill themselves each year in the United States. The true number of suicides is likely higher because some deaths that were thought to be an accident, like a single-car accident, overdose, or shooting, are not recognized as being a suicide. Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in males and the 16th leading cause of death in females. The higher frequency of completed suicides in males versus females is consistent across the life span. In the United States, boys 10-14 years of age commit suicide twice as often as their female peers. Teenage boys 15-19 years of age complete suicide five times as often as girls their age, and men 20-24 years of age commit suicide 10 times as often as women their age. Gay, lesbian, and other sexual minority youth are more at risk for thinking about and attempting suicide than heterosexual teens.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people 10-24 years of age. Teen suicide statistics for youths 15-19 years of age indicate that from 1950-1990, the frequency of suicides increased by 300% and from 1990-2003, that rate decreased by 35%. However, from 2000-2006, the rate of suicide has gradually increased, both in the 10-24 years and the 25-64 years old age groups. While the rate of murder-suicide remains low at 0.0001%, the devastation it creates makes it a concerning public-health issue.

The rate of suicide can vary with the time of year, as wells as with the time of day. For example, the number of suicides by train tend to peak soon after sunset and about 10 hours earlier each day. Although professionals like police officers and dentists are thought to be more vulnerable to suicide than others, important flaws have been found in the research upon which those claims are based.

As opposed to suicidal behavior, self-mutilation is defined as deliberately hurting oneself without meaning to cause one's own death. Examples of self-mutilating behaviors include cutting any part of the body, usually of the wrists. Self-tattooing is also considered self-mutilation. Other self-injurious behaviors include self-burning, head banging, pinching, and scratching.

Physician-assisted suicide is defined as ending the life of a person who is terminally ill in a way that is either painless or minimally painful for the purpose of ending suffering of the individual. It is also called euthanasia and mercy killing. In 1997, the United States Supreme Court ruled against endorsing physician-assisted suicide as a constitutional right but allowed for individual states to enact laws that permit it to be done. As of 2009, Oregon and Washington were the only states with laws in effect that authorized physician-assisted suicide. Physician-assisted suicide seems to be less offensive to people compared to assisted suicide that is done by a non-physician, although the acceptability of both means to end life tends to increase as people age and with the number of times the person who desires their own death repeatedly asks for such assistance.

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Archived: March 20, 2014

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