People kill themselves for a variety of unique reasons, but the typical triggers for suicide are often not what the general public might assume them to be.
Abuse & Suicide
One common presumption is that abuse is a primary factor in suicides, particularly teen suicides. But while chronic, ongoing abuse can certainly play a role in some cases, abuse is by no means the leading contributor to suicide. Even when abuse takes place, it’s usually not the most important factor. “Even in situations in which abuse is known to have occurred, the (suicide) notes seldom specifically state that the choice to commit suicide results from the abuse,” write suicide researchers Slaby & Garfinkel (1994, p.156).
When abuse does play a role, it is typically verbal and emotional abuse that proves most deadly, although physical abuse and violent sexual abuse has been linked to higher suicide rates in some studies, as it’s believed that any type of ongoing experiences that condition a person towards pain can increase the likelihood of self-injury. (Sanders, 2012) Generally speaking, however, verbal and emotional abuses are the most destructive to a person’s self-identity and self-esteem, which contribute to feelings of low self-worth. These latter forms of abuse also tend to be ongoing and are the most difficult to escape from.
Social Issues & Peer Problems as a Cause of Suicide
“Interpersonal problems are a common precipitating event in suicide.”
– Karen Springen (2010, p. 43)
The leading contributor to suicide is by leaps and bounds social issues and/or interpersonal crisis. Social pain is the most destructive type of anguish we feel. Because we’re a social species that depend on one another and who have a need for human connection in order to feel normal, such problems register in the brain as a threat of life-death significance. (Dickerson and Kemeny, 2004) So anything which results in shame, humiliation, ostracism or alienation can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions. This includes things such as . . .
- Difficulties with the opposite sex
- Sexual identity issues
- Experiencing humiliation or ostracism
Family Problems as a Contributor to Suicide
Not only are family issues difficult to get away from, but they can strike at the core of a person’s identity in 2 important ways. First, we derive much of our self-identity from ideas related to family: who we are, where we come from, what we are made of, and so on. Therefore family problems can imbue those who experience them with quite a bit of shame.
Yet the bigger problem is often the message that comes alongside family dysfunction: If I can’t even count on family to love me, what hope is there? When a person is experiencing family problems, the core of their world is in shambles, and this can distort their perspective about the world as a whole. Who will be there for support, if not one’s family? Who in the world is there to depend on, if you can’t even depend on those closest to you? How can I ever survive in the world, when I can’t even manage to thrive at home? To a teen who feels like a loser anyway, what hope can there be if even those obligated by law to care about you seem as if they don’t? This is the reason family problems are a leading contributor to suicide.
A Precipitating Event or Crisis
Often there is a specific event that pushes a person over the edge. “Most frequently, the pain is related to a very specific loss: the breakup of a relationship, being thrown off a team, or some academic failure,” note Slaby & Garfinkel (1994 p. 157). This is also why even though many suicidal people suffer from depression, not everyone who kills themselves meets the clinical criteria for depression. It may simply be a crushing event or something that profoundly aggravates an existing insecurity, thus setting off a cascade of catastrophic thinking that triggers a suicide.
Common precipitating events to suicide:
- Fight with a boyfriend or girlfriend
- An unexpected pregnancy (a common catastrophe among teens)
- A humiliating experience
- Academic failure
Additional causes and triggers for suicide:
- Depression and suicide are intricately linked, though not all people who attempt suicide meet clinical criteria for depression.
- Financial struggles are commonly tied to suicide. For example, 3 years ago, Greece had the lowest suicide rate in Europe. Today it has the highest, which health experts attribute to the country’s economic crisis. (The Week, 12-30-2011, p. 44)