My Take: Brief History Of Suicide

Brief History Of Suicide

Every 12 minutes someone dies from suicide. In 2016,  it was the 10th leading cause of death in the US  and the second leading cause of death in children and young adults up to age 35. About 44,965 people take their lives each year. For every suicide death, there are about 25  suicide attempts. And suicide rates are going up.

Thoughts of suicide are reasonable and rational based on perceptions of hopelessness, helplessness, and being a  burden.    The emotional pain of suicide is intolerable.  Happy people don’t kill themselves.  When a person commits suicide that person was in agony.  Edwin Schneidman who developed the field of suicidology aptly described suicide as psychache.

The term suicide was not found in books until around the Renaissance.  Discovery that the pumping heart was essential for life and when the heart stopped pumping life ended was transformational.  This discovery rocked the belief in the afterlife and immortality.    In ancient times, the afterlife negated the possibility of suicide; one could not kill oneself if one did not die but instead entered the afterlife.    Death was not the end but a gateway to another dimension of life in time and space filled with energy.

Early researchers believed there were different types of suicide. Also, suicide was not a sin but viewed as self-destructive in the context of culture, religion, geography, sociology, biology,  psychology, and philosophy.

The setting in which suicide occurs is different between younger and older people. Suicide is felt to be impulsive in children and young adults and pre-planned in older people. In older people, medical issues or the loss of a loved one are often factors.

Over the years, I went from suicide was wrong to a belief in its value. Since it is an impulsive act in young people, all efforts should focus on prevention and detection in that age group.  For older people, I believe it’s a get out of life card that can only be used once if successful. Life is not easy! Not everyone wants to suffer until they die.

Yes, you should never give up but is suicide giving up? Or is it the next part of your journey? Older people have earned the right to make that choice.


Image source:  Suicide Prevention Resource Center


Related Article:

Why ‘Happy’ Doctors Die by Suicide




Author: Angela Grant

Angela Grant is a medical doctor. For 22 years, she practiced emergency medicine and internal medicine. She studied for one year at Harvard T. H Chan School Of Public Health. She writes about culture, race, and health.

4 thoughts on “My Take: Brief History Of Suicide

  1. Hi Angela. The differentiation between young and older/old is I think a very valid approach, and with that we totally agree one must stop the impulsive from attempting suicide.

    As for the maturer in years, if they had say a dreadful disease or disability, and they were a real physical burden on their family carer(s), I could understand and forgive though still not condone.

    Yes, you have a particularly unfortunate life and ailments that make your life difficult, but if your true reason for wanting to end your life is mostly based on emotion and your ego being unsatisfied then it’s not yet right for you.

    I expect you to argue that you are being rational about this, but from where I am here reading these posts, I think it is more something else and therefore I cannot and will not give you the approval you seek.

    My final words on this matter. Bless your soul and decide to live.

    1. Hi Pete, I know you care, and I appreciate it.

      I’m saying suicide is not a sin and life is not for everyone. I find it rather amusing that people say, be who you are, but when you do and who you are doesn’t align with popular beliefs they would rather you suffer. I believe it’s selfish to ask someone to hold onto life if they don’t want it.

      Who are we to judge? Or prevent another from pursuing their inner peace? So what if after you die that lottery ticket you bought is a winner? My final word: Wouldn’t make a difference to me!

  2. I’ve thought long and hard about suicide, about ending my life, about how I will end my life.

    I think that suicide can be an eminently rational and deliberate act, not even necessarily motivated by anything akin to an incurable condition of psychache, and certainly, for older people, something to which we are indeed entitled.

    I also agree that for the young the act may be rash and impulsive, especially for individuals for whom real help and support may be at hand. I would only add that if you are a young adult with dependents, you should look first to the care and nurturance of your children, no matter the personal cost or sacrifice that you may have to assume by not taking your own life. Under some circumstances, one’s personal needs, especially that of finding surcease of one’s private sufferings in self-annihilation, sometimes come a very distant second to the needs of others. Abandon no one. Especially no child.

    On the other hand, in circumstances when young and psychologically fragile dependents do not factor in one’s circumstances, suicide can also, besides being an act of righteous mercy for oneself, be a selfless act of liberation for others, of lightening their burdens, to the degree that one already has or threatens to become too heavy an imposition on others for one’s own care, especially in the years of one’s long, slow and irreparable decline.

    Of course, I would never sit in judgement of anyone for whom suicide was ruled out of all consideration as a matter of principle, so to speak. I speak only for myself and as I personally esteem my life and my circumstances to be.

    Suicide is for me a private matter upon which to decide as such, if nevertheless an issue that can and should be openly discussed between friends and publicly.

    Yes, I do and should take the measure of my potential suicide in relation to the people whose lives it will affect most directly. If that consequence is both minimal and acceptable in terms of the short-term pain it will of necessity exact, but promises a longer term improvement in the circumstances of all concerned, then the deed is mine and mine alone to embrace or reject.

    I do not and would never recommend suicide to anyone. But it is an option that I have considered at length and that in the end, unless fate intervenes with something else between now and then, I have already settled upon for myself. At least that is what I believe and think. We shall see . . . nothing is being rushed . . . but carefully and calmly being thought through . . .



    1. Hi N,
      “I think that suicide can be an eminently rational and deliberate act” Couldn’t agree more! That you for your honesty. Not many step outside the box to admit suicide serves a useful purpose for older people.

      It’s not a decision one makes lightly, but survivors of those who commit suicide should not make it about them but rather a personal decision about that person’s perceived quality of life.

      “I do not and would never recommend suicide to anyone. But it is an option that I have considered at length and that in the end, unless fate intervenes with something else between now and then, I have already settled upon for myself.” Ditto!


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