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Basic Bioethics: What you should know about suicide in America

Editor’s note: This is the eleventh article in a monthly series on what Christians should know about bioethics.

What is suicide?

Suicide is the act of purposely ending one’s own life.

What is difference between suicide attempt, gesture, and ideation?

Suicidal ideation is any self-reported thoughts of engaging in suicide-related behavior.

A suicide attempt is a self-inflicted, potentially injurious behavior with a nonfatal outcome.  A suicidal gesture a feigned attempt at taking one’s life, often gambling their lives that they will be found in time and that the discoverer will save them.

Although gesture and attempt are often used interchangeably, some clinicians believe the former term should be abandoned since it can be dismissive of a realistic intent to commit self-harm.

How many people in the U.S. commit suicide every year?

In 2016, the latest year for which complete statistics are available, the number of suicide deaths totaled 44,965.

How often do suicide attempts end in suicide?

There were an estimated 1,124,125 annual attempts in U.S in 2016. For adults, there is an average of 25 attempts for every death. For young people there are an estimated 100-200 attempts for every death.

What are the most common methods of suicide?

More than half of all suicides involve a firearm (51 percent). Another one-in-four (25.9 percent) are the result of suffocation or hanging. Almost 15 percent are by poisoning, and fewer than two out of every hundred suicides (1.9 percent) are a result of cutting or piercing.

Who commits suicide more often, men or women?

Men are more likely to die by suicide than women (77 percent of all U.S. suicides were men), but women are more likely to attempt suicide. There are on average 3.7 male deaths by suicide for each female death by suicide. But there are three female suicide attempts for each male attempt.

Men are more likely to use deadlier methods, such as firearms or suffocation (firearms are involved in 51 percent of suicides, while suffocation accounts for 23 percent). Women are more likely than men to attempt suicide by poisoning (18 percent of all suicides are by poisoning).

What ethnic or racial groups are most likely to commit suicide?

White men are the most likely group to commit suicide, accounting for 69 percent of annual suicides, and white women are the second most likely, accounting for 20 percent of annual suicide deaths.

Among non-whites, American Indians and Alaska Natives tend to have the highest rate of suicides, followed by non-Hispanic Whites. Hispanics tend to have the lowest rate of suicides, while African Americans tend to have the second lowest rate.

How often do pre-teens commit suicide?

Suicide in pre-teens (age 10-14) is rare (436 deaths in 2016) compared to the rates for teenagers age 15-19 (2,117 in 2016).

The vast majority of child suicides are male (85 percent) and take their life at home (84 percent). The most common method of suicide is by hanging/strangulation/suffocation (80.5 percent), while firearms account for 13.8 percent and poisoning 3 percent. Less than 1 in 3 (29.5 percent) children disclosed an intent to commit suicide and only about 8 percent leave a suicide note.

In which states are suicide rates the highest/lowest?

The six states with the highest suicide rates in 2016 were Alaska (26.0), Montana (25.6), Wyoming (24.6), New Mexico (22.6), Nevada (22.1), and Colorado (22.1).

The six states with the lowest suicide rates in 2016 were Maryland (9.7), Massachusetts (9.3), New York (8.5), New Jersey (7.7), and the District of Columbia (5.9).

What is suicide-by-cop?

Suicide-by-cop is a colloquial term used to describe a suicidal incident where a person engages in a consciously, life-threatening behavior to the degree that it compels a police officer to respond with deadly force.

A study using data from 1998 to 2006, found that among 707 officer involved shootings, one-third (36 percent) were attempted/completed suicide-by-cop and half of the people (51 percent) were killed. Almost all of the suicidal persons (95 percent) were male, and almost always (80 percent for men, 100 percent for women) armed with a firearm or knife.

What is a suicide loss survivor?

Research-based estimate suggests that for each death by suicide there are 147 people are exposed (6.6 million annually). Among that group, more than six experience a major life disruption.

If each suicide has devastating effects and intimately affects around six other people, there are over 269,000 loss survivors a year. Based on the 8,651,815 suicides from 1992 through 2016, the number of survivors of suicide loss in the U.S. is more than 5.2 million (1 of every 62 Americans in 2016).

What is the Christian perspective on suicide?

From a Christian perspective, suicide is sinful and wrong because:

  • Suicide is a sin against God as the creator and sustainer of life. It rejects God’s sovereignty and usurps his prerogative in regard to life and death (cf. Job 12:10).
  • Suicide is a violation of the sixth commandment (cf. Ex. 20:13; Deut. 5:17).
  • Suicide disregards the image of God and the sanctity of human life (cf. Gen. 1:26–27; 9:5–6).
  • Suicide is poor stewardship of one’s body (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19–20).
  • Suicide overlooks the value of human suffering (cf. Rom. 5:3–5; 8:28; 2 Cor. 4:17–18; 12:10).
  • Suicide demonstrates misdirected love and is injurious to others (cf. Matt. 22:36–39; Eph. 5:29).

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