Since the beginning of time, people have been committing suicide. Suicide is a self-inflicted death, or suicide, can be defined as “choosing the mode, time, situation, or occasion for ending one’s life.” In general, the word suicide has a negative connotation and is looked upon unfavourably. Yet in some circumstances, killing oneself can be considered acceptable or even the right thing to do. Since it’s difficult to differentiate between the correct thing to do and the wrong thing to do, this essay will look at both points of view.
In ancient Europe, especially during the time of the Roman Empire, suicide was an approved and sometimes an honoured act. The Romans, affected by the doctrine of stoicism, recognized many legitimate reasons for suicide. The Roman philosopher Seneca praised it as the last act of a free human.
Most social scientists agree that suicide is a complex form of behaviour that has biological, psychological, and social causes’. Psychiatrists, for example, have found deep depression to be common in suicides that they study. Arguments have been advanced that some people are more genetically disposed to depression, and thus to suicide, than others.
All the basic forms of suicide that occurred in the past are found in modern nations. Recent trends in frequency rates are unclear because suicide statistics are unreliable, and are collected in different ways in different places. Suicide rates are generally lower in Roman Catholic societies than in Protestant ones, for instance, but this probably reflects the fact that Roman Catholics might feel a far greater need to hide suicides than would Protestants. Some experts believe that the trend towards rising official rates of suicide in Western nations during the last century is due to the improved methods of collecting statistics and the decreasing stigma attached to suicide.
The increasing life expectancy of people in Western nations probably influences some elderly people with losses or terminal illnesses to commit suicide. They may also request voluntary euthanasia, which is defined as the assisted suicide of a person with a terminal illness, experiencing unbearable suffering. The only country in which voluntary euthanasia is not illegal is the Netherlands. Even there it does not have legal status, but, as long as a doctor assisting a suicide follows legal guidelines and reporting procedures, she or he will be immune from prosecution. Legislative discussions on the legal status of voluntary euthanasia are pending in some states of Australia, Canada, and the United States.
Some psychologists think that growing feelings of loneliness, rootlessness, and the meaninglessness of life are contributing to more suicides in industrialised nations. In the United States, for example, the suicide rate in the age group between 15 and 24 tripled between 1950 and 1980; suicide is now the third most common cause of death in this age group there.
The impact of suicide on the deceased person’s close relatives and friends is complex, ranging from grief and guilt through to disbelief, frustration, anger, and despair.
Psychologists and sociologists have found many other contributing personality and situational influences. Suicide is often used as an escape from painful circumstances; it can also be used as an act of revenge on another person who is blamed for the suffering that led to the suicide. These feelings are sometimes revealed in suicide notes. The most common element involved in suicide, however, seems to be the person’s perception that life is so painful that only death can provide relief. Losses or chronic pain, physical or emotional, may lead to a sense of personal helplessness to change life circumstances, and to a general sense of hopelessness about any change, contributing to psychological “tunnel vision” in which death is perceived as the only option.
Social conditions frequently result in a marked increase in the suicide rate. This happened, for instance, among young people in Germany after World War I and in the United States at the height of the Great Depression in 1933. In recent years, suicide has occasionally been used as a form of political protest against the policies of a particular government.
Unsuccessful suicide attempts may be a “cry for help”, and, if ignored, may be the unfortunate precursors of future successful ones. Such cries for help are to be distinguished, however, from more manipulative forms of attention-seeking suicide “attempts” or threats, in which the aim is to control the emotions and behaviour of others, usually family members.
To some people, suicide is never acceptable, but most people feel that taking your own life is acceptable under certain conditions. Sacrificing one’s life to uphold one’s principles or laws of righteousness is considered to be noble and chivalrous. However, ending one’s life or committing suicide as a way to escape the normal problems of life is thought to be an act of coward ice and is not justifiable.