From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"The Emperor Iustinian, that great Compiler of Statutes, and Books of Civil Law, some few daies since shewed a new Law to Apollo, to have his Majesties approbation of it: wherein men were strictly forbidden killing themselves. Apollo was so astonished at this Law, as fetching a deep sigh, he said; Is the good Government of mankind, Iustinian, fallen then into so great disorder, as men, that they may live no longer, do voluntarily kill themselves?"--"Generale Riforma dell' Universo" by Trajano Boccalini, Monmouth translation
"Robert Lowell and John Berryman, along with their contemporaries Theodore Roethke, Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell, and Anne Sexton, were-among other things-"stalked" by their manic-depressive illness. Mercurial by temperament, they were subject to disastrous extremes of mood and reason. All were repeatedly hospitalized for their attacks of mania and depression; Berryman, Jarrell, and Sexton eventually committed suicide."--Touched with Fire (1993) by Kay Redfield Jamison
Suicide (Latin sui caedere, to kill oneself) is the act of intentionally taking one's own life. The term "suicide" can also be used to refer to a person who has killed himself or herself. Suicide may be caused by psychological factors such as the difficulty of coping with depression or other mental disorders. It may also stem from social and cultural pressures. Nearly a million people worldwide commit suicide annually. While completed suicides are higher in men, women have higher rates for suicide attempts. Elderly males have the highest suicide rate, although rates for young adults have been increasing in recent years.
Views toward suicide have varied in history and society. Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism generally condemn suicide as a dishonorable act and some countries have made it a crime to attempt to kill oneself. In some cultures committing suicide may be accepted under some circumstances, such as Japanese committing seppuku for honor, Islamic suicide attacks, or the self-immolation of Buddhist monks as a form of protest.
In relation to mental disorders
Studies show a high incidence of mental disorders in suicide victims at the time of their death with the total figure ranging from 98% to 87.3% with mood disorders and substance abuse being the two most common. A person diagnosed with schizophrenia may commit suicide for a number of reasons, including because of depression. Suicide among people suffering from bipolar disorder is often an impulse, which is due to the sufferer's extreme mood swings (one of the main symptoms of bipolar disorder), or also possibly an outcome of delusions occurring during an episode of mania or psychotic depression. Major depressive disorder is associated with a higher than average rate of suicide, especially in men.
"Suicide" has been observed in salmonella seeking to overcome competing bacteria by triggering an immune system response against them. Suicidal defences by workers are also noted in a Brazilian ant Forelius pusillus where a small group of ants leaves the security of the nest after sealing the entrance from the outside each evening.
Pea aphids, when threatened by a ladybug, can explode themselves, scattering and protecting their brethren and sometimes even killing the lady bug. Some species of termites have soldiers that explode, covering their enemies with sticky goo. There have been anecdotal reports of dogs, horses, and dolphins committing suicide, but with little conclusive evidence. There has been little scientific study of animal suicide.
In ancient Athens, a person who committed suicide without the approval of the state was denied the honours of a normal burial. The person would be buried alone, on the outskirts of the city, without a headstone or marker, however, it was deemed to be an acceptable method to deal with military defeat. In Ancient Rome, while suicide was initially permitted, it was later deemed a crime against the state due to its economic costs.
Suicide came to be regarded as a sin in Christian Europe and was condemned at the Council of Arles in 452 as the work of the Devil. In the Middle Ages, the Church had drawn-out discussions on the edge where the search for martyrdom was suicidal, as in the case of martyrs of Córdoba. Despite these disputes and occasional official rulings, Catholic doctrine was not entirely settled on the subject of suicide until the later 17th century. A criminal ordinance issued by Louis XIV of France in 1670 was extremely severe, even for the times: the dead person's body was drawn through the streets, face down, and then hung or thrown on a garbage heap. Additionally, all of the person's property was confiscated.
Attitudes towards suicide slowly began to shift during the Renaissance. John Donne's work Biathanatos, contained one of the first modern defences of suicide bringing proof from the conduct of Biblical figures, such as Jesus, Samson and Saul, and presenting arguments on grounds of reason and nature to sanction suicide in certain circumstances.
The secularisation of society that began during The Enlightenment questioned traditional religious attitudes toward suicide and brought a more modern perspective to the issue. David Hume denied that suicide was a crime as it affected no one and was potentially to the advantage of the individual. In his 1777 Essays on Suicide and the Immortality of the Soul he rhetorically asked, "Why should I prolong a miserable existence, because of some frivolous advantage which the public may perhaps receive from me?" A shift in public opinion at large can also be discerned; The Times in 1786 initiated a spirited debate on the motion "Is suicide an act of courage?"
By the 19th-century, the act of suicide had shifted from being viewed as caused by sin to being caused by insanity in Europe. Although suicide remained illegal during this period, it increasingly became the target of satirical comment, such as the Gilbert and Sullivan musical The Mikado that satirised the idea of executing someone who had already killed himself.
By 1879, English law began to distinguish between suicide and homicide, although suicide still resulted in forfeiture of estate. In 1882, the deceased were permitted daylight burial in England and by the mid 20th century, suicide had become legal in much of the western world.
Famous historical suicides
- Mark Antony
- Cleopatra VII of Egypt
- Judas Iscariot
- Virginia Woolf
- Sadeq Hedayat
- Adolf Hitler
- Ernest Hemingway
- Sylvia Plath
- Yukio Mishima
- Hunter S. Thompson
- Kurt Cobain
- Ian Curtis
- Vincent van Gogh
- Suicide as an arts theme
- Le Suicidé
- Lucretia (Joos van Cleve)
- Suicide in English Literature
- List of suicides in fiction
- Philosophy of suicide
- Religious views on suicide
- Suicide pill
- Le Suicidé (1881) by Manet
- Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide, a 1999 book by Kay Redfield Jamison on suicide and manic depression.