Is Suicide Spiritual Starvation?

Suicide Graphic

By Martin C. Winer - September 2009.

See also: Suicide Statistics

The biological imperative to survive, moreover reproduce is so pervasive and so deeply engrained that most of us accept it as axiomatic and natural. While most of us are happy to bramble through our existence fulfilling this drive, some 1 million a year globally take their own lives. William Shakespeare’s Hamlet ponders “to be, or not to be”. For most of us the quote is memorable but the question itself is redundant. Yet for some of us the question becomes quite pivotal during moments of duress or lengthy periods of stress and unhappiness. Sometimes people learn meditation or use medication during difficult times, but not always with the same results.

If the survival instinct derives from nature, can we likewise find a precedent in nature for a suicidal drive? It is commonly thought that any living thing strives automatically and constantly towards self preservation. Were this true, humans would have webbed feet and fingers as they do in the womb. A process called autolysis causes the skin cells between the fingers to self destruct yielding the more familiar fingers we deal with every day. But this is hardly an act of conscious commission.

The closest nature comes is in the example of the Lemming, but it is a myth that Lemmings commit suicide. Instead what happens is that, when resources run low, the lemmings are overcome by an irresistible urge to migrate en masse. During this migration some of the lemmings don't survive, but they certainly are not jumping off cliffs. The myth that lemmings jump off cliffs was a hoax created by an animal documentary made in the 1958 by the Walt Disney Corporation. The people making the documentary faked the footage by pushing the lemmings off the cliff with brooms.

Even though the lemmings footage was faked, can suicide be thought of as a state of mind provoked by a perceived lack of resources? Furthermore what are the core resources of consciousness whose absence would provoke this response? Going back to our Lemmings, the key resources they need are food and shelter. What then provides the food and shelter for human consciousness? What is the "food and drink" of the human 'soul'?

Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Challenges, Creativity/Innovation, Purpose.
EGO: Respect, Prestige, Status, Fame.
SOCIAL: Love, Family, Friends, Sex.
SAFETY/SECURITY: Shelter, Weapons, Tools, Economic Security.
SURVIVAL: Food, Water, Sleep, Health.

If social anthropologists are to be believed then human consciousness evolved out of language and social structure both of which were necessitated to allow for intergenerational passage of the usage of tools. If communication and society provided for consciousness then it is no stretch of the imagination to suggest that the absence of these would constitute the lack of a critical resource. All things created to fill a purpose languish in the absence of same. Consciousness thus emerged to facilitate communication and social structure and self destructs when denied these key factors.

Returning to Hamlet, he has launched into his existential soliloquy after learning that his Uncle has killed his father (the King) and married his mother. Having learned of this from the ghost of his father, he lacks any concrete proof with which to communicate convincingly to others of what has transpired. Unable to communicate with anyone, and having his entire social order subverted his sense of purpose and belonging is wrecked.

In what may seem a non sequitur, let’s consider the case of an unemployed auto worker. Many such workers have worked at this vocation for many years and have established their lives around it. Suddenly they are told that there is no longer any need for them. The principal way in which they’ve interacted with others (co-workers whom have become friends) for years has been abruptly cut off and they may feel that they are unable to re-educate themselves to find another work environment (social structure) where they fit in.

Heading in a different direction, let’s examine the case of a teenager who is struggling to find his or her place in the social structure. The perception of being unable to ‘fit in’, can be extremely distressing. We all strive to “luceat lux vestra” (Matthew 5:16), to have our light shine forth. The inability to have that light received, to communicate our uniqueness and brilliance can, and regrettably often does, cause the consciousness of many fragile teens to self-destruct.

The common thread running through these seemingly disparate examples is that “man does not live on bread alone.” (Deuteronomy 8: 2-3) Human beings are intensely social creatures having a critical need for belonging and interaction: It seems that for consciousness deprivation of either can be as lethal to the soul as starvation is for the body.

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Suicide Statistics

Data Sources: Statistics Canada 2008, the World Health Organization.

Approx. 800,000 Americans attempt suicide every year.

Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States.

Suicide is the 3rd largest cause of death for young Americans between the ages of 15 and 24. Young people are also the most likely to attempt suicide, but are the least likely to succeed in their attempt.

Availability of alcohol, narcotics, firearms increases both the likelihood of attempted suicide and the chances of a successful attempt.

White people and Native people have the highest suicide rates in North America.

Men are more likely to commit suicide than women. Researchers suggest this is because men are more likely not to seek help and often go undiagnosed.

Men are 3 times more likely to use a more lethal method of suicide, to guarantee success. The most common method is firearm.

Women are 60% more likely to attempt suicide. Common methods are drug overdose or cutting their wrists.

The suicide rate for Canadian men is 3 times that of Canadian women.

Approx. 3,700 Canadians commit suicide every year, approx. 10 per day. Canada's suicide rate is 11.6 per 100,000 population. The United States has a slightly lower rate.

Suicide accounts for less than 2% of the death rate in Canada.

Canadians are 7 times more likely to die from suicide than to be murdered.

Immigrants in Canada are 29% less likely to commit suicide when compared to people born in Canada.

Living alone and being single both increase the risk of suicide. Married people have less chance of attempting suicide. Divorced, separated and widowed people are more likely to commit suicide.

Parents, especially mothers or pregnant women, are less likely to attempt suicide.

Suicide rates are higher in rural areas. Rural people are more likely to attempt suicide with a firearm and be successful.

Dentists, psychiatrists, police officers, and other groups claim to have higher than average suicide rates, but this has never been statistically proven with a nationwide data.

Religious people are less likely to commit suicide. Religious people are also less likely to abuse drugs or suffer from depression. Only 20% of Americans attend religious services regularly.

Economic status is not a factor. Suicide rates are the same regardless of wealth. HOWEVER, the unemployment rate does effect the suicide rate. If the unemployment rate goes up 1% the suicide rate also goes up 1%. Researchers suggest this is due to sudden financial change combined with other problems and not a person's economic status.

People with gambling debts are more likely to commit suicide.

Men are 3 times more likely to commit murder-suicide. In Canada murder-suicide makes up 8% of all murders, usually involving a spouse or children.

Canadians prefer the following methods of suicide: Suffocation (38.8%), Poisoning (26.1%), Firearms (22.1%), Jumping (4.3%), Drowning (3.3%), Cutting/Stabbing (1.6%), Other (3.9%).

The World Health Organization estimates there as many as 20 attempts for every successful suicide.

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