Why not? Why do the vast majority of people with suicidal thoughts not kill themselves? Why do so many people go as far as making plans but not follow through? Why are there so many attempts compared to actual deaths?


I'm going to temporarily set aside the fact that most people who are actively thinking about or planning to take their own lives would say that they're afraid to die. It sounds odd. It seems like a complete contradiction. Taken at face value, it is a contradiction, but I think there are a lot of areas where language fails us, especially when it comes to feelings.

One of my friends said that someone had once told them that she "didn't do it because with her luck she wouldn't be successful and would end up as a vegetable." That made me feel better because that was mostly what kept me from ever trying. I suspect a lot of people feel this way. I mean really, you are so miserable with your life that you try to kill yourself only to end up with your mind totally in tact but unable to move or communicate for the rest of your life. It's the ultimate failure: I'm so useless I can't even kill myself and now life is even worse and you can't even try again (to, of course, somehow screw up again).

As my psychiatrist once said, if that's what it takes, then keep being afraid of it.

Personally, I was also afraid of the pain. Yep. Let that one sink in for a minute. First, if you know me well enough, you know how much physical pain it takes before I even start to notice. Second, you're planning to be dead soon. It's not like you're going to be in pain for long or that you will have the memory of it afterward. I doubt that most of us don't realize that at the time. But remember, life isn't logical. Fortunately, biology has built into all of us an extremely strong desire to avoid pain. (Most of the time.)

Easy Access

There's a common mindset that someone who is prevented from killing themselves using on means will just go find another; that if you stop them now, they'll just try later. Seriously, people?

You work up the courage to do something that terrifies you, but something stops you. You are all strapped in for your bungee jump, and now you have to go home and come back in two weeks. In two weeks are you just as ready as you were right before you were interrupted? Or do you have to talk yourself back into it? Sure, it might not take quite as much effort to work up to it this time, but it's not just there waiting for you where you left off.

Somehow we seem to have all been exposed to the idea of sticking your head into an oven as a means for suicide. It always seemed like an odd method. Recently I learned the history of it though. Most of us are use to ovens that use natural gas (or are electric). That was not always the case. Gas used in households in the UK in the 1950s and earlier was derived from coal (coal gas). Coal gas of the time usually contained about 14 percent carbon monoxide (with ranges between 10 and 20 percent). Natural gas, on the other hand, contains about 1 percent CO.

As natural gas replaced coal gas over the course of 15 to 20 years, one could no longer just stick their head into the oven if they decided it was time to die. In the mid 1950s, about half of suicides in the UK were due to CO poisioning via gas over. Once coal gas was phased out, that number had dropped to zero.

The number of suicides via other means did increase, but the total number of suicides dropped. By over 30 percent. Baiscally, a bunch of people who might otherwise have decided it was time and opened up the oven suddently had to make an effort to find another way. It's not that all those people were lazy; although, I'm sure there were a few of those. Rather, it's that emotions pass, and if you can make it past that moment, you might fine or at least have time to get help.

Guns, Drugs, and Alcohol

There is no doubt that being intoxicated, high, or generally under the influence of mind-altering substances of the non-medicinal type (caffeine being an exception) plays a significant role in a large number of suicides. Drugs and alcohol lower your inhibitions. You're less afraid. You don't feel pain as easily. You also don't connect the dots between your actions and their consequences quite so easily. While it may be perfectly clear to you and I right now what jumping off the roof of a tall building will result in, that really might not occurr to someone who is drunk or high.

Guns are used in half of all suicides in the US. That's over 21,000 suicides by gun in the US. That is nearly two suicides for every other gun-related death in the US. Guns are easy to come by and quick. It's like sticking your head in an oven 60 years ago.

No guns. No drugs. A lot less likely to go from contemplating suicide to attempting it or completing it.