Suicide: The process of purposely ending one’s own life. Is suicide a normal human action? Is it normal for a human being to have a desire to leave the face of the Earth? The answer seems obvious, but clearly, it is not to the 1,000,000 people that commit suicide annually in the world.
The main causes of suicide are psychological disorders and drug abuse, but another surprising cause is genetics. Psychological disorders affect millions in the United States alone. The term, “psychological disorders” seems very general. How can you determine if one has a disorder? In order to be diagnosed with a psychological disorder, the patient must exhibit distress, abnormal behaviour, and the inability to function in everyday tasks. Depression is the most commonly diagnosed psychological disorder and one in six people in the United States have been diagnosed with depression. Depression is caused by serious illness, genetics, and social influences such as drastic life changes or personal conflicts. Because of this, it is no wonder that 30% of the people that commit suicide suffer from mood disorders such as depression.
The second major cause of suicide is drug abuse. To begin to explore how drugs influence suicidal thoughts, one must understand how drugs work. Drugs are chemicals that interfere with the ways that neurons in the brain interact.
There are two different types of chemicals that affect the transmission of messages within the brain: Agonists and antagonists.
Agonists are chemicals that mimic neurotransmitters and bind to the neural receptors to activate them. Some common agonists are marijuana and heroin.
Antagonists block the receptors to inhibit the reuptake of neurotransmitters. Cocaine and amphetamine are antagonists.
The euphoric feeling of drug use is generally caused by a release of dopamine into the brain in the ways previously mentioned. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is part of the “reward system” of our brain. This means that after drug use and a resulting release of dopamine, the euphoric effects will cause you to repeat the behaviour of using drugs. So what? Eating causes the same process. But it is not the same. Drugs can release up to ten times the amount of dopamine as natural rewards and can last much longer. So how does this lead to suicide? For alcohol, a depressant, some believe that feeling of depression or hopelessness, impaired problem solving and increased aggression are main causes of suicide. For other drugs, the relationship between the type of drug and suicide has not been established, although the amount of drugs is positively correlated with suicide risk.
Many studies have been done in order to find out if there is a connection between biology and genetics, and suicide. All of them that I have looked at have declared that psychological and social aren’t the only aspects that influence suicide. Suicidal behaviour is heritable at a rate of 30-55% which means that variation in the population regarding suicidal behaviours is 30-55% due to genetic factors. Twin studies have also confirmed that completed suicide is more concordant among identical twins than fraternal twins. So far, several genes have been identified through studies that significantly increase the chances of attempting suicide.
How can we end the issue of suicide? Realistically, we can’t. All that we can do is attempt to prevent it and help those in need. Yes, suicidal behaviour is relatively heritable, but that doesn’t mean that nothing can be done. Signs that could signal depression include depressed mood and poor self-esteem, unwillingness to participate in social activities, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, feelings of anger, exhaustion, trouble academically, frequent crying, reckless behaviour and sometimes physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach pains. In order to prevent suicide, it is important that we recognize these signs and advocate suicide prevention, as well as information about the long-term effects of drug use and psychological disorders. Like all matters, it is important that people are informed and understand the consequences of their actions. This issue isn’t something that can be ignored, and it is for the most part preventable. We can’t get rid of the issue entirely, but we can limit it. All it takes is knowledge about the subject, and a will to help those at risk. Suicide. Is it normal? No. Can we and should we do something to prevent it? Yes.