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Youth Suicide

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Suicide claims a life approximately every forty seconds worldwide. Australia's youth are not exempt, and are in fact particularly susceptible, with over 2000 adolescents successfully suiciding each year and more than 60 000 attempting it (Joiner 2005). This paper will attempt to discover why. What propels some young people into suicidal behaviour, and how are they resisting nature's strongest instincts of self-preservation? As well as attempting to answer these questions, indicators of suicidal behaviour will be investigated along with possible future preventatives that carers can use to counter self-destructive behaviour in students.

The most basic of human instincts is self-preservation. It is ironic then, that suicide has often been seen as a weak, easy way out. Voltaire once said "It seems rather absurd that Cato slew himself through weakness. None but a strong man can surmount the most powerful instinct of nature." (Joiner 2005) Voltaire recognised that to commit suicide is an order against all human instinct and is incredibly difficult to completely carry out. The suicide statistics mentioned in the introduction may have illustrated this point already; generally with every one successful suicide there are thirty attempts. It is important to note, however, that the number of unsuccessful attempts drops as age increases, and older adolescents become much more successful than those younger (Wolfe 2006). To understand why so many younger adolescents are 'unsuccessful', it is important to make distinctions between the successful and the unsuccessful. Schopenhauer and Joiner argue that few people want to die, and even fewer can. Certain ingredients are needed, Joiner believes, for an individual to carry out and complete suicide, and that these ingredients are often rarely possessed by younger adolescents (Joiner 2005). Most attempts are unsuccessful due to lack of experience and the strength of the obstacle of instinct Voltaire pointed out: self-preservation.

Self-injury is extremely painful and fear-inducing. Those able to withstand the act of suicide, Thomas Joiner argues, are those who have accumulated the experience, exposure and practice of pain and violence (intentionally or unintentionally) through self-injury, self-injection of drugs, multiple surgeries, piercings and tattoos, or even extreme or reckless sports and activities (Joiner 2005). A study found that heroin users were fourteen times more likely to commit suicide (Darke & Ross 2002) and in groups of suicidal youths it was found more often than not that the successful suiciders had tattoos (Dhossche, Snell & Larder 2000). Skydivers initial fear of jumping and falling from the sky, if activity is continued, is replaced with what is called the opponent process, where the initial effects of a provocative stimulus is diminished and replaced with the opposite effect; and in this skydiving example, their fear is replaced with excitement (Solomon 1980). Not only does the skydiver start enjoying his once-frightening experience, he becomes more competent and often over-confident in executing his skydiving routines, so much so that room is left for recklessness and the risk of accidents. Youths that are involved in self-harm will similarly grow in competence and confidence within their 'activity', even so far as finding self-injury to have calming and pain-relieving effects (Joiner 2005). Accidents and unintentional encounters with fear and pain, then, (as well as self-inflicted injury) increase one's pain threshold and heighten their future risk of suicidal attempts. However, it is important to note that ability alone does not indicate a high risk for suicide. An individual moves into a high-risk zone only when this gained ability is coupled with intention and desire for death (ref).

The desire for death has often in the past been associated with theories of depression, emotional dysregulation, trauma, parental divorce, and so forth; and although these are logical, influencing factors, these theories often tend to ignore the fact that these factors are common to many, and would demand quite higher rates of current suicide. It is certainly true that these factors, and plenty of others, contribute to feelings of hopelessness that can potentially result in self-harm, but they are only one part - the start - of the suicide 'trajectory' (Joiner 2005). Joiner argues that it is actually impossible to complete a suicide without previous experience that allays natural fears of self-injury (Joiner 2005). As mentioned earlier, an individual needs to reduce the fear of death by desensitizing it through thinking and 'practicing' it. But what accounts for the desire for death in the first place? Henry Murray identifies twenty needs that he argued had to be met, at least in majority to sustain a healthy, happy life (Murray 1938). In amongst them were things like being understood, ability to play, need for nurturance, achievement, et cetera, and he believed the thwarting of these things leads to 'psychache' and a high-risk of suicidality (Murray 1938). The more modern theories of Shneidman, influenced heavily by Murray, highlight similar needs, and yet point out exceptions. Suicides, Shneidman found, were occurring in circumstances of great achievement, wealth, and many of Murray's listed needs were being met. Evidently, fundamental needs were not being met, and Shneidman led to the conclusion that Murray's listed needs were only secondary to the bigger "need for affiliation" (Shneidman 1996). Consequently, Shneidman developed a classification system of suicide, including five groups of types of suicide, each reflecting differing psychological pains. The five were: thwarted love, ruptured relationships, assaulted self-image, fractured control and excessive anger related to frustrated needs for dominance (Shneidman 1996). Joiner agrees, although distils Shneidman's list down to two core causes; thwarted belongingness (thwarted love and relationships) and perceived burdensomeness (assaulted self-image, fractured control, anger related to lack of dominance).

Perceived burdensomeness can be best exampled through the famous suicide note left by Kurt Cobain, Nirvana's lead singer, to his wife: "Please keep going Courtney, for Frances, for her life will be so much happier without me." (Joiner 2005). Similarly, an electrocuted girl read "I have just been a very bad person, but now you are all rid of me." (Joiner 2005) These subjects perceived personal burdensomeness and a sense of not only letting themselves down, but others (often loved ones). These suicidal individuals are almost always suffering from depression and are reported as having poorer social skills than others (Shneidman 1996). Studies have found that depressed and suicidal people speak slower and with less



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