Every day of the year, many of us engage in suicidal actions
which fail to result in death. These activities are labelled attempted suicide or parasuicide.
Research suggests that those of us who engage in these activities are almost 23 times more likely to eventually
die by our own hands than those of us who do not. Other researchers disagree. One set of findings goes so far as to suggest
that those of us who engage in parasuicidal activity are 100 times more likely to die by suicide.
Having said that, it is not uncommon for those of us experiencing serious emotional crises to do something
which has all of the characteristics of a serious suicide attempt - but which is not.
He or she may not have seriously intended to complete the action. Or may simply have staged an (apparent) attempt (according to experts) to worry, shock, concern or otherwise "manipulate"
Such actions are known as suicidal gestures and are generally dismissed
as simply being a "cry for help".
These non-lethal activities (gestures) usually leave 'obvious' signs of some type of attempt;
and may have taken place at a time and place when it is highly probable that he or she would be discovered and saved
in the nick of time.
In contrast, a person who seriously wishes to end their own suffering can also
fail in their attempt. This 'failure' could be due to ignorance, lack of knowledge about what is required, what
to do and what to expect. Fear, heightened anxiety and an unwillingness to try methods that may fail – and yet result in permanent damage if they do fail can
cause failure. Concerns over the possibility of unintentional risk and harm to others, the fear of rescue, or simple bad luck (etc):
All could serve to precipitate failure. In such situations, these actions are 'regarded' as being a suicidal attempt.
Deciding what is a suicidal attempt and what is a suicidal gesture is not an easy judgement for anyone to
make. The intent behind the action (attempt or gesture) is obscured by the
fact that suicidal people are ambivalent. Not really wanting to die – but simply not wanting to continue.
Most of us are torn between living or death when experiencing a suicidal crisis.
Issues such as intent and motivation will not always appear clear. With intent being virtually impossible
to verify, there are many who believe that all near-suicides are suicidal gestures.
Not serious attempts, just gestures.
If these actions are mere 'gestures', then why do so many people end up with such severe, debilitating injuries,
sometimes life-threatening and permanent? Such terrible injuries do seem a most unlikely outcome for a suicidal 'gesture'.
Indeed, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association
(Ontario) suicide is the sixth leading cause of disability and infirmity worldwide.
In order to explain away these horrific injuries. experts suggest that many
of us who wish to make a gesture may be killing ourselves by accident. Cutting
too deep. Failing to understand the lethality of our chosen method. Miscalculating discovery. Ashyxiating
on vomit following an intentional overdose etc.
Answering the all-important question (was this action an attempt, or a gesture?) is a medical judgement-call which will probably be a snap decision. Made in
an hospital environment by an overworked, over-stressed professional who could regard all such injuries as forms
of self injury and record them as such.
Consequently statistics purporting to demonstrate actual numbers of attempted suicides
cannot be accurate and can not be relied upon.