Views on suicide have been influenced by cultural views on existential themes such as religion, honor, and the meaning of life. Most Western and Asian religions-the Abrahamic religions, Buddhism, Hinduism-consider suicide a dishonorable act; in the West it was regarded as a serious crime and offense against God due to religious belief in the sanctity of life. Japanese views on honor and religion led to seppuku being respected as a means to atone for mistakes or failure during the samurai era; Japanese suicide rates remain some of the developed worlds highest. In the 20th century suicide in the form of self-immolation has been used as a form of protest, and in the form of kamikaze and suicide bombing as a military or terrorist tactic. Sati was a Hindu funeral practice in which the widow would immolate herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.
Medically assisted suicide (euthanasia, or the right to die) is a controversial ethical issue involving people who are terminally ill, in extreme pain, and/or have minimal quality of life through illness. Self-sacrifice for others is not usually considered suicide, as the goal is not to kill one but to save another.
The predominant view of modern medicine is that suicide is a mental health concern, associated with psychological factors such as the difficulty of coping with depression, inescapable suffering or fear, or other mental disorders and pressures. Suicide is sometimes interpreted in this framework as a “cry for help” and attention, or to express despair and the wish to escape, rather than a genuine intent to die. Most people who attempt suicide do not complete suicide on a first attempt; those who later gain a history of repetitions are significantly more at risk of eventual completion.
Nearly a million people worldwide die by suicide annually. There are an estimated 10 to 20 million attempted suicides every year. Elderly males have the highest suicide rate, although rates for young adults have been increasing in recent years.