Suicide in the age of the Internet

Print Friendly Version of this pagePrint Get a PDF version of this webpagePDF





Suicide is always a traumatic experience, both for the victims and for their closest relatives and friends but also for employees of uniformed services who participate in the event. There is always the question "Why?" that often remains unanswered…

Issues related to suicide and self-aggression are thus important fields of scientific research. At the Jagiellonian University, such research is conducted by scientists supervised by Professor Janina Czapska.

Sharing knowledge

Suicide is becoming an increasing, very serious social problem. According to prognoses, even more people will attempt to end their lives, including a significant percentage of young and very young people. It should also be noted that cyberspace has become a place where many websites dedicated to suicides (containing "advice" on how to kill oneself) appear, but it is also a place where people can be harmed by presenting private or humiliating information about themselves. There were cases when teenagers attempted to commit suicide because of such reasons. This is why it is necessary to thoroughly understand the phenomenon of suicide along with its contemporary references (e.g., those related to cyberspace) and then to create a good prevention program.

In 2011, at the Chair of Forensic Science and Public Safety of the Jagiellonian University, under the supervision of Janina Czapska, PhD, professor at the Jagiellonian University, an informal team dealing with issues related to suicide was founded. The objective of the scientists was first of all the interdisciplinary analysis of the issues of suicide and self-aggression. The main point was the fact that – referring to the activity of various groups of professionals – a firefighter who encounters a suicidal person who wants to jump off a bridge has a different knowledge about suicide than a psychiatrist working at a specialist hospital, and their knowledge in turn does not cover the information of forensic physicians related to ways to commit suicide. As it turned out during the meetings organized for scientists and practitioners, it was correct to adopt such a point of view. Many people in very different professions encounter suicidal persons in their careers, but each of them represents a different perspective. Their roles are different as they contact the suicide at various stages of the event or they encounter the suicidal person in a different situation. These people do not have the opportunity to share their experiences. Thus, the aim of the activities undertaken by the team of scientists was to create a platform for the exchange of information. Such an approach will help create good programs for suicide prevention. Scientists working on these issues want to focus particularly on the very sensitive subject which suicides and acts of self-aggression committed by children doubtlessly are.

Nowadays, media often focus on dramatic events in human lives, as well as those connected with death. They inform us about the suicides of popular celebrities and comment on particularly tragic events related to so-called homicide-suicides, when the perpetrators first take the lives of other people and then their own. Such media coverage has consequences. Sometimes suicides find imitators or people use methods about which they learned from the press, television or the Internet.

Photo: wildan | stock.xchnge

Gender of suicide

Sharing experiences among professionals, the influence of culture and information technologies and numerous other aspects related to the phenomenon of auto-aggression constituted the basis for the interdisciplinary scientific seminar prepared by scientists from Krakow entitled "Suicide. Forensic, sociological, psychological and psychiatric aspects", (November 2012) which was attended by approximately 100 people who have contact with the issue of suicide.

"A psychiatrist who presented the problem of mental illnesses and disorders, i.e., factors which may lead to suicidal tendencies, was invited to participate actively in the seminar. A priest also presented his point of view on suicidology in theology, and a genetician delivered a speech on inheriting suicidal tendencies," Joanna Stojer-Polańska, PhD, member of the Kraków science team, recounts. During the seminar, others who presented their experiences included police negotiators, an expert in the field of forensic medicine, and a caregiver from prison service.

The sex of suicides was also discussed, as it turns out that men effectively commit suicide three to four times more often than women. They may be worse at coping with contemporary problems, or it might be the chosen method of death which influences the statistics – if a person decides to kill themselves by hanging or gunshot, the chances of survival are very low. Women definitely make suicide attempts more often than men, but these incidents usually do not result in death. Are women psychically stronger or do the methods they choose, such as taking drugs, give a higher chance of survival?

Another important issue here is the lack of credible data on suicide attempts which did not lead to death. Another opportunity for interdisciplinary exchange of information occurred during the conference "Suicide – old problems, new solutions" (June 2013). During the conference, workshops dedicated mainly to the issue of suicides among children and teenagers were conducted. A psychiatrist, psychologists and an employee of the "Blue Line" (Polish helpline for victims of domestic violence) talked about real events and the participants discussed the possibilities to help minors.

Still more questions

Although the research team is composed mainly of lawyers, it also involves people who deal with the issue of suicides both as one of their core tasks performed at work (e.g., psychiatrists) and, in a way, "incidentally" (e.g., firefighters). The plans that the team intends to realize include the application for a grant that will enable them to carry out wide-scale interdisciplinary research on the issue of suicides and the prevention of such behavior. "Our aim is also to organize expert conferences for the purpose of sharing experiences and workshops for people who may encounter suicide in the course of their work," Stojer-Polańska, states.

We have a problem with defining the phenomenon of suicide in theory and in practice. How should we describe a situation when the auto-aggressive behavior was intentional, but without the intention of taking one's life and the death occurred accidentally? When someone dies it becomes impossible to examine his or her motivation. How should we assess the behavior of people under the influence of alcohol, of those who behave in a very risky manner, for example walking on roofs or climbing high rocks? Are risky hobbies, such as Himalayan climbing, not a form of welcoming one's own death?

Even lawyers themselves have a problem with ordering various threads connected with the circumstances of committing suicide in the legal aspect. Can people voluntarily dispose of their own lives? Can a person independently decide about when they want to die? Or is it the case that the life of every human being also a social value and one must not decide independently about the moment of one's death? Euthanasia, assisted suicide or accompanied suicide are the most well known problems. Should other people, often very close to the suicide, be punished for assisting in suicide? How should we evaluate the behavior of those who helped shorten the suffering? And how should we perceive the behavior of those who, as observers, did not do anything to stop a suicide attempt because they believed that such decision resulted from independent free will – the foundation of the existence of every human being? Does a suicidal person who climbs a bridge and threatens to jump have the right to involve numerous uniformed services and to threaten the health and life of those whose task is to help others? In the context of the above questions, the case of a suicide who jumped out of a seventh floor onto a woman passing by, seriously injuring her, leads to reflection on numerous points of view on suicide.

Other unknown factors may also be pointed out, for example the question about the "dark number" of suicides. This refers to such events considered to be unfortunate accidents (such as frontal collision of a driver with a tree), or it is easier to call them accidents or results of mental illness (such as elderly people falling from heights or going missing). The pool of questions continues to increase and most of them still remain unanswered.

Research team: Janina Czapska, PhD; Anna Biederman-Zaręba, PhD; Joanna Kabzińska, PhD; Joanna Stojer-Polańska, PhD; Katarzyna Jurzak-Mączka; Daria Wójcik; Karolina Dukała