Is suicide high-status?

I sometimes have thoughts of suicide. That does not mean I would ever come within a mile of committing the act of suicide. But my brain does simulate it; though I do try to always reduce such thoughts.

But what I have noticed is that 'suicide' is triggered in my mind whenever I think of some embarrassing event, real or imagined. Or an event in which I'm obviously a low-status actor. This leads me to think that suicide might be a high-status move, in the sense that its goal is to recover status after some event which caused a big drop in status. Consider the following instances when suicide is often considered:

  1. One-sided break-ups of romantic relationships. The party who has been 'dumped' (for the lack of a better word), has obviously taken a giant status hit. In this case, suicide is often threatened. 
  2. A samurai committing seppuku. The samurai has lost in battle. Clearly, a huge drop in status (aka 'honor').
  3. PhD student says he/she can't take it anymore. A PhD is a constant hit in status: you aren't smart enough, you don't have much money, and you don't yet have intellectual status.
Further, suicide (or suicidal behavior leading to death) seems to have conferred status to artists. Examples: Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, Hunter S. Thompson, Ernest Hemingway, David Foster Wallace and many more. I'm not saying that they committed suicide due to a pressure to achieve high-status (though that may be the case, I'm not sure). What I am saying is that suicide has been associated with high-status. 

Further, after a person is dead, he/she is almost always celebrated (at least for a while) and all their faults are forgotten.

My theory: in many low-status situations, an instinctive way to recover status is to say that you are too good for this game and check-out. In fact, children (and adults) will often just leave a game they're not very good at and disparage the rest of the players for playing. And suicide is the ultimate check-out. This theory is motivated by observations of my own brain going through thoughts of suicide. They almost always consist of imagining other people crying about my death and saying what an awesome person he was. And about how he was just too smart to be able to live in this world. 

Do you think this theory has some weight? I'm certain that I'm not the first person to think of this. But a quick Google didn't yield much. Any pointers to literature?

 

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I have thought about suicide before in ways vaguely similar to what you describe. At the time, I thought that everything was okay and that playing around with the thought was something reasonable people did, 'cause hey, it's just a thought experiment, I think about all sorts of things, am I right? Looking back at that time I realized I definitely had depression or something similar. I didn't have thoughts of suicide before the hard times and I don't now, and when I fully realized this I became convinced ("in the gut", not just head knowledge) that thoughts of suicide, rolling it around the tongue as it were, are probably a good sign that the general you should seek help, just like all the literature and internets said the whole time.

Am I generalizing? Maybe you're different, but let me lay out the argument clearly:

  • Common professional knowledge says to seek help if you have thoughts of suicide, even if you think it's not something you'd ever do (so much suicide is impulsive!)
  • I had thoughts of suicide, and I thought there were good reasons the common professional knowledge didn't apply to me
  • Later, after help and recovery, I did not have thoughts of suicide, and thought that my past self really really should have taken thoughts of suicide as a strong signal to seek help, even though my past self thought he had reason to disregard the common professional knowledge

I am not a mental health professional. I have on occasion noticed when my brain has sabotaged me, though, and believing myself such a thinker that thoughts of suicide surely didn't point to any problems? That was my brain sabotaging me.

You make a fair point. I will consider getting help seriously. Thanks.

It depends on the culture -- suicide is definitely not high-status among Catholics. (They're no longer like “if you kill yourself you'll go to hell no matter what” and they no longer refuse to celebrate funerals for people who committed suicide, so it used to be even worse.)

They're no longer like “if you kill yourself you'll go to hell no matter what” and they no longer refuse to celebrate funerals for people who committed suicide, so it used to be even worse.

On this side of Europe (Eastern Orthodox Christians) they still do.

Yeah, I know, I just decided not to make that specification. It sounded nice and smooth (albeit semantically wrong) without it.

"The unforgivable sin of despair", I've heard it called.

It's intuitively obvious to me that suicide served some evolutionary benefit in the past; you don't get such complex behavior in such predictable clusters without there being a reproductive benefit. As I understand, suicide has three different mechanisms each from different evolutionary pressures.

1) Negotiation suicide
2) Apoptosis suicide
3) Malfunction suicide

Negotiation suicide is attempting to get high status by threatening suicide. This is the teen suicide, jilted lover suicide, or 'cry for help' suicide. These are usually accompanied by vocal warnings and are generally done in flashy, ineffective manners. This suicide strategy is usually adopted by currently low status individuals who have the potential to be high status in the future (eg teens). The theory is that this form of suicide is a mixed strategy to achieve higher status and allotment of resources by threatening suicide. It has to be mixed strategy because if you never committed suicide you wouldn't get the increased resources (food/attention/status/etc), but if you always committed suicide you'd kill off the genes that caused it pretty quick. Unfortunately, humans are set to 'risk' suicide for status at a rate that used to be helpful 100,000 years ago, and not so much now.

Apoptosis suicide is when people sacrifice themselves so that their genes (children/family/tribe/country) can have better chances of propagation via kin selection. Note that these suicides are rarely preceded by any sort of warning and are usually done in very effective, premeditated manners. The prototypical example would be an elderly blind man with health problems choosing to die-with-dignity, and poisoning himself after having a chance to visit his grandkids one last time. Rates of suicide go up with advanced age and go up with disability. Suicide rates dramatically go up with vision impairment, which was a pretty huge hindrance in hunter-gatherer times.

The last type of suicide is just when something goes wrong in the brain. Drugs, alcohol, etc can cause this (eg Cobain). Brain damage is a cause of suicide as well, like in football players and boxers (eg Jr Seau). Bipolar, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses also are massive risk factors in suicide, though this may arguably be apoptosis instead. Malfunction suicide could also partially account for some teen suicides, given how wild a ride hormones are.

NB: I'm working off memory of a past LW post that I can't seem to locate now on the evolutionary basis of depression and suicide, which had the actual cites.

Edit: To more directly address your point, it doesn't make sense to "say that you are too good for this game and check-out". This is almost negotiation suicide except you're using a shitty, losing strategy to do so. You only check-out if there's an advantage to be gained. It's effective to credibly threaten to check out if that can secure you more resources with the threat. The only way your brain can credibly threaten is if it's prepared to actually go all the way and some percentage of people go through with it. However, life is a game you can only win if you keep playing.

Were there really suicide methods easily available in the EEA?

Aside from firearms in the US, the big methods of suicide are hanging/strangulation, drowning, poison, and fall from heights. Of these, poisoning and falling seem limited in the EEA depending on where you live. Although I have no idea how common poisonous plants were.

However, given that there existed wild animals, zero medical treatment, low population density, and little rescue capability, I assume that it would be significantly easier to commit suicide back then than today.

wild animals

That's the only one of those factors that can kill you directly. Are there any recorded cases of people committing suicide by letting wild animals rip them apart? My guess is that it would take a lot of willpower to overcome one's fight-or-flight instinct, and I doubt that extremely depressed people have that kind of willpower. (Consider the story in this article about a guy who was unwilling to cross a car-filled street to jump off a bridge, and all the bits about people who realized they didn't want to die right after beginning the process of committing suicide... to me, this suggests that letting a wild animal slay you would be unlikely to work.)

Cutting/starving oneself seem both more plausible and substantially less deadly. Personally, I suspect that neither was all that common, and desire to kill oneself is a manifestation of an extreme submission move. (Consider that extremely depressed people frequently seem to think they are worthless, no one cares about them, and they have nothing to offer others. If I'm not pulling my weight and I have no friends and everyone in my tribe knows it, it's hardly a good idea for me to lord it over them and act high status... much better to make it absolutely clear that I know my place.)

Regarding your traffic example, there's a striking difference in the behavior between young adults who want to signal (and sometimes go through with) committing suicide and older adults who actually want to die.

According to a report released by the American Association of Suicidology1, there are 25 attempts at suicide for every one success.

In young people (aged 15 - 24), the odds are between 100 and 200 to 1 against. The elderly seem a lot more successful at 4:1.

For someone who actually wants to die in the EEA, suicide seems trivially easy. Pick a direction and start walking, if you find water you can drown; if you don't find water, you're dead anyways. If you find animals, some of them want to kill you; if you don't find animals, the environment probably wants to kill you. If you hurt yourself in any way (cutting self, fall from height, eating poisonous food, etc) then you can easily die even if you change your mind and even if somebody can find you (which they won't if you just walked for a day).

For young adults who want to signal suicide, I imagine things would look relatively similar to modern life (minus guns). Jump off high things, eat a lot of things that 'should kill you', self-harm, etc. By a factor of 200:1, the goal of suicide isn't to succeed, it's to make a credible threat (and arguably, that 1-in-200 just messes up). You can make that threat just as easily in the EEA. You don't have to beat your own survival instinct for suicide to be successful, you just have to beat your tribesmates in chicken.

Jumping off a high place in the EEA seems a lot more likely to leave you irreparably handicapped than it is in the present. Possibly eating harmful things as well, depending on what harmful things are available.

I was surprised to see the initial spike of downvotes. Stabilizer suggested a model for a not-at-all-uncommon thinking pattern and asked for more information. Whether the model is good is debatable, but the post itself is certainly not below the average quality for Discussion.

Earlier today, I noticed this post published in main a score of -7. Later I noticed it was moved to discussion, and the score slowly increased from there.

Oh, I didn't notice that it was in Main originally. That would certainly explain the downvote.

Huh, I didn't know that I had posted on Main accidentally. Weird. No intention though.

There may be other reasons to downvote. For example thinking that publishing this article is likely to create a ton of negative utility. We live in a world, among humans. There are consequences. Now it depends on one's model of how will people react on articles and discussions like this; and also a model of how would the discussion develop if this article gets positive karma.

Are you saying that some readers might be afraid that someone proposing that suicide can be a status raising move may encourage someone to go through with it? This seems a bit far fetched.

If someone is already considering suicide, helping them contemplate the topic from many aspects will increase the probability of really doing it. I don't have a good estimate about how much the probability would increase, but my guess is that the expected damage is far greater than expected benefits of having this specific discussion.

For me this topic is kind of a taboo. In theory, there is nothing wrong about discussing suicide between psychologically stable people. The problem is, depressed people usually don't see themselves as unfit to participate in such a discussion; they are probably even more likely to start it or join it. I don't want to participate in possibly providing the last straw for someone.

The article itself is not the whole risk; the comments (assuming the article starts a large discussion) would be a greater risk. The more different perspectives, the higher chance that one of them would impress a fragile mind.

If anything, being able to think about their motivations for doing makes it more likely that they'll realize it's a really dumb move.

I see your point, though it seems overly cautious to me. Reasons for suicide are discussed online and in print all the time, by scientists, fiction writers, poets and just random folks. I doubt that a single post on a single forum is likely to make a difference either way, not nearly enough to make it a taboo.

If someone is already considering suicide, helping them contemplate the topic from many aspects will increase the probability of really doing it.

Or maybe it will increase the probability that they realize it was a bad idea. How do you know?

And anyway, for some people in certain circumstances committing suicide may be a rational action.

The article itself is not the whole risk; the comments (assuming the article starts a large discussion) would be a greater risk. The more different perspectives, the higher chance that one of them would impress a fragile mind.

So that's another basilisk? Hmm, it seem to me that we can put the other basilisk to counter it: Don't kill yourself or ... :D

And anyway, for some people in certain circumstances committing suicide may be a rational action.

That was exactly my point. I mean, that sooner or later someone would write something like this.

Now imagine a depressed person reading that, and thinking: "even the smart people on LessWrong agree with me" (because for a depressed person if someone could be in a situation where suicide is a rational action, they believe it's them in the first place).

OK, I give up. Seems like explaining why I believe discussing something is wrong only has the opposite effect.

The majority of posters here are in the prime demographic to suicide, and are indeed susceptible to arguments in favor of far-fetched premises without evidence, i.e. revival of cryonicists by a machine intelligence. However, their strong belief in this prospect will insulate them against suicide attempts just as devout Christians are protected by their belief that hell awaits suicides and that heaven is possible for those meeting a natural end.

The majority of posters here are in the prime demographic to suicide

Did you mean that the posters are drawn from a demographic which has suicidal tendencies (young adults), or that Lesswrong is a demographic which has a higher proportion of people with suicidal tendencies?

Young males, often single, that is the demographic (though I believe that IQ is inversely correlated). Religion is a protective factor, and though singularitarian is not a recognized religion (though SIAI is tax exempt) its adherents hold beliefs that should have the same effect as those held by more orthodox believers.

Not necessarily. One of the big protective aspects of religion is its community. Singularitarians, by vice of their small numbers, have less of that.

That may be part of it and im not sure if it was controlled for but the study i read specifically focused on the beliefs, for instance do you believe suicide is morally wrong, do you believe in hell. Of lesswrongers they could ask do you believe in resurection through cryonics, or another possible question: does a babyfucking await anyone who commits suicide rather than maximizes the chances for FAI.

In many cases, religions provide a being/entity/cosmic absolute/"intrinsic property" which is

  • Outside of conventional human understanding

  • A source emotional significance, labelled "transcendent"

  • Emphasizes emotional experience of the transcendent over intellectual understanding, due to it being outside of conventional human understanding anyway.

Do singularitarians have a such a "transcendent constant"? Is there an "instrinsic property" which was compatible with hard materialism? What would a "cosmic absolute" be? What would "babyfucking" be?

Yes, that transcendant focus is the weakly, and eventually strongly, godlike AGI! Babyfucking is what awaits those who know it needs help to come to fruition and instead do less than their best to make that happen. Suiciding would be a great shortfall indeed. More minor sins, resource misallocations, may be forgiven if they are for the greater good. For example I could donate $10 to SIAI or I could see a movie. The latter will lead to eternal damnation, I mean babyfucking, unless I believe that the purchase will enhance my ability to contribute to the AGI's construction down the road.

Is that a term Yudkowsky came up with? What is with him and doing horrible things to babies?

Even so, the godlike AGI is still recognized as a real world object, through which conveniences, resources and luxury flow, not an intrinsic, personal part of experience. I say transcendent in the spiritual context.

Even so, the godlike AGI is still recognized as a real world object

While religious people think of their gods as fictional objects?

through which conveniences, resources and luxury flow, not an intrinsic, personal part of experience. I say transcendent in the spiritual context.

Singularitarians (at least the Kurzweil-Chalmers-Yudkowsky variant) believe that when the time will come, people will upload their minds to computers, where they will enjoy enourmously increased mental abilities and sensory experiences, and possibly even merge into some kind of collective mind.

I'd say this is as 'spiritual' as it gets.

In that case, the best way I can differentiate between singularitarian transcendence and spiritual transcendence is that the former is based on a future expectation. A spiritual person can believe that they are experiencing transcendence at the present moment, or at least believe that the greater powers that be can utilized in their present lives, through prayer, contemplation, ritual or meditations. A singularitarian can hold no such belief, and is essentially biding their time until the transcendent AI is actually created. How many singularitarians have the mental stamina to hold the belief that the greatest experience of their lives is somewhere far away from their immediate situation? I'd go so far as to say that a belief like that, if held too tightly, will cause a person perpetual dissatisfaction and boredom.

In short, I'd say that some of the difference between the mental health of spiritualists and singularitarians can be attributed to the former getting more immediate results.

Is that a term Yudkowsky came up with? What is with him and doing horrible things to babies?

It's the most instant-squick-flinch-inducing thing he can imagine.

EY wrote:

To reduce the number of hedons associated with something that should not have hedons associated with its discussion, I will refer to the subject of this discussion as the Babyfucker.

No, it's not far fetched. Newspaper reports of the sucide of celebrities increase sucide rates. http://www.samaritans.org/media-centre/media-guidelines-reporting-suicide is a fairly straightforward media guide on how to handle talking in print in a public forum about suicide.

As of now the article ranks top for googling "high status suicide".

As I mentioned before, the popularity of this forum does not approach that of news media. Not even close. I'm guessing that even similar posts on Reddit rank much higher. And given how balanced the discussion here is, the potential for neg utility is minuscule.

As for your specific search query, it's fragile, as none of the synonyms or similar queries I could think of (not posting them here to avoid accidental indexing) result in the article being anywhere close to the first page in the search results.

If you think that it's good when the article has a low readership than it makes sense to vote it down.

I find it plausible. All else equal, most people prefer doing things that raise their status, and someone suggesting that suicide's high-status is evidence that suicide raises one's status. (I do agree with you that an LW post's quantitative effect is almost certainly small, though.)

I think pointing out that something is high status typically makes it less high-status though... reduces the mystique somehow.

How small is small? If the chance would be p=0.001 that the post kills someone, is that small?

How small is small?

Fair question. I'd expect an LW post & discussion of similar size to this one to cause 10^-3 to 10^-4 suicides, but I might now be anchoring on your reply. (Also, that expected value only counts one side of the ledger; I'm ignoring the possibility of the discussion discouraging people from committing suicide.)

If the chance would be p=0.001 that the post kills someone, is that small?

To me, it feels big, in the sense of disproportionate, but small in absolute terms.

Some Lesswrongers don't like seeing posts that are obviously wrong, rather than interestingly wrong. Unfortunately, a subset of that set also don't want to go through the trouble of explaining why.

I sometimes have thoughts of suicide. That does not mean I would ever come within a mile of committing the act of suicide. But my brain does simulate it; though I do try to always reduce such thoughts.

But what I have noticed is that 'suicide' is triggered in my mind whenever I think of some embarrassing event, real or imagined. Or an event in which I'm obviously a low-status actor.

(With the qualification that I don't know you or how you think and that I am not a mental health professional) I think it's probably important to tell you that in the mental health world this is called "suicidal ideation" and is a glaring sign of clinical depression. The reason you think these thoughts more when you are embarrassed or feel low-status is more likely that those things make you feel particularly bad about yourself than that you brain is trying to give you a way to improve your status. Imagining loved ones saying nice things about you is probably self-comforting, but not especially accurate as a measure of status.

I really think you should go talk to someone about this.

I think diagnosing over the internet is a bad idea.

Pointing out that something is a big symptom of depression is not the same as diagnosing someone with depression. And if there's a decent chance that Stabilizer is actually depressed and doesn't know it, pointing it out is useful. Jack seems to only be recommending that Stabilizer see a professional, and, internet or no, the decision of whether or not to see a professional is going to be made by non-professionals.

Self-described 'Having thought of suicide' is not sufficient for the symptom 'suicidal ideation'.

Suicidal ideation is a medical term for thoughts about or an unusual preoccupation with suicide.

From wiki. What else do you think is necessary?

The range of suicidal ideation varies greatly from fleeting to detailed planning, role playing, self-harm and unsuccessful attempts.

Planning, role-playing, self-harm, and attempts would each be sufficient. Thinking of suicide without planning is not sufficient, even when such thoughts include the prerequisites.

That said, if you're unsure about whether you are planning suicide, seeking help is warranted.

I don't know where you think you're getting this from but it's wrong. Thinking of suicide without planning is sufficient in every definition I have ever seen and every definition I can find online. There is a typical distinction between active ideation and passive ideation, where the former includes planning-- perhaps that is your confusion. Or perhaps you think a person with suicidal ideation must be suicidal; that isn't the case.

Mental thoughts and images which hinge around committing suicide.

McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine

recurring thoughts of or preoccupation with suicide

Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health

Planning is definitely not necessary-- as the term is often specifically opposed to planning. E.g. One of the DSM criteria for "Major Depressive Episode" is " recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan".

If suicidal ideation is a sign of clinical depression, does that mean that we can take the contrapositive and say that healthy people think about suicide very infrequently? I guess I understand that it's not meant to be read as a pure logic statement, but is there room to talk about suicide without that "maybe get help plz" disclaimer? Does this mean that healthy people can participate in a discussion about suicide on an internet thread and put it out of their heads immediately?

I posted something about suicide on a personal journal (actually in response to this happy whale article) and had a well-meaning friend ask me if "I was okay" in this weird perfunctory way. Because her question wasn't really enough to do any good if I wasn't. Confuzzled!

If suicidal ideation is a sign of clinical depression, does that mean that we can take the contrapositive and say that healthy people think about suicide very infrequently?

Sure, probabilisticly: healthy people probably think about suicide much less, on average. There are exceptions, obviously.

but is there room to talk about suicide without that "maybe get help plz" disclaimer?

Talking about suicide is not at all the same as suicidal ideation. Also, I'm not at all averse to this discussion. A disclaimer doesn't prohibit a conversation.

Talking about suicide is not at all the same as suicidal ideation.

Talking about suicide implies thoughts about suicide, and the definition of suicidal ideation Vaniver quoted says such thoughts demonstrate suicidal ideation. If so, talking about suicide implies suicidal ideation.

There are narrower definitions of suicidal ideation (e.g. the two you cited earlier) but I worry that broad definitions like Wikipedia's prime people to interpret discussion about suicide in general as a reliable sign of suicidal ideation or being mentally unbalanced. jooyous might have a similar concern.

(I'm not saying you're doing that in this case. Someone mentally simulating suicide on an ongoing basis clearly is engaging in suicidal ideation.)

I guess that makes sense. I've either always interpreted those as conversation stoppers or they've actually been conversations stoppers in other situations I've observed them.

It's still weird to me to think that it's somehow "normal" to come away from conversations like this and not think about them later.

I guess I understand that it's not meant to be read as a pure logic statement, but is there room to talk about suicide without that "maybe get help plz" disclaimer?

The room to talk completely openly about the topic isn't a public forum that people who google suicide might find. In my time as forum moderator those people who threatened their own suicide usually weren't established members but people who joined the forum specifically for that purpose.

It extremly emotionally challenging to have someone who first writes that they want to kill themselves and then writes that they drunk some poision. Do you try to contact some local authority in some Austrialian town and give them the IP address to handle the issue? Do you write some relative that you determined by looking at that persons facebook page that you got because they registered with their email address?

The best way to escape such issues is to try to convince the person to seek help. Better deal with the issue at an early stage than having to deal with it at a more explicit stage.

I posted something about suicide on a personal journal (actually in response to this happy whale article) and had a well-meaning friend ask me if "I was okay" in this weird perfunctory way. Because her question wasn't really enough to do any good if I wasn't.

If you weren't okay that question might have lead to a discussion with your friend. That discussion might have helped you.

Okay, that is definitely a very good point. I understand that few people are equipped to deal with the reality of suicide and I agree that having a discussion in a public forum is unsettling to a lot of people. I wouldn't want to discuss things with people that they are disturbed by. I also understand the functionality of the disclaimer. I think what I wanted to point out is that people who are prepared to have a discussion need to do a bit of extra work to advertise that they are open for the discussion after the disclaimer if by default we want to assume the everyone else would not want to handle such a discussion (because we wouldn't want to inadvertently disturb people). It would be great if those spaces existed.

If you weren't okay that question might have lead to a discussion with your friend. That discussion might have helped you.

That was kind of my point about the weirdness of the whole thing. She didn't ask because she was sincerely prepared to help in any meaningful way and I know her well enough to know that it's something she couldn't handle. It was her misleading way of issuing that same disclaimer. If she was talking to someone else, they might have misinterpreted her completely.

I guess my general point is ... uhh, social things are misleading and weird.

I think what I wanted to point out is that people who are prepared to have a discussion need to do a bit of extra work to advertise that they are open for the discussion after the disclaimer

The default internet disclaimer is to tell the person to seek professional help. If you don't have health insurance and can't speak to get an appointment with a psychologists there are services such as the Suicide Prevention Lifeline that you can call in the US under 1-800-273-8255.

It was her misleading way of issuing that same disclaimer. If she was talking to someone else, they might have misinterpreted her completely.

If she generally doesn't feel good about having a discussion but would be willing to have a discussion if a life is at stake than it makes sense to word the disclaimer in a way where someone who's seriously thinking about suicide sees that she addresses the issue but someone who isn't seriously thinking about it, thinks it's a casual remark.

So someone who volunteers at a suicide hotline regularly automatically meets one criteria for 'major depressive episode'?

Thinking about other people committing suicide is different from thinking about doing it yourself.

In the mental health settings where I've worked, there are lots of variations on this theme.

Suicidal ideation: thinking about killing yourself. Passive suicidal ideation: thinking it would be good if you died, but not by your own action. Intent: wanting to kill yourself. Plan: having a way you want to do it. Means: you have access to the way you plan to do it.

Ideation itself is one indicator of depression. Having several of these would be an indicator of more immediate danger.

That does not mean I would ever come within a mile of committing the act of suicide. But my brain does simulate it

I think shminux was referring to

The reason you think these thoughts more when you are embarrassed or feel low-status is more likely that those things make you feel particularly bad about yourself than that you brain is trying to give you a way to improve your status.

I find this particularly well said. The more I look at it, the more this sounds like the optimal way to convey this information in this context.

Artists who die untimely deaths tend to experience surges in popularity, but suicide is, in general, a particularly low status death.

In fact, children (and adults) will often just leave a game they're not very good at and disparage the rest of the players for playing

This behavior overwhelmingly tends to be viewed with derision. The actor might want their action to be interpreted that way, but overwhelmingly it will tend to be read as such a sloppy attempt at preventing status loss as to incur even more loss of status.

Further, after a person is dead, he/she is almost always celebrated (at least for a while) and all their faults are forgotten.

Suicide is usually sufficiently low status that it's one of the few situations in which people can openly criticize the recently deceased without serious risk of status loss.

I agree with what you say. I think that maybe what I meant is that suicide is considered by people who erroneously think that it is a high-status move to quit the game. Though I didn't write this clearly in the post.

I see suicide as often a reaction to the pain of a decrease in status, particularly when the status decrease is believe to be permanent.

I'd suggest, however, that much of the pain of the status change is temporary. I've had my own setbacks. The new lower status state is not so fearsome and horrible that it can't be faced. It's refusing to face the change that prolongs the pain. Suicide is a strategy to evade the pain of the evasion of the truth.

I've been going through a bit of suicidal ideation as of late, and I think I can give my take on the issue.

I'd say that we tend to oversimplify the concept of "status" around here. We speak of it as though it were a conscious decision to conform to the, mostly, arbitrary ideas of society at large. I believe that a person can live in a culture that declares an action to be cowardly or otherwise sinful, and yet intuitively believe the action to be honorable under certain situations.

In my experience, the core motivation behind wanting to die (or live) is emotional, not logical. The issues that bother you in depression only seem relevant because of your mood. Happiness in such a situation comes, not from solving those problems, but from deciding they're not that important, which is something that is almost impossible when in the grip of depression. The reason I want to die when I'm depressed one instant is usually not the reason I want to die when I'm depressed the next.

That said, the motivation usually boils down to one of these things: self loathing, shame, insecurity, fear,discomfort, disappointment, a general feeling of wrongness, weariness, a sense of obligation, or existential angst.

Occasionally there won't even be an attempt to justify the incentive at all. I'll just think to myself "Oh, I notice that I want to die and any of the reasons I can think of for wanting that seem kind of arbitrary. On the other hand, the reasons I have for wanting to be alive seem just as arbitrary, so I may as well go with what I feel right now. In any case I'll be more consistent with my arbitrary preferences if I'm dead."

So, as you can see, there's no one impulse driving your thought process towards self destruction. That said, I can definitely say that something akin to status-seeking is often at work when I feel like offing myself. It's internalized to the point that neither I nor society can touch it. It's an ingrained sense of honor that can overrule logic, compassion, and conscious duty. It's not a Machiavellian attempt to manipulate what others think about you, but an inner drive pushing you to salvage what you can of the perceived justification people can have for saying things. It's not what they say that counts, but what they can say.

Earlier today, in fact, I got the distinct feeling that I was not "worthy" of trying to live like other people (total nonsense from a logical standpoint, but that didn't seem to bother me at the time), and that the right thing to do would be to die to make up for my audacity. The fact that I had no consequential reason to care about "worthiness" or the fact that I would only hurt all the people who actually gave enough of a damn to judge the way I live my life made absolutely NO difference to me. It wasn't that I didn't think of these consequences, because I did, but I judged them to be NONIMPORTANT!

The only thing that mattered to me was that people could plausibly reach certain conclusions upon learning of my actions and the expression of these conclusions would be socially permissible. I don't know about you, but that sounds a lot like internalizing concern over status to me.

Hendrix wasn't a suicide. DFW got a surge of interest but arguably took a status hit as people wrote about what a terrible person he was.

On the other hand, there's some work that appears to show that suicide attempts not only seem to lead to income increases, but the increase correlates with the riskiness of the method. I don't have a cite handy but I can dig it up if desired.

If people are interested in this, I would really recommending taking a gander at Emile Durkheim's 'Suicide'. He was one of the first sociologists, and attempted to apply his methodology to what one might think the most private decision: suicide. After noticing that the annual rate of suicide was fairly stable, and varied from group to group, he tried to come up with a sociological explanation for this.

He has three categories of suicide:

  • Egoistic: this occurs when people are poorly socially integrated - they feel isolated or lack social roots, This is similar to the type of thing mentioned by commenters who talked about the importance of religion.

  • Altruistic: the opposite of egoistic (and far less common) - when value their group so much they are willing to sacrifice themselves for it.

  • Anomic: this is the most interesting, and relevant to the original post. He claims that suicide can occur as a reaction to sudden jolting changes, upheaval and disequilibrium. This can happen with a sudden loss or a sudden gain in status/wealth/etc: you get anomic suicides in busts (bankers jumping out of windows) and booms (lottery winners who can't handle their new situation).

Of course there's quite a bit to criticize him about, but it's very interesting stuff.

It seems to me that there are several precisifications of this question.

One, might status-seeking be a motivation of suicide or suicidal ideation? I highly doubt it. Of course, many a suicide (quite possibly the vast majority) is motivated by a desire to escape the painful experience of being low-status, but I don't think the prospect of being posthumously post-status plays any role.

Two, is suicide status-threatening for the bereaved? I'm pretty sure it is perceived that way. It does, after all, signal that the suicide didn't care enough about them, didn't want to "play their game", if you will - in that way, it does seem very analogous to the child leaving the game.

Three, is suicide perceived as high-status on the societal level? It seems like in the case of leaving the game, the status attack it implies usually doesn't go through, but is averted by denouncing the suicide as irrational or immoral or both. Not that the status threat idea is needed to explain this behavior, it's obvious enough why such memes would exist. So on the whole, I think suicide isn't perceived as high status.

Now there are exceptions to this. Cultural conventions may exempt certain groups from the suicide prohibition and even explicitly mark it high-status for them, as in the case of the samurai. I expect that suicide wasn't high-status if committed by a Japenese commoner.

Then there are artists in our culture, for which suicide doesn't seem to be particularly low-status. I suspect that this is because they are, to some extent, granted a special position and seen as not playing society's game anyway.

And then there are some small circles where suicide is considered perfectly respectable or even high-status (this would be the traditional European intellectuals, I suppose), but that kind of local status-reversal happens for all kinds of things in various subcommunities.

I think one might want to make a distinction between society's proclaimed statement that suicide is immoral and how it is biologically wired. If biologically, we are wired to perceive suicide as high-status and it causes obvious negative effects, especially to the community, then it makes sense that as a society we have evolved to proclaim it as low-status.

For example, Japan has one of the world's highest suicide rate. My guess is that it as Japan's society proclaims less than others that suicide is low-status. This might be part of causation architecture behind the high suicide rate.

If biologically, we are wired to perceive suicide as high-status and it causes obvious negative effects, especially to the community, then it makes sense that as a society we have evolved to proclaim it as low-status.

You're right. I didn't take into account that it may be possible for something to be high-status without people acknowledging it as such (even to themselves), depending on what exactly our internal status assessor is sensitive to.

Do you think this theory has some weight?

I think it does, but it would be fair to also consider a possible alternative explanation, given at a website intended for people who are feeling suicidal: [Suicide] happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain. (emphasis mine)

I happen to think that reasons for desiring to commit suicide probably differ between different individuals, and thus each of these theses have some explanatory power.

Status-hits are some of the most painful events in your life. Thoughts of suicide often emerge when you're feeling down since suicide is a possible escape and will reduce the pain.

But I agree that status also plays a role in the decision to kill yourself. If you really blow your brains out you can credibly signal that you were feeling really low and gain some sympathy and compassion. I guess ending one's own existence has also a unique, almost heroic flair to it. But that's maybe just my morbid sense of life.

What I am saying is that suicide has been associated with high-status.

At the moment I'm not exactly sure about the nature of your claim. What specific predictions would be true if your claim is true? What predictions would be false?

Thoughts of suicide are almost certainly not triggered as a way of regaining status unless they're thought of by a person whose culture encourages that course of action, or for some other reason already thought of suicide that way before an actual embarrassment happened. Your subsequent thoughts may be about the status of suicide, and those subsequent thoughts may reinforce the initial thought, but the initial thought being first triggered as a status mechanism seems far-fetched.

Do you feel a sense of pressure, not necessarily of anxiety, when an embarrassment happens?

Although I consider suicide courageous, I would consider my own suicide as admitting to low status and failure and thereby lowering my status even further. In order to avoid the further drop in status by committing such an act, I would probably choose to "disappear"... which may be one of the reasons so many people do indeed disappear without a trace.

Likewise, for some, seeking help exacerbates their sense of failure and low status. If status is at the root of suicidal ideation, this could create a barrier for many people to seek help.

This insight was very useful to me. I now understand why I often imagine the end of the world with me as the "last man standing"! Why kill yourself off in your mind when you can kill off everyone else?

People get suicidal in response to very bad things, status loss is and tends to accompany very bad things. What else is there to explain?

"What else is there to explain?"

After about 0.5 seconds of thought, I might become interested whether suicide after status-loss has a different frequency in different cultures, and if yes, whether this difference can be explained in the respective way of handling the death of the person. The simple emotional question behind that is whether in all cultures suicides after a status-hit are more strongly motivated by the pain of the status-loss itself, or also by the expected development after death. I might even be interested in whether this question makes sense at all. Still, it remains something to be explained.

Also, "What else is there to explain?" sounds suspiciously like "Are you so stupid to not see that?".

At the risk of saying something obvious, there's a possible confound: You have to make sure that the cultures assigning high status to suicide don't assign extra-low status to refraining from it (à la "it really would have been the decent thing for him/her to kill him-/herself"), so that those not committing suicide will experience greater status loss in this culture than in others that don't assign high status to suicide.

There's also the problem of comparing cross-culturally the severity of status loss.

What else is there to explain?

The fact that the suicidal person frequently seems to be posthumously awarded status.