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Nially_Bob's avatar

Why do some commit suicide by means of cutting their wrists?

Asked by Nially_Bob (3841 points ) August 8th, 2009

It is a reasonably well known fact that a method of attempting suicide is cutting the wrists, this act (if performed “correctly”) causes intense and rapid haemorrhaging which can render the person taking such action dead in a relatively short period of time.
I have pondered recently why it is that someone would choose to kill themselves in such a seemingly torturous fashion. Surely with the many other methods at ones disposal cutting the wrists would seem one of the less desirable? Is it largely due to the low fatality rate (some sources claim it to be 1% of ‘cutting incidents’ that lead to fatalities) attached to wrist cutting? If so then isn’t this counter-productive to ones key objective in performing the act?
Any insights on the matter (perhaps even personal stories if one is entirely comfortable sharing such with others) would be appreciated.

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42 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

It has a long and dignified tradition, especially dating from the Roman Empire, and it is widely thought to be a peaceful way to die.

Another reason may be that sometimes suicide is an act of extreme anger, and wrist-slitting is a vivid way to display one’s rage.

richardhenry's avatar

I would imagine that after the initial burst of pain, the rest of the process is rather calming as you lose blood and become drowsier and drowsier.

What a horrible conversation.

tramnineteen's avatar

It’s obvious, and all you need is a knife. Everyone has heard of it and it may seem simple etc.

whitenoise's avatar

My understanding is that, in general, the time between the impuls to commit suicide and the act is only a few minutes. Most suicide attempts are not well planned and thought through. I guess, when under pressure, people become less creative and fall back to those methods that come to mind: train, building, wrists.

Resonantscythe's avatar

I would think that it’s because that’s the spot were a person’s veins are most visible(from their perspective) so it follows easily that flow would flow out quickly.

hug_of_war's avatar

Everyone has a knife.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Basically, because it’s effective. If you have a sharp blade, it hurts less.

theabk's avatar

This is an extremely ineffective way to commit suicide – it’s very unlikely you would bleed to death before your veins would clot. The veins you see on your wrists are very superficial and, being on your wrists, are also very distal (far away from the center of the body).

Some people may attempt suicide this way because they really think they will die (and of course it’s theoretically possible, for example if you had some kind of clotting disorder, so I’m not recommending it – obviously), but more often wrist slitting is in the “suicide gesture” category. Classically this is a kind of behavior associated with personality disorders (most typically borderline personality disorder). It’s usually more of a “cry for help” (or, to be more cynical, a “cry for attention”) than an actual attempt to end one’s life. Still, a bad idea.

filmfann's avatar

It’s not as easy as it seems. I tried it once, and just made a mess.
Thankfully, it didn’t work, and it didn’t even scar.

avvooooooo's avatar

“Cutting incidents” refer to those who self-mutilate, NOT those who are attempting to commit suicide. In those cases, people cut in order to feel a sense or relief or control or some other benefit that they get from cutting themselves. Occasionally, as in that 1% that source was probably referring to, someone cuts too deep or too much and is unable to control the bleeding. That is an ENTIRELY different thing than attempting suicide by cutting one’s wrists.

I would imagine that if there is a low fatality rate due to wist cutting it would be because of second thoughts, being found, or because the individual simply did it wrong. In order to really bleed out, you have to cut vertically and very deep. Most people don’t. Also, most people don’t know the other things that help this be an effective method. Ignorance, in this instance, saves lives instead of the other way around (which is far more common).

If people are looking for a way out, guns are the quickest and surest way to do it. This, fyi, is the method most often choses by males. Other methods, like hanging, are also pretty much sure things. There are very few factors in these methods that could make them not result in death. In wrist cutting, there are many factors that can make this a dramatic, but ineffectual way to attempt suicide. As of the 70s, 1% of all suicides are achieved by cutting. 59% are achieved by firearms. There are “better” methods for achieving an end than others.

One of the common misconceptions is that wrist cutters “don’t mean it” or are only doing it for attention. If suicide is the intention, they do in fact “mean it.” However, if cutting as a coping method, as self-mutilation, is being discussed then no, people aren’t meaning to kill themselves. There are two different ideas here that are readily confused and lead to bad statistics and bad information.

Resonantscythe's avatar

@theabk The effectiveness depends. If you cut along the vein, you’re pretty much done.

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whitenoise's avatar

@tyrantxseries that’s pretty sick. I hope that whenever people might come in despair, this image has not yet met them.

theabk's avatar

@Resonantscythe: I believe cutting along the vein would make a lethal injury more likely, but I’m not convinced it would be likely. Veins are a low pressure system; blood oozes rather than spurts out. During vascular surgeries on small veins there is always a lot of effort exerted to prevent the veins from spasming closed or clotting off. Still, I’m no expert on vein bleeding, and in a brief search I wasn’t able to find much data on this – as always I would be convinced by good data. :)

Kayak8's avatar

I have a hunch that wrist slitting is more common among males than females. I would expect that females over 25 would be less likely to do something so messy that someone else would have to clean up. Or if a woman did it, it would be in a bathtub full of water to reduce the overall mess. I need to see if I can find evidence to bear out my hunch . . .

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juwhite1's avatar

Most wrist cutting attempts are more about behaving in a dramatic fashion to get the attention and help one desperately needs, and not an actual desire to die… thus the cuts are usually placed across the wrist in a shallow cut (cutting across the wrists is not very effective due to tendons protecting the underlying arteries, and generally, at most, leads to severed veins which do not bleed out well). Every once in awhile, though, someone actually manages to get the job done accidentally. It is when people come into the hospital or morgue with cuts running up their wrists rather than across them that we know that person really did indeed intend to die. I think that as far as methods go, it isn’t a bad one. While I’d probably opt for carbon monoxide poising, there are many advantages to wrist cutting… it does not disfigure or discolor your remains, it is relatively clean, especially when done in the bathtub which seems to be a popular option (clean as opposed to shooting oneself or jumping from a building), and it is also relatively painless… you only feel the pain of that one cut until you pass out.

juwhite1's avatar

Before anyone gets concerned… I have no intent of actually doing this and have only thought it out so much because I used to work on the admission ward of a psychiatric hospital.

samanthabarnum's avatar

Wrist cutting for the intent to kill yourself and wrist cutting to help cope with pain are two completely different things that happen to get crossed and end up hurting people. There’s no risk for someone who isn’t planning on killing themselves. It’s an outlet, a way to cry for attention, and a way to deal with emotional pain. Unfortunately, and I’ve had only too much experience with it, people assume that when you cut your wrists even lightly as a way to cope with emotional pain, people take it as a suicide attempt. Most of the time, it’s not.

avvooooooo's avatar

@juwhite1 Judging the intent by the way a person tries to cut their wrists is ridiculous. Ignorance of how to properly do the thing does not mean that the person was any less bent on killing themselves, any less serious about ending their life, than the person who did it correctly. Labeling all ignorant attempts as a dramatic attention getting ploy is more ignorant than the people who don’t know the method.

@Kayak8 The bathtub full of water increases efficacy of this method instead reducing cleanup.

@samanthabarnum “No risk” from cutting is not accurate. People do accidentally hurt themselves more than they intend from time to time and can end up with infections depending on the instrument used in the cutting and wound care. I agree with you that assuming that all wrist cutting is suicidal is wrong. Similarly, I strongly believe that labeling all incorrectly done suicide attempts as cutting or a dramatic attention getting method is also wrong. In most cases, people err on the side of caution which generally does get the people who are doing it because they wish to die (even if they “did it wrong”), help. It might be inconvenient for recreational cutters, but its the way to go. To me, the important part is not treating people who are serious about killing themselves like they aren’t really serious because they didn’t know how to go about cutting their wrists to commit suicide.

samanthabarnum's avatar

@avvooooooo Well, not exactly no risk. The way I’ve seen it done a lot (and done in the past) holds no risk. I never said to not err on the side of caution, but also understand that erring on the side of caution in some scenarios (again, only from personal experience) can lead to more problems and more stress for unnecessary hospital visits (without any care to the minor wounds) due to overzealous and over-estimating people.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

I would guess if you are intent on doing the cutting yourself, the jugular vein on the left side of the neck would be the most efficient. Messy, but quick.

When I had my suicidal thoughts, I simply chose the most convenient route. Well, let’s say I almost chose it, as I am still here to tell about it. Falling down under the wheels of a moving loaded semi trailer a mere arm’s length away.

As someone else up there said, the idea to do away with ones’ self is usually an act of impulse, not often well planned or thought out. I got medication and am now quite happy with my life, and no longer feel the need to end it, much to the annoyance of those who despise me. =)

dannyc's avatar

Despair, great despair. If you think someone is at that brink, help them as best you can. The mechanism is unimportant, the result is tragic. more tragic than the mechanism.

Supacase's avatar

My guess would be they either believe they deserve the pain or are acting out on extreme rage they feel toward themselves.

cbloom8's avatar

I think it deals with psychology. Suicide by cutting makes that person feel their internal pain there at the end. It’s also manifesting the pain so the person doesn’t feel so bad about killing themselves; they do this to justify that that was how their lives felt, and this is the answer.

Pat_thebear89's avatar

I have always seen wrist cutting as a last attempt to see the world before departing. It isnt as fast as one would put it. Of course it becomes a rapid bleeding problem, but its a slow painless way to go. You loose blood with out having to to deal with other forms of suicide that makes things considerably painful. Hanging is you hurt the throat, while loosing air and passing out, falling is just hell for someone afraid of heights, and you get the rest. But wrist cutting you sit back and bleed to death while you watch the world close in and see what is tries to show you before going. Either you are leaving the the harsh reality you thought it was to make it better or seeing that you are leavinga misunderstood beauty before dieing.

filmfann's avatar

@cbloom8 and @Pat_thebear89 Welcome to Fluther..Lurve.

wundayatta's avatar

I object to people saying that suicide is “just” a cry for attention, as if crying for attention is a manipulative, insincere thing. I think people kill themselves because the pain is just too much. I don’t think anyone really wants to die, but they just don’t see any realistic alternative.

It’s not like any one method is somehow less serious than any other. People survive bullets to the head. They survive ten story falls.They survive pills, wrist-cutting, and many other things.

The pain gets to be too much when you are nothing to yourself, and you know that you are nothing to anyone else. The “call for attention” is implicitly asking for someone else to prove that “I am nothing; the world is better off without me” is not true.

I think hope dies very hard, but that it doesn’t last forever. Sometimes trying to kill yourself is the only way that other people begin to see that something is very wrong in your world. People can’t always reply to this plea in a way that breaks through to the worthless, desperate person. Sometimes they don’t get a chance. When the pain is relentless and when you know it will never end, you take your “cure” seriously, but that doesn’t mean you want that end. You’d really rather get rid of the pain in some other way, if only that were possible. It is not always possible for other people to respond to the “call for help.” Therapy and meds and love can’t always get through to relieve the pain and let hope come back. But I’m sure people would rather end the pain without ending their lives. They only do it as a last resort. At least, that’s what I believe.

mattbrowne's avatar

It’s a cry for help and people are hoping to survive. Those who are dead serious about suicide choose other methods.

avvooooooo's avatar

@mattbrowne That ignorant statement and attitude are exactly the problem when talking about and dealing with suicide attempts. Just because people do not succeed does not mean that they are any less serious about killing themselves or that they need any less help than someone who botched another method and lived through it.

theabk's avatar

@avvooooooo I think you might be misinterpreting what some of us mean by “a cry for help”; we are not saying that it is just some kind of silly gesture – I, for one, fully respect the profound suffering and hopelessness that leads people to do something like this, and I do not think it means that they need less help or are less miserable. However, it is a fact that a person is hundreds of times more likely to die from a gunshot to the head, hanging, or jumping from a height than from slitting their wrists, and most people realize this. Therefore, I think it’s impossible to deny that most people who use one of the more lethal methods are more intent on truly ending their lives, while people who slit their wrists are less likely to have despaired completely yet and often continue to have some hope that they can be helped. Of course, there are exceptions and some people may think that they are really going to die from slitting their wrists. (I’m talking here only about suicide attempts and gestures, not about cutting.)

avvooooooo's avatar

@theabk The problem persists. Your statement “some people may think that they are really going to die from slitting their wrists” implies your belief that most people who cut their wrists “don’t mean it.” As opposed to the other methods you mentioned, this is one of the “cleaner” ways to die. That may be a consideration that one makes in planning the way they want to kill themselves. Many people do believe that wrist cutting in order to commit suicide is an easy way to die. Many of them don’t know the ways to make it effective. Just because they don’t succeed does not mean that they were merely doing it for attention or because they didn’t really mean it. Ignorance, as I’ve already said, of how to correctly cut one’s wrists in order to die saves lives here. You’re still sitting there with your misconceptions saying that they don’t really mean it. Wrong. Just because people do not succeed does not mean that they did not intend to succeeed, whatever method they used incorrectly.

theabk's avatar

@avvooooooo I’m really not trying to say anything controversial here. There is certainly nothing controversial (or deniable) about the fact that among people who attempt suicide, there is a range as to how certain a person is that he or she really does not want to live. Some people have made up their minds 100%; others (fortunately) continue to feel some ambiguity. While there will of course be many exceptions, those who are more certain they want to die are more likely to choose a more lethal method and those who are not as certain will be more likely to choose a less lethal method.

Again, saying that a person is not sure that he or she wants to die is not the same as saying that they don’t “mean” how much they are suffering or need help. There are many different kinds of people and many different kinds of suffering. Some involve a final, certain decision to stop living and some involve more complex feelings about living or dying.

avvooooooo's avatar

@theabk What method someone is more likely to use depends on the person. People who are interested in leaving a decent looking corpse are more likely to slit their wrists than blow their brains out and half their head off. Ditto for hanging, jumping from heights, drowning and other methods that leave a corpse looking not so cute. Saying, again, that someone is more likely to chose a more disfiguring and “lethal method” when many people do not have access to these methods (for example, people who do not have firearms or live in an area where the highest building is two stories tall) is not correct. The likelihood of an individual choosing a method depends on the individual, and also their access to various methods like a beam or something similar for hanging, a high place for jumping, a gun for shooting, pills for ingesting… But nearly everyone has something sharp for cutting. To say someone is not likely to chose this method if they really want to die is, again, denying it as anything more than a cry for help from someone who is not serious about taking their life. People are likely to chose the method that they have access to. And people are likely to succeed if they know what they’re doing, cut the right way, do it in a bathtub, and so on. They are not likely to succeed if they do it incorrectly, but they are no less suicidal or decided just because they’re ignorant.

Someone who does this, takes pills, starts the car in a garage, whatever and then makes sure they’re found is probably not certain and are doing it for dramatic effect. However, you can not stereotype any of these methods as people who are not certain they want to die because many people who do actually want to die use these methods successfully. Others try them without being successful because they didn’t do them properly or were happened across.

Yes, there are those who are not certain and who experience regret, doubt, whatever. But AGAIN, saying that all people who use this method, whether successfully or unsuccessfully, are not really meaning to die or are uncertain that they want to is, frankly, stupid.

learnerz's avatar

As a young teen I was interested in killing myself. I would walk through the kitchen and envision slitting my wrist. We didn’t have guns in the house; I lived amid blocks of one-story buildings; other methods seemed disgusting. in contrast the wrist slitting felt more like floating out of the river of life. There was no wikipedia to look up effective suicide methods. I would not have asked a librarian. No one discussed it so how would I be supposed to know it was not the most effective way to go? I had studied art and seen portraits of successful bath suicides. They seem to be the only kind portrayed in art.

I definitely “meant it”; there was no one I would have wanted to answer a “cry for help”; when i got my appendix out in an emergency surgery a few years later I was disappointed and angry that I woke up afterward and even more disappointed to see family in the few days that followed; they were the last people I wanted to show up; they had made my life the hell it was for years.

I have suspected that my appendix failure was my body’s way of following my wishes.

I never told anyone, except my therapist more than a decade later.

iloveaj's avatar

wow you people are stupied.commiting suicide is someones choice.im very suicidal.have been but i hide it.pple i dont wanna hear its bad and shiznit okay.

twinspired's avatar

To “mattbrowne” regarding your prior post which I will quote: “It’s a cry for help and people are hoping to survive. Those who are dead serious about suicide choose other methods.” MY RESPONSE: “mattbrowne”..I respect your opinion, however, I do not completely agree. Most often, those who choose suicide, (regardless of the method), know what they are doing and will do it well, (ie: complete the task). Often with no warning. Regarding this particular method, it is only a matter of direction. I know first-hand. I write this in memory of my brother…A strong man that appeared so happy…married just 5 months prior to his death. There was no warning…just a death. In my grief I can only say…to anyone who is feeling life is too much, too overwhelming, too stressful, too scary, too hurtful…please reach out to people like me who care. Life, I promise…gets better. It is worth living….The future holds many, many wonderful things. Just be strong.

wundayatta's avatar

Is there anything wrong with a cry for help? Well, yes, as it happens. In most cultures, people do not want to show weakness and they do not want to admit to needing help, particularly for something as unimportant as feeling bad. So, in truth, you can’t ask for help. And your feeling bad gets worse, and then you are caught between a rock and a hard place.

You don’t really want to die, but the pain is unbearable, and yet no one else will believe it is unbearable. You have no way to legitimately show anyone else you are in horrible pain. So after a while, it becomes clear, you have to die if you are to end the pain. But you don’t want to die. But the pain is no longer endurable.

So you give it perhaps one last chance. You try to die, but maybe not whole heartedly. Maybe someone will try to stop you. Maybe they will help you, although, of course, if you didn’t deserve any help before, after trying to kill yourself, you deserve help even less. Which means, if they do stop you, then you have to push their help away even harder than before.

It’s all about pride and wanting to care for yourself and being unable to, yet having no other option. You can’t ask anyone else for help because they would look down on you even more. It would be living suicide to ask for help.

This is the way it is for the mentally ill. Either someone gives us meds and we get better, or we figure out how to get better on our own (usually after years of suffering), or we finally manage to end the pain, even though we don’t really want to give up life. Usually that seems like the only choice, since no one will help or even believe we truly need help. I mean, for god’s sake! We’re mentally fucking ill. What the fuck do we know about reality?

Catch 22.

tinama32's avatar

I know for a fact that slitting the wrist is very fatal. My husband committed suicide by slitting his wrist at home. It took 10 minutes from the initial cut to death. It has been so very hard moving forward. Please if you are thinking about suicide, I am begging ask for help!!! There is nothing wrong with asking for help.

wundayatta's avatar

It’s not so easy. It can seem like no one really cares and no one would give help. No one wants you. Better to just disappear as quietly as possible, or, if you are angry, in some other way.

Luckily, I was able to find help. It was an odd kind of help, but it worked.

Response moderated
leroysway's avatar

I know that when one is in a state of rage, things hardly go with the intentions as planed, what ever it may be. I have tried before and failed. One of the worst days in my life to wake up in the hospital to know that I couldn’t even do that rite. Been giving this vein cut thing a lot of thought and I like the idea of fading away. Yes lack of blood can make you very cold and might even get little sick. As for me, I know that I can inflect the wound properly but have to do it in a state of mind without rage or some other thing that will most likely cause a mistake to happen. Want to do it rite. Not good at this place I guess.

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