Monday, September 15, 2014

Writing 101: Why Do So Many Authors Commit Suicide?

Suicide. It's certainly a dark topic, but to ignore it completely would be an injustice to literature. Many authors have written poignantly about suicide from a variety of different angles. And many more authors have actually killed themselves. In fact, the number of authors who have is rather startling. So today I have to ask, why do so many authors commit suicide...and are we more at risk than people with non-writing careers? 

Gone, Not Forgotten

Some of the most brilliant authors committed suicide. The list includes Virginia Woolf, who filled her pockets with rocks before she walked into the river at age 59. Edgar Allen Poe clearly thought about death a great deal, as evidenced by his work, and tried to kill himself at least once before he died under mysterious circumstances in 1849 at age 40.

Novelist Cesare Pavese was disillusioned by politics and overdosed on pills in his hotel room. In a bizarre twist, the suicide mirrored a scene depicted in his book Among Women Only. He was 41. Paul Celan, who wrote poetry, was 49 when he threw himself into the Seine.

One of the most notable author suicides is that of Sylvia Plath. It's notable because she wrote about suicide in The Bell Jar, a book that continues to be studied and shared all over the world. The dark tale details a young woman's thoughts about suicide. The work is largely autobiographical, though Plath changed all the names. She did commit suicide shortly after the book was written and died at age 30. 

Are you a danger to yourself if you're an author? 

Are You At Risk?

So, are authors more prone to suicide? According to some research, it's possible. Psychologist James C. Kaufman studied what he named The Sylvia Plath effect in 2001. His studies show a potential link between creative writers and mental illness, though his findings are preliminary. According to his research, female poets are more inclined toward mental illness than female fiction writers and male writers of any kind. In another study, female writers were found to be more likely to experience eating disorders, anxiety and panic attacks. However, research shows that all women are more inclined toward mental illness than men. They are more likely to experience depression, and married women are twice as likely to be depressed as single women. Sylvia Plath was married when she committed suicide.

Career-related studies in suicide do not show a link between authors and self-inflicted death. According to numerous studies, physicians are more likely to kill themselves than those in any other job. Other top at-risk jobs include real estate agents, lawyers, farmers, electricians, pharmacists and natural scientists.

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