A suicide note or death note is a message left behind before a person has committed suicide, or who intends to commit suicide.
It is estimated that 25–30% of suicides are accompanied by a note. According to Gelder, Mayou and Geddes (2005) one in six leaves a suicide note. The content can be a plea for absolution or blaming family and friends for life's failings. However, incidence rates may depend on ethnicity, method of suicide, and cultural differences, and may reach rates as high as 50% in certain demographics. A suicide message can be a written note, an audio message, or a video.
According to Lenora Olsen, the most common reasons that people contemplating suicide choose to write a suicide note include one or more of the following:
- To ease the pain of those known to the victim by attempting to dissipate guilt.
- To increase the pain of survivors by attempting to create guilt.
- To set out the reason(s) for suicide.
- To express thoughts and feelings that the person felt unable to express in life.
- To give instructions for disposal of the remains.
- Occasionally, to confess acts of murder or some other offence.
Sometimes there is also a message in the case of murder–suicide, explaining the reason(s) for the murder(s), see for example, Marc Lépine's suicide statement and videotaped statements of the 7 July 2005 London bombers.
Notable people who left suicide notes
- Leelah Alcorn—Transgender American teenager who committed suicide after facing the opposition from her parents and being subjected to conversion therapy. She left a note detailing her experiences and pleading for change. The message attracted international attention.
- Leandro Alem—Argentinian lawyer, politician and senator who killed himself in 1896 after being betrayed by his fellow Radical-party members, who gave themselves to the fraudulent regime then in power in the country, at least according to his view. He left a note denouncing them and his own nephew and heir to the leadership of his party, the future president Hipólito Yrigoyen.
- Korechika Anami—"I—with my death—humbly apologize to the Emperor for the great crime." Historians are divided as to what crime he was referring to. It is possibly a reference to his part in the aborted coup against the Emperor Hirohito in the hours following Japan's decision to surrender at the end of World War II.
- Roger Angleton—murderer and brother of famous bookmaker Robert Angleton.
- José Manuel Balmaceda—Chilean president.
- J. Clifford Baxter—Enron Corporation executive.
- Clara Blandick—American film actress, most famous for playing Aunt Em in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Her note stated, "I am now about to make the great adventure".
- Eustace Budgell—English writer: "What Cato did, and Addison approved, cannot be wrong."
- Leslie Cheung—Hong Kong actor and musician who suffered from clinical depression.
- Eduardo Chibás—Cuban politician and radio celebrity, killed himself during the broadcast of his programme, making his speech during it a kind of oral suicidal note, protesting against the widespread corruption of the reigning regime.
- Christine Chubbuck—American anchor of WXLT TV (Sarasota, Florida) who committed suicide during a newscast.
- Kurt Cobain—lead singer of Nirvana. The note is addressed to his childhood imaginary friend, and gives his reasons for leaving Nirvana, followed by a message to his wife, Courtney Love, and to his daughter, Frances Bean Cobain. The note made reference to Freddie Mercury and famously quoted "Hey Hey, My My" from Neil Young's album Rust Never Sleeps.
- Ida Craddock—Facing prison in 1902 for sending through the U.S. Mail sexually explicit marriage manuals she had authored, Craddock penned a lengthy public suicide note to her readers condemning Anthony Comstock, sponsor of the Comstock Act under which she was convicted.
- Ian Curtis—Lead singer of Joy Division. In the early hours of 18 May 1980, Curtis hanged himself in the kitchen of his house at 77 Barton Street, Macclesfield. He had just viewed Werner Herzog's film Stroszek and listened to Iggy Pop's The Idiot.
- Adam Czerniaków—head of the Judenrat in the Warsaw Ghetto. He refused to help round up Jews and committed suicide on July 23, 1942 by swallowing a cyanide pill, a day after the commencement of mass extermination of Jews known as the Grossaktion Warsaw. He left his wife a note that read: "They are demanding that I kill the children of my people with my own hands. There is nothing for me to do but to die." His other note to one to his fellow members of the Judenrat, explained: "I can no longer bear all this. My act will prove to everyone what is the right thing to do."
- Dalida—popular French singer. She wrote, "Life has become unbearable ... forgive me."
- Brad Delp—Lead vocalist of the rock band Boston who left the following note: "Mr. Brad Delp. "J'ai une âme solitaire". I am a lonely soul."
- Budd Dwyer—Pennsylvania politician who, during a recorded televised news conference, read a prepared statement and then shot himself.
- George Eastman—Inventor of 35 mm film and founder of Eastman Kodak. His note simply read, "To my friends: my work is done. Why wait?"
- Lee Eun-ju—She left a suicide note scrawled in blood, in which she wrote, "Mom, I am sorry and I love you." A separate note said, "I wanted to do too much. Even though I live, I'm not really alive. I don't want anyone to be disappointed. It's nice having money... I wanted to make money."
- Justin Fashanu—gay English soccer player, charged with sexual assault in Maryland. His suicide note denied the charges, stating that the sex was consensual, and that he had fled to England because he felt he could not get a fair trial because of his homosexuality, and it added "I realised that I had already been presumed guilty. I do not want to give any more embarrassment to my friends and family."
- James Forrestal—Former United States Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Navy.
- Vince Foster— Deputy White House Counsel during the first few months of U.S. President Bill Clinton's administration, and also a law partner and friend of Hillary Rodham Clinton. A suicide note of sorts, in actuality a draft resignation letter, was found torn into 27 pieces in his briefcase. The letter contained a list of complaints, specifically including, "The WSJ editors lie without consequence" and lamenting, "I was not meant for the job or the spotlight of public life in Washington. Here ruining people is considered sport."
- Misao Fujimura—high school student studying philosophy who wrote the suicide note on a tree; the suicide resulted in many copycat suicides (see Werther effect).
- Romain Gary—He wrote a suicide note explaining the reasons of his suicide and then shot himself in the mouth. Apart from his suicide note, he had stated: "I really had fun. Goodbye and thank you."
- Pete Ham—Leader of the rock group Badfinger. Ham's note blamed the group's manager for his financial ruin, calling him "...a soulless bastard. I will take him with me."
- Tony Hancock—British comedian, who died in 1968. Suicide note included the line "Things just went wrong too many times".
- Mitchell Heisman, a 35-year-old who held a bachelor's degree in psychology from Albany University. His suicide note was notable due to its unconventional format; at 1,905 pages, spanning topics concerning (and not limited to) human nature, society, religion, technology, and science, the suicide "note" was more akin to a grand philosophical tome. Heisman published his book, Suicide Note, online for free download within a day of finally shooting himself on the Harvard University Campus.
- Rudolf Hess—Nazi War criminal who committed suicide in Spandau Prison. "Thanks to the directors for addressing this message to my home. Written several minutes before my death."
- Jerzy Kosiński—Polish-American novelist. He wrote, "I am going to put myself to sleep now for a bit longer than usual. Call it Eternity."
- Martin Manley, former sports reporter for the Kansas City Star (not to be confused with the founder of the Alibris online bookstore, who shares the same name). To cut short his perceived ongoing descent into dementia, he committed suicide on his 60th birthday in the parking lot of a police station, shooting himself while still on the phone with 911 informing them of the act. Manley spent over a year preparing an extensive website outlining the rationale behind his suicide. While Yahoo soon took it offline, citing a violation of its TOS, mirrors of the entire site are still available.
- Yukio Mishima—Japanese writer. His suicide note explained his reasons for attempting to incite mutiny amongst the Japanese self-defense forces.
- Roh Moo-hyun—former South Korean president. The note expressed his remorse to the people, claiming to be a "burden for others".
- John Noble - Las Vegas resident who left a 270-page note with a table of contents and a 2-hour DVD before shooting himself at the M Resort buffet after having a "free buffet for life" prize rescinded by the resort due to his subsequent behavior there.
- Per Yngve "Dead" Ohlin—Lead singer of the black metal group Mayhem, whose suicide note famously read, in part, "Excuse all the blood" and included an apology for the loud gunshot.
- Freddie Prinze—American actor and comedian, famous for his role on the sitcom Chico and the Man. He is the father of Freddie Prinze Jr.
- Elliot Rodger—Mass murderer behind the 2014 Isla Vista massacre. He left behind a 108,000 word memo entitled My Twisted World and an eight-minute YouTube video describing what he was about to do.
- George Sanders—Academy Award-winning British actor. His note stated only: "Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck."
- Lisandro de la Torre—Argentinian lawyer, politician and senator who fought against his government's corrupt officers during the "Década Infame" (Infamous Decade) of the 1930s. Finally, abandoned by his allies and believing his struggle to be lost, he committed suicide, leaving a note describing the desperate situation he was in.
- Elliott Smith—Singer/songwriter who suffered from addiction and depression. The note, according to the coroner, read "I'm so sorry—love, Elliot. God forgive me." The misspelling of the name is believed to be the fault of the coroner, but it is still unclear whether it was a suicide or not.
- Pál Teleki—Incumbent Prime Minister of Hungary, who committed suicide on 3 April 1941, while he received a call that is thought to have advised him that the German army had just started its march into Hungary to invade Yugoslavia. He wrote his suicide note to Head of State and Regent Miklós Horthy.
- Hunter S. Thompson—Creator of gonzo journalism
- Getúlio Vargas—lawyer, politician and Brazilian president (1930–1945; 1950–1954) who used his suicide and suicide note (the "Carta Testamento") as a political weapon against his enemies.
- Mike Von Erich—Wrestler who died by suicide after thinking that he was not as good as he had been prior to a shoulder injury. His brothers Kerry and Chris also died by suicide.
- David Foster Wallace—Award-winning American novelist, short story writer, and essayist who left a two-page note and neatly arranged the manuscript for The Pale King before hanging himself on the patio.
- Bob Welch—Fleetwood Mac guitarist/vocalist from 1971 to 1974.
- Wendy O. Williams—Lead singer of American Punk band Plasmatics who left the following suicide note: "I don't believe that people should take their own lives without deep and thoughtful reflection over a considerable period of time."
- Virginia Woolf—English feminist author and poet. Her suicide note iterated that she feared she was on the brink of what would have been the latest in a series of breakdowns, and that she would rather die than endure another such episode. Her note concluded with a message to her husband telling him that she loved him and thanking him for the time they had together.
- "AIM Report: Critiquing Berman's Report on Foster". Accuracy in Media. 2001-06-01.
- "The significance of suicide notes in the elderly". 2002-05-01.
- "Incidence of note-leaving remains constant despite increasing suicide rates". Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences. 2005-04-01.
- Olsen, Lenora (2005). The Use of Suicide Notes as an Aid for Understanding Motive in Completed Suicides (Thesis). University of Utah.
- Taher, Abul; MacFarlane, Jo (2012-12-15). "Jacintha Saldanha: Tragic suicide note to DJs written by nurse after royal hoax call 'I hold you responsible' | Mail Online". London: Dailymail.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-10-02.
- "Mother left notes before deaths". London: bbc.co.uk. 2008-07-31. Retrieved 2008-10-28.
- "Suicide note reveals murder confession". London: bbc.co.uk. 1971-07-14. Retrieved 2008-10-28.
- "Man jailed for murder in lay-by". London: bbc.co.uk. 2008-03-01. Retrieved 2008-10-28.
- "Suicide note found in murder-suicide case". cbc.ca. 2000-06-23. Retrieved 2008-10-28.
- Israel Gutman, Resistance Published by Houghton Mifflin. Page 200.
- Israel Gutman, Resistance Published by Houghton Mifflin. Page 203.
- "Warsaw Ghetto". Holocaust Survivors.org Encyclopedia. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
- "Czerniaków's Biography". Diapoztyw.pl.
- Dominic Kennedy (10 September 1998). "US police say Fashanu lied about his sexuality". The Times.
Howard County Police yesterday gave The Times the first details of Fashanu's alleged lies after the Coroner for Poplar, East London, stated that the "fallen hero" had not been a wanted man at the time he hanged himself. The inquest heard evidence from a Scotland Yard detective that the Americans had made no request for Fashanu to be found or arrested. Howard County Police pointed out that this was because they did not know he was in England. Had they known, they would have begun extradition proceedings ... Justin Fashanu's suicide note, which was read out by the coroner, accused the boy of being a willing partner and a blackmailer. The youth told police that he woke in Fashanu's bed after a drinking party to find Fashanu performing a sex act on him. Fashanu was charged with second-degree sexual assault, and first-degree and second-degree assaults, which he denied. He faced a possible 20 years in jail. Homosexual acts are illegal in Maryland. An arrest warrant was issued by Howard County District Court on 3 April. By then, Fashanu's flat was empty.
- "Suicide verdict on footballer Fashanu". BBC News. 9 September 1998.
- Powell, Vicky (June 1998). "Suicide note increases speculation over death of Justin Fashanu". Gay Times (Millivres) (237).
- Steinberg, Jacques (December 11, 2003). "Robert L. Bartley, 66, Dies; Led Journal Editorial Page". The New York Times. Retrieved April 17, 2012.
- "suicide_note". Suicidenote.info. Archived from the original on 2010-09-25. Retrieved 2013-10-02.
- Finnegan, Leah (2010-09-24). "Man Who Killed Himself On Harvard's Campus Left 1,904-Page Note". Huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2013-10-02.
- Newcomer, Eric P. (2010-09-22). "Suicide Note Found Online | News | The Harvard Crimson". Thecrimson.com. Retrieved 2013-10-02.
- Breitbart, William; Rosenfeld, Barry. "Physician-Assisted Suicide: The Influence of Psychosocial Issues". Moffitt Cancer Center. Retrieved February 27, 2011.
Jerzy Kosiński, the Polish novelist and Holocaust survivor, committed suicide in May 1991. Like other individuals suffering with chronic medical illnesses, he chose suicide as a means of controlling the course of his disease and the circumstances of his death.
- Article in Newsweek, May 13, 1991.
- "Former Star sports statistics editor, blogger commits suicide at Overland Park police station". Retrieved August 19, 2013.
- "Martin Manley Life and Death - Home". Zeroshare.info. Retrieved 2013-10-02.
- "Martin Manley Life and Death - Home". Ussolutions.net. Retrieved 2013-10-02.
- "Suicide at M Resort blamed on loss of free buffet for life". Retrieved April 7, 2015.
- Max, D.T. (2012). Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, A Life of David Foster Wallace. London: Granta Books. p. 301. ISBN 978 1 84708 494 1.
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