The hunter-gatherer suicide connection

Suicide is still somewhat a riddle for evolutionary psychology. It was actually very rare in our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Daniel Everett tells the following story:

I thought would make them understand how important God can be in our lives. So I told the Pirahãs how my stepmother committed suicide and how this led me to Jesus and how my life got better after I stopped drinking and doing drugs and accepted Jesus. I told this as a very serious story. When I concluded, the Pirahãs burst into laughter. This was unexpected, to put it mildly. I was used to reactions like “Praise God!”with my audience genuinely impressed by the great hardships I had been through and how God had pulled me out of them. “Why are you laughing?” I asked. “She killed herself? Ha ha ha. How stupid. Pirahãs don’t kill themselves,” they answered. ( Don’t sleep, there are Snakes )

As rare as suicide was for hunter-gatherers in the past as common it has become for hunter-gatherers living in our “civilized world”:

And this is true for other hunter-gatherer groups. The Inuit have the highest suicide rate in the world:

And it gets even worse for Australian Aborigines, where children as young as five years old commit suicide:

Why do hunter-gatherers have such high suicide rates? The simple answer is that their traditional lifestyles have been disrupted and they find it hard to adapt to our “civilized world”. One may wonder what’s so bad about our civilized world? Well, it is a “farmer world” and it’s rules are mostly farmer rules.

I have argued before that that hunter-gatherer minds can be found in contemporary societies, reflected in personality traits (here in Myers-Briggs temperament types):

These hunter-gatherer types are somewhat less adapted to a farmer world and are often found among what are called neurodiverse people. Let’s check out what correlations there are between neurodiverse people and suicide:

Let’s add these:

And it gets worse for people with ADHD:

One might argue that this is not really surprising considering the many struggles people with ADHD and ASD have. However, there is another group of neurodiverse people who don’t struggle with pathology: the gifted. Gifted children as young as 5 years old (deja vu?) have been known to make suicide announcements and it has not become uncommon to see newspaper headlines like this one from last week:

What’s going on? It looks very much that hunter-gatherers and hunter-gatherer types born into “farmer societies” find it hard to survive. Of course, suicide is not an exclusive hunter-gatherer phenomenon, pastoralist types also often struggle as the following graph shows (whose authenticity I can’t verify, though):

When I started out researching the hunter-gatherer hypothesis, this was my first model of personality types, based on life-history theory and our ancestral model of subsistence:

It is very much consistent with the above graph regarding personality types and suicide. With such high rates of suicide, the last hunter-gatherers (and hunter-gatherer types) are fast becoming an “endangered species”. However, as I have argued before, the world needs hunter-gatherer (type)/neurodiverse people , urgently.

Originally published at on February 24, 2021.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store