A suicide note or death note is a message that states the author has committed (or plans to commit) suicide, and left to be discovered and read in anticipation of suicide.
It is estimated that 12–20% of suicides are accompanied by a note. According to Gelder, Mayou and Geddes (2005) one in six leave 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 note can be in written, audio, or video form.
According to Dr. Lenora Olson, 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 as to disposal of remains.
- Occasionally, those who have committed murder or some other offense will confess their acts in a note.
The most common reasons people contemplating suicide fail to write a note are:
- They are so focused on the practicalities of what they are about to do (e.g. loading a pistol or tying a noose, etc.) that the idea of leaving a note does not occur to them.
- Their choice to commit suicide was impulsive, or at least hasty enough that there was no time to compose a suicide note.
- They have nothing to say and/or nobody to say it to — common for those without surviving loved ones or other social relationships, such as the elderly.
- They feel that they cannot express what they wish to say.
- They simply do not wish to write about their choice, or cannot see any point in doing so.
- They are functionally or completely illiterate, or uncomfortable with written language.
- They hope the suicide will be considered to be an accident or homicide. This is common in those who wish to be buried in consecrated ground or hope their families will be able to collect on insurance.
Sometimes there is also a message in the case of murder–suicide, explaining the reason(s) for the murder(s), see e.g. Marc Lépine's suicide statement and videotaped statements of the 7 July 2005 London bombers.
According to forensic linguist John Olsson, forged suicide notes often contain negative social projections about people who commit suicide. A forged note might contain words like "cowardly," which rarely occur in genuine suicide notes.
Famous suicide notes
The following people have left famous suicide notes:
- Christine Chubbuck - WXLT TV (Sarasota, FL) anchor who committed suicide during a newscast.
- Wendy O. Williams - Lead singer of American Punk band Plasmatics who left 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."
- 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).
- Getulio 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.
- 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.
- Leandro Alem - Argentinian lawyer, politician and senator who took his own life 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.
- Yukio Mishima, Japanese writer. His suicide note explained his reasons for attempting to incite mutiny amongst the Japanese self-defence forces.
- 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.
- Roger Angleton - murderer and brother of famous bookmaker Robert Angleton.
- J. Clifford Baxter - Enron Corporation executive.
- Roh Moo-hyun, former South Korean President. The note expressed his remorse to the people, claiming to be a "burden for others".
- 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.
- 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.
- Clara Blandick - U.S. film actress, most famous for playing Auntie Em in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Her note stated, "I am now about to make the great adventure".
- 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.
- Dalida - popular French singer. She wrote, "Life has become unbearable ... forgive me."
- 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.
- Budd Dwyer - Pennsylvania politician who, during a recorded televised news conference, read a prepared statement and then shot himself.
- 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."
- George Eastman - Inventor of 35 mm film and founder of Eastman Kodak. His note simply read, "My work is done. Why wait?"
- Mike Von Erich - Wrestler who committed suicide after thinking that he was not as good as he had been prior to a shoulder injury. His brothers Kerry and Chris also committed suicide.
- Mitchell Heisman was a 35 year old man from Massachusetts who published a 1,905 page book entitled Suicide Note and then committed suicide on the steps of Memorial Church of Harvard University in September 2010.
- James Forrestal - Former United States Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Navy.
- 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".
- Freddie Prinze - U.S. actor and comedian, famous for his role on the sitcom Chico and the Man. Is the father of Freddie Prinze Jr.
- 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.
- Hunter S. Thompson - Creator of gonzo journalism
- 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.
- 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."
- 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
- 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."
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- "The significance of suicide notes in the elderly". 2002-05-01. http://taylorandfrancis.metapress.com/content/kkdxrceq8bd94qnh/m.
- "Incidence of note-leaving remains constant despite increasing suicide rates". Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences. 2005-04-01. http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1440-1819.2005.01364.x?cookieSet=1&journalCode=pcn.
- "Mother left notes before deaths". London: bbc.co.uk. 2008-07-31. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/west_midlands/7535330.stm. Retrieved 2008-10-28.
- "Suicide note reveals murder confession". London: bbc.co.uk. 1971-07-14. http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/14/newsid_2503000/2503395.stm. Retrieved 2008-10-28.
- "Man jailed for murder in lay-by". London: bbc.co.uk. 2008-03-01. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/lincolnshire/4762774.stm. Retrieved 2008-10-28.
- "Suicide note found in murder-suicide case". cbc.ca. 2000-06-23. http://www.cbc.ca/news/story/2000/06/23/note000623.html. Retrieved 2008-10-28.
- David Leafe (2009-07-03). "Dear Garry. I've decided to end it all: The full stop that trapped a killer | Mail Online". Dailymail.co.uk. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1197187/Dear-Garry-Ive-decided-end-The-stop-trapped-killer.html. Retrieved 2010-04-02.
- "Forrestal's Handwriting?", David Martin, Nov. 3, 2004.