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Short description: Scientific study of suicide and self-destructive behaviors
David - The Death of Socrates
Socrates about to take the poison cup (detail from The Death of Socrates)

Suicidology is the scientific study of suicidal behaviour, the causes of suicidalness and suicide prevention.[1] Every year, about one million people die by suicide, which is a mortality rate of sixteen per 100,000 or one death every forty seconds.[2] Suicidologists believe that suicide is largely preventable with the right actions, knowledge about suicide, and a change in society's view of suicide to make it more acceptable to talk about suicide. There are many different fields and disciplines involved with suicidology, the two primary ones being psychology and sociology.

Short history

Most suicidologists think about the history of suicide in terms of courts, church, press, morals, and society. In Ancient Greece, there were several opinions about suicide. It was tolerated and even lauded when committed by patricians (generals and philosophers) but condemned if committed by plebeians (common people) or slaves. In Rome, suicide was viewed rather neutrally, even positively because life was held cheaply.[clarification needed] During early Christianity, excessive martyrdom and a penchant toward suicide frightened church elders sufficiently for them to introduce a serious deterrent. Suicide was thought of as a crime because it precluded possibility of repentance, and it violated the sixth commandment which is Thou shall not kill. During this time, St. Thomas Aquinas emphasized that suicide was a mortal sin because it disrupted God's power over man's life and death. This belief took hold and for hundreds of years thereafter played an important part in the Western view of suicide. Over the last 200 years, the main focus of interventions to prevent suicide has moved from appeals to religious beliefs (which do not always motivate people in contemporary society, which is more secular) to effort at understanding, and preventing the psychological and social influences that lead to suicide.[3]

Parts of study

There are many points of study within suicidology. Suicidology studies not only death by suicide and attempted suicide but also partial self-destruction, suicidal ideation, parasuicide, and self-destructive behaviors and attitudes.[1] Suicidal ideation is when someone is having thoughts or showing gestures of suicide. For example, it could be as simple as someone saying that "life is not worth living any more" or it can be extreme as "I'm going to kill myself by jumping off a bridge." Parasuicide is when someone causes deliberate harm to themselves. For example, if someone were to take an overdose of medicine and live. Self-destructive behaviors are anything that cause harm to oneself. This can be intentional or unintentional. Some examples are alcoholism, risky sports, some sexual disorders, and eating disorders.[1] By way of a suicide note the person who is suiciding has the last word. It is also a way for the person to explain, bring closure (or not), to give guilt, to dictate wishes, to control, to forgive or to blame. Here is a list of the parts that might go into a suicide note.

Possible attributes of a suicide note
A need to control and direct
A plea for forgiveness
An absolution
Ambivalence and uncertainty
Poignant despair
Remorse and regret
Being a savior/being saved
Lack of pleasure


One of the first to contribute to the study of suicidology is Edwin S. Shneidman.[5] Shneidman is considered to be the father of suicidology. Shneidman's definition of suicide is a conscious act of self-induced annihilation, best understood as a multidimensional malaise in a needful individual who defines an issue for which suicide is perceived as the best solution. He thought of suicide as psychache or intolerable psychological pain. Another notable person in the field of suicidology is Emile Durkheim.[6] To Durkheim the word suicide is applied to all cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows will produce this result. Basically he saw suicide as an external and constraining social fact independent of individual psychopathology.

In David J. Mayo's definition there were four elements to suicide:

  1. A suicide has taken place only if a death has occurred.
  2. The death must be of one's own doing.
  3. The agency of suicide can be active or passive.
  4. It implies intentionally ending one's own life.

Sigmund Freud and Karl Menninger had similar views on suicide. Their definition of suicide had three different aspects. One was a murder involving hatred or the wish to kill. The second one was a murder by the self often involving guilt or the wish to be killed. The last one is the wish to die. They thought of suicide being a murderous death wish that was turned back upon one's own self. Freud also believed that we had two opposing basic instincts—life (eros) and death (thanatos)—and all instincts sought tension reduction. He also believed that suicide is more likely in advanced civilizations requiring greater repression of sexual and aggressive energy. Jean Baechler's definition of suicide was that suicide denotes all behavior that seeks and finds the solution to an existential problem by making an attempt on the life of the subject. Another worker in the field of suicidology was Joseph H. Davis. The definition he gave for suicide is a fatal willful self-inflicted life-threatening act without apparent desire to live; implicit are two basic components lethality and intent. Albert Camus also did some work in this field. He believed that whether one can live or chooses to live is the only truly serious philosophical problem. He also claimed that man created a god in order to be able to live without a wish to kill himself and that the only human liberty is to come to terms with death. He introduced Darwinian thought into his teachings.[1]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Maris, Berman, Silverman, Ronald, Alan, Mortan (2000). Comprehensive Textbook of Suicidology. New York: The Guilford Press. pp. 3. 
  2. "Suicide prevention (SUPRE)". WHO. 
  3. Shneidman, Edwin (2001). Comprehending Suicide Landmarks in 20th-Century Suicidology. 750 First Street, NE Washington DC 20002: American Psychological Association. pp. 5–15. 
  4. Shneidman, Edwin (2004). Autopsy of a Suicidal Mind. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 3–21. ISBN 978-0-19-517273-7. 
  5. Edwin Shneidman
  6. Emile Durkheim

External links

Journals related to suicidology