Different Theories of Suicide

Different Theories of Suicide

A few weeks ago I participated in a twitter chat (@SPSMChat). The discussion was about how Joiner’s Interpersonal Theory was the cause of suicide. The theory is the hypothesis that Perceived Burdensomeness (PB), Thwarted Belongingness (TB), and fearlessness of lethality all contribute to a suicide. Perceived Burdensomeness is when a person thinks they are a burden to society, their family, and their significant others. It is the “better off” type of feelings that are believed to go into suicidal thinking.

Thwarted belongingness (TB) is when a person believes that they are outcasts of society or group they belong to. They feel they do not belong to any such group and thus feel isolated and alone.

Fearlessness of lethality is a premise that the person doesn’t have a fear of death. It is like a Russian roulette towards death. An example of this is taken from the book Myth of suicide by Thomas joiner is Kurt Cobain. He was at first totally against the use of guns but then acclimated to them and then use a rifle to inflict his death. His lyrics speak to his struggle with suicide and depression as well as the pain he was feeling.

While Joiner’s theory does have some merit, it, like other theories of suicide cannot be proven due to the nature of the study. No ethic board would condone the death of the subject to prove a hypothesis.

The other theory that comes to mind is Shneidman’s theory of psychache as a causal factor in suicide. The here is that deep, unbearable pain is the reason behind suicidal thinking and action. In my own personal experience, I thought for a long time that I don’t belong to any group. And I also thought that I was a burden to others. But what drove me to the brink of death was the deep psychological pain that I was feeling, an element that I believe Joiner is lacking in his theory. If you combine psychological pain with TB and PB then you have a nice recipe for suicide.

There is some merits with Joiner’s Interpersonal theory of suicide but I believe whole heartedly he is missing the key element of pain. I really believe that if he adds psychological pain to his theory it will be a valid theory, in my opinion.

5 thoughts on “Different Theories of Suicide

  1. I think calling this a “Theory of Suicidal Behavior” is reaching, as far as I can see it isn’t a unifying explanation of suicide, so I think the use of theory can not apply. Maybe if he narrowed it to ‘depression based suicide’ or something, or if he said it this explained some suicidal behaviours, but what he’s talking about certainly isn’t all suicides.

    Your mention of pain makes sense to me. There are many headache suffers who chose to end their lives, those with cluster headaches for instance, and I recall there was a man who had a migraine for 5 years and elected to end his life.
    Joiner’s “theory” also leaves out those who desire to die because they feel they will no longer be themselves, or have a satisfactory quality of life, especially those suffering from a disease progresses. All varieties of what would be assisted suicide, but also those things which are simply from mental distress.
    Disassociation caused me to feel suicidal. It was like having a glass wall between my body and my brain. I could still interact with everyone, my friends kept company with me, and I knew my family loved me, it’s just I couldn’t tell how *I* felt about it. Because I was also depressed, when I felt connected to myself and “in the moment” it was almost always unpleasant.
    I guess someone could argue that is similar to social isolation, but I think that’s twisting words, it is an internal sensation, not external isolation. It was simply not about other people, I was disconnected from the inside out, not the outside in.


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