Psychological Theories of Suicide

Emile Durkhem Theory

Durkheim performed a classic study of suicide and published his conclusions in 1897 on the following reasons of the suicide:
  1. Egoistic-Not enough Integration. Due to a looser social network or belief system. For example Protestants are more likely to commit suicide than Catholics because the belief system is not as tight.
  2. Anomic-Not enough regulation. Society doesn't have enough control over individuals. Often in periods of economic depression does this occur. Because of such change people find it very hard to adapt.
  3. Altruistic-Too much integration. The person sacrifices their life for the benefit of others. For example suicide bombers or a recent case in the UK was that a family was set to be deported due to immigration however if the mother was a widow then they could stay so the father killed himself for the family's benefit.
  4. Fatalistic-Too much regulation. The individual has little freedom as a result of the control of society. For example slaves.
Thomas Masaryk Theory

Masaryk considered that the main basis of morality in society is religion. An increase in irreligiousity deregulates the social organism, makes people feel unhappy and increases social disorganization. Suicide, as well as mental illnesses, can be seen as a measure of societal disturbances: the suicide rates increase observed during the 19th century, for example, is interpreted by Masaryk as a result of increasing irreligiosity. Religion, he says, is a system that makes psychological life coherent because it offers a structured way of thinking.

Modern education destroys religious perspective without offering anything similar, because science does not include an ethical component. Without a structured and satisfactory perspective on life, people are more likely to take their lives and are higher exposed to mental sicknesses.

Dr. Sigmund Freud Theory

Dr. Sigmund Freud classified suicide as form of built up aggression or tension that causes inward animosity. Or, in other words, it represents a psychological conflict, which cannot be worked out due to the great force of melancholy and depression.

Benjamin Wolman Theory

Benjamin Wolman, a sociologist who theorized on the “anti-culture” of suicide, blamed estrangement and contemporary societal mechanization and alienation for growing suicide rates. Wolman sums up the sociological standpoint in his statement for the main reasons why so many people now tend to hurt one another and to hurt themselves:
  1. The estrangement inherent in our way of life;
  2. The decline of family ties;
  3. The depersonalization in human relations;
  4. The loss of the individual in a mass society.
The ability of people to internalize such aggression and turn it into self-criticism and self-hate is one of the most prominent ties between sociology and psychology. While most psychologists do not hold that society is so exceedingly influential in human development and personal motives, the connection is obviously there.

David Malan Theory

David Malan, a psychologist, suggests that suicide is the cause of accumulated trauma. Though it sounds extremely simplistic, most psychologists, to a certain degree, concur with this theory. Many psychiatrists feel suicide is a result of mental and emotional disturbances that are already present and which external circumstances worsen. Rather than outside forces, personality, character, temperament (which is often thought to be inherited, and thus biochemical), and emotional stability are all psychological factors. This shows suicide as being a personal reaction, with external forces merely contributing to the final outcome. Some views stress personality far more than others, however, and the psychological school that seems to have developed the dominant position on suicide is the psychodynamic approach.

Edwin Shneidman Theory

Edwin Shneidman, in an essay evaluating the psychodynamic view, explains most suicides are marked by ambivalence toward life and death, as well as feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. He explains a type of suicide, termed “egotic suicide,” results from a conflict of internal aspects of self to which the only response is the ending of the personality. Such internal aspects are not always as solitarily self-related as egotic conflict, however.

Krauss Theory

Krauss, in a discussion on psychosocial causes of suicide, explained Freud’s view that suicide is often the result of an unachieved goal or dysfunctional relationship, which is similar to the sociological standpoint. Krauss explains, however, in killing oneself one is really killing the internal representation of the unattainable object. The primary dispute between sociology and psychology, then, is whether the external or the internal has more power. Considering the superego is supposedly the internalization of external morals and parental values, all is relative. Internal and external factors are all relevant and the subjectivity is based, again, in terms of “reality”.

Eric Ericson Theory

There is a developmental theory from Erik Erikson in which life occurs in stages and when people perceive to be unsuccessful, the overwhelming feeling of guilt exceeds the ability to cope effectively.  The hopelessness theory is probably one of the more accepted psychological theories.  Hopelessness refers to Aaron Beck's cognitive triad which states an individual has a negative outlook on themselves, the future, and the world in general.

Dr. Joiner Theory

Dr. Joiner has proposed a theory of why people suicide which he believes is more accurate than previous formulations offered by writers like Edwin Schneidman, Ph.D. and Aaron Beck, MD. According to Schneidman's model, the key motivator which drives people to suicide is psychological pain. In Beck's understanding, the key motivator is the development of a pervasive sense of hopelessness. Dr. Joiner suggests that these are correct understandings but are also too vague to be useful for predictive purposes and not capable of offering a complete motivational picture.

Joiner proposes that there are three key motivational aspects which contribute to suicide. These are:
1)      a sense of being a burden to others,
2)      a profound sense of loneliness, alienation and isolation, and
3)      a sense of fearlessness.

All three of these motivations or preconditions must be in place before someone will attempt suicide. Psychological pain and a sense of hopelessness correspond roughly to Joiner's concepts of burdensomeness and alienation, and contribute to the content of much suicidal ideation. These are necessary but not sufficient preconditions for a suicide act, however. So long as a person remains fearful of death and the actions and consequences of the activities that will create death, the actual act of suicide is unlikely.

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