What leads someone to attempt suicide?
Suicide is a complex problem with no single cause. However, there are models from psychology research that can help us understand the experiences and thought process of someone struggling with suicidal thoughts.
The Desire (Loneliness and Burdensomeness) + Capability to die: The Interpersonal theory of suicide
(Joiner, 2005; van Orden et al., 2010)
The desire and ideations about suicide have been thought to stem from two factors: ‘Thwarted Belongingness’ – feeling alone and not part of a family, friends, group or community, and ‘Perceived Burdensomeness’ – thinking that one is a burden to the people or society around them.
However, moving from ideation to suicide attempts/behaviour also requires the Capability to do so. This can come from exposure to suicide-related information and methods (especially with the ease of accessing these materials on the internet), access to lethal means, and getting used to the fear of death and pain through self-injury or other non-fatal attempts. Past suicide attempts are therefore a predictor of future attempts, and it is important to look out for those who have attempted in the past.
Gatekeepers or Peer Supporters can therefore make a great impact, providing support and companionship to someone who feels alone, and through their care, reminding them that they are a valued member of the community.
The Integrated Motivational-Volitional Model: Triggers –> Defeat –> Trapped with no escape –> Suicidal thoughts and actions
(IMV; O’Connor, 2011; O’Connor & Kirtley, 2018)
This model expands on the previous to holistically include more individual risk and protective factors in suicide.
Every person is unique, with their own genetics, past experiences and circumstances. This means that one life event could have little impact on one person, while triggering a crisis in another. The IMV model takes this into account by showing the background factors underlying suicide motivation. When someone experiences a triggering stressful event that interacts with their background and environment to be experienced as a crisis, this can lead to the experience of Defeat or humiliation. This in turn can affect one’s view of oneself, and their emotional regulation and problem-solving ability, which can lead to a state of entrapment in their situation.
When feeling trapped, that person may think that they have no escape besides suicide, hence the motivation towards suicide develops. Note that someone who is suicidal may not necessarily want to end their life, but end their immense suffering in the current situation. Factors that may help or hinder someone in this stage from developing suicidal intent include thwarted belongingness and burdensomeness mentioned in the previous model, as well as thoughts and goals for the future, resilience, and social support.
Lastly, the gap between ideation to suicidal behaviour is similarly influenced by access to means, exposure to suicide-related information, past attempts and being desensitized to pain and fear, as well as personal factors such as impulsivity and having constant thoughts or imagery about death.
Gatekeepers can take extra initiative to be aware of anyone who has experienced recent stressful life events, has made suicide attempts in the past or has been showing interest in topics related to self-harm and suicide.