Florida State University Bright-Burton Professor of Psychology Thomas Joiner has spent much of his career trying to find out why. After all, lots of people are hopeless and depressed, many severely. Why do some people choose to end their own lives and others don't? The answer, he believes, could save lives.
"There's an idea that suicide is a mode of death that stands apart from others, but there are clear reasons why people die by suicide," said Joiner, an internationally recognized suicide expert. "Just like heart disease, if you understand it, you can prevent it."
In a groundbreaking theory outlined in his new book, "Why People Die By Suicide," (Harvard University Press), Joiner says that those who kill themselves not only want to die, they have learned to overcome the instinct for self-preservation.
The desire for death, according to Joiner, is composed of two psychological states: a perception of being a burden to others and a feeling of not belonging. Alone, neither of these states is enough to instill the desire for death, but together they produce a desire that can be deadly when combined with the acquired ability to enact self-injury.
So how does one overcome the natural instinct for self-preservation? In a word: Practice. In Joiner's theory, suicide victims literally "work up" to the act by getting used to danger, fear and pain. They may do this in a variety of ways over their lifetime.
For some this practice is deliberate. They engage in reckless behavior, cut or otherwise hurt themselves or have repeated suicide attempts. Others may have a history of accidents or medical procedures while still others become inured vicariously. Perhaps like physicians - who have an elevated risk of suicide - they are exposed through their work to pain and suffering on a daily basis.
Eventually, self-injury and dangerous situations become unthreatening
Contact: Thomas Joiner
Florida State University