A summary of the characteristics of suicidology as a scientific field.
Although the problem of suicide in our society has always been considered a taboo subject, it is increasingly being treated with greater transparency.
In fact, today all the factors that influence this behavior are studied in depth, and it is done through suicide. Next we will see in detail what this field of knowledge consists of.
What is suicide
Suicidology is the science that studies all suicidal behaviors, but it does not stop there, but tries to develop a series of guidelines to prevent them. These objectives are achieved by drawing on two great branches of science, which are Psychology and Sociology.
Suicidology does not focus solely on suicide, but is also responsible for studying other self-injurious behaviors that do not necessarily have to lead to death, and also suicidal ideation itself and parasuicides.
Suicidology in Spain
In Spain this discipline is championed by the Spanish Society of Suicidology, born in 2015. Its objective is to bring together all groups of health professionals and other areas that in one way or another may be related to potentially suicidal people, to establish and comply with a series of guidelines whose objective is to reduce the prevalence of this phenomenon.
Likewise, they try to make the problem of suicide visible, since it has traditionally been omitted from most of the communication media and even within society itself, a fact that, they affirm, makes it much more difficult to address the problem of an effective way.
The Spanish Society of Suicidology annually organizes congresses and conferences dedicated to putting experts in suicidal behavior in contact and thus improving the protocols for the prevention of these acts.
What do we understand by suicide?
Suicide is known as the act of an individual that involves taking his life voluntarily. It can be done through a multitude of ways, but the most frequent are hanging, the use of poisons and the use of firearms.
There are risk factors that make a person more likely to commit suicide. For example, some mental disorders, receiving harassment of some kind, unsurpassed grief, loss of employment, alcoholism and consumption of other substances, among others.
Suicidal behavior in history
This phenomenon has occurred throughout the history of humanity, but the perception towards it has not always been the same. In ancient Greece, suicide could even be frowned upon if it was done as a way to avoid dishonor. In Rome it was initially legal, but later it was prohibited, for a purely economic reason (the death of the slaves generated losses).
But what marked its stigma in Western society was the arrival of the Church, which came to consider it a sin, since the sixth commandment, “you shall not kill”, also implied not killing oneself.
However, with the Renaissance another turn was experienced in the perception of suicide, defending it in a certain way. And already with the Enlightenment, authors like David Hume promulgated that by not affecting anyone other than the individual himself, and in a certain way being for his benefit, suicide could not be a crime.
In the 19th century, the focus of the religious question definitely shifted towards the mental health of the suicidal individual, going from talking about sin to talking about insanity. Finally, in the middle of the 20th century, suicide ceased to appear in the criminal codes of many of the European countries.
The figures that surround this phenomenon, globally, are devastating. Approximately one million people in the world decide to take their own lives, and in fact they do. This is a voluntary intentional death every 2 minutes.
The epidemiology of suicide in Spain shows us that every year about 3,500 citizens take their own lives, the vast majority being men (3 men for every woman). Regarding age, the highest suicide rates are observed in men between 40 and 59 years old. It is worth noting the concern about the increase in data experienced in 2019, almost 10% more than the previous year.
Generally, before reaching the act of suicide, a series of self-destructive thoughts pass through the mind of the individual. These ideas can occur in a wide spectrum, from the mere imagination of “what if …”, to the elaboration of a detailed plan that inexorably ends in the deprivation of one’s life.
There is talk of a series of phases during suicidal ideations:
- Ideative: includes the first musings about the idea of taking one’s own life.
- Fight: these ideas gain strength, and generate anxiety to the individual, who doubts about the decision to make.
- Relaxation: after deciding to commit suicide, the person stops feeling that anguish.
But, faced with this system of phases, suicidal behavior can also occur in a sudden way, for example by an extremely high peak of stress (coupled with another series of factors, of course).
When the individual is in some phase of suicidal ideation, they usually show a series of symptoms that should be like a “red alert” for everyone around them, especially for health professionals. They would include anhedonia, anxiety-depressive symptoms, loss of sleep and / or appetite, and difficulties concentrating, among others.
Parasuicide is a self-injurious behavior in which the individual voluntarily brings himself to the brink of death, knowing that it is unlikely to achieve that objective, with the intention of attracting the attention of the people around him. The main difference, in this case, is that the person does not really want to die.
Likewise, it is a very serious behavior that requires putting in place all possible mechanisms so that the person receives adequate treatment and stops this type of behavior, solving the problems that are causing them.
This is a different typology of suicide it would be one in which the person kills (or at least attempts) other individuals just before committing suicide, or at the same time.
The typology and the underlying motivations that lead to it are very varied. We can find cases of people who provide the means to die to a disabled loved one, others who kill people from their closest environment and even cases of suicide attacks, either through shootings, explosives, with vehicles, etc.
It would be all those behaviors that have the purpose of inflicting deliberate damage to oneself, but not necessarily leading to death, since most of them tend to be much more subtle.
These behaviors can be classified into two types.
Direct self-injurious behaviors
They are intended to cause immediate damage, and are carried out through all kinds of physical violence (trauma, incisions with sharp objects, burns, etc.). The most extreme expression of this behavior would be, indeed, suicide.
Indirect self-injurious behaviors
Instead, these types of actions seek (consciously or unconsciously) long-term damage. Among them we would find substance abuse (alcohol, drugs, etc.), risky sexual practices (without the use of adequate protection), performing dangerous sports, participating in uncontrolled gambling, or suffering from eating disorders.
It is a key element because, although it obviously does not serve to prevent the death of that specific individual, it does provide us with a lot of information about the causes that have led him to make such a fatal decision, so that experts can work with data very valuable in creating more effective anti-suicide protocols that allow them to save the lives of other people who will find themselves in similar situations.
The suicide note is an element used by one in six people who decide to take their own life, although according to studies it seems to be a strongly cultural factor, since in some societies the figure increases to one in two.
The objectives they seek when writing these lines prior to death are of a varied nature. Some seek to alleviate the suffering of their loved ones, while others on the contrary seek to delve into it, making them feel responsible for this decision and even to indicate what they want done with their body. Others use it more pragmatically to explain their reasons for doing so. Some take the opportunity to express what they never dared to do and that tormented them.
But there are also reasons for those who do not write that suicide note. Some are simply concentrating on the most practical preparations for the suicide act and do not stop to think about writing. Others pretend that the death is accidental or even that they have been killed.
In some cases, the decision is sudden (although it has been ruminating for a while) and has not resulted in the note. In some cases, the person simply has nothing to say or, more dramatically, no one to say to. Finally, there are those who do not know how to express their message, or simply do not want to.
There is exit
Before concluding, it is important to make it clear that there are always people willing to help anyone who is having a bad time. Suicide should never be the solution. If you need help, do not hesitate to call the hope phone number (717 00 37 17), whatever the day and time. On the other end of the line you will find a professional willing to reach out to you.
- Maris, RW, Berman, AL, Silverman. (2000). Comprehensive Textbook of Suicidology. New York. The Guilford Press.
- Silverman, MM (2006). The Language of Suicidology. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior: Vol. 36, No. 5, pp. 519-532.
- Chávez – Hernández, AM, Leenaars, AA (2010). Edwin S Shneidman and modern suicide. Mexico. Health Ment vol.33 no.4