To think about whether something can be prevented or not, we must first understand its meaning. Suicide does not mean a desire to die, but a deep desire to give up a life that is considered difficult or impossible to live.

Dr. Thomas Joiner, creator of the interpersonal psychological theory of suicidal behaviour , proposes through his research that an individual will not die by suicide unless he has the desire to die by suicide and possesses the capacity to carry out his desire, based on the problems of connecting with others. Next we will see what this theory consists of.

The Interpersonal Psychological Theory of Suicidal Behavior

The theoretical basis of this approach has three main components.

1. Frustrated sense of belonging

The first element of the theory is a frustrated sense of belonging; and that is that the evidence indicates that, when people die by suicide, most feel disconnected from others, giving rise to an idea and feeling on the part of the individuals that nobody really cares about them , and as an alternative, it may reflect the feeling that, while “some may care”, nobody can relate to them and understand their situation.

Both sensations leave deep feelings of loneliness, the person feels isolated and clearly helpless , this idea contradicts a different reality many times since people who die by suicide rarely, if ever, lack others who care about them, but dysfunctional automatic thoughts are able to skew the perceptions of individuals about the world around them.

In addition, even though there are people who care about them, they cannot relate to their lived experience in the case of people who have gone through a trauma or unpleasant experience, so people may feel alienated from others who did not experience the same overwhelming events, regardless of what knowledge others have about that event.

2. The perceived burden

The second component is the perceived burden, which, like frustrated belonging, is generally driven by distorted automatic thoughts ; and it is these two components that make up the “desire for suicide”.

People who experience elevations in this variable feel that they do not make valuable contributions to the world around them. They may be swamped by thoughts of futility and worthlessness, consequently they become certain that the lives of others would be improved if they disappeared or there would be no difference in their own existence.

Again, such beliefs, if not true, are a common cognitive tendency on the part of individuals after experiencing certain particular types of events. Losing a job, losing a promotion, moving into retirement and failing an exam are several examples of types of experiences that can generate a feeling of distress. In the case of thoughts intervened by comments followed by constant emotional abuse, they only come to reaffirm the constant self-disqualification that an individual already possesses.

3. The acquired capacity

The third element, acquired capacity, revalidates the process that occurs when the brain centers responsible for motivation and learning interact and the mood changes the perceived intensity of pain. This is how physical pain becomes less pronounced over time as the body becomes accustomed to the experience.

In this way, people who self-injure develop the courage to face pain and injury, and according to the theory, acquire this preparation through a process of repeatedly experiencing painful events . These experiences often include previous self-injury, but may also include other experiences, such as repeated accidental injuries; numerous physical fights; and occupations such as that of a doctor or front-line soldier in which exposure to pain and injury, either directly or indirectly, has become common.

Any attempt to die must be considered a serious act, because many people repeat their actions. People who do anything to guarantee that their intention to die will be seen. It is their own indirect way of asking for help, the situation they are living through is one of great anguish, and what they are asking for is to be saved.

So the theory can prevent suicide?

The interpersonal psychological theory of suicidal behaviour emphasises the importance of specialists knowing the levels of belonging, perceived burden and acquired capacity of their patients (especially if there is a history of previous suicide attempts), since this knowledge can help in the task of evaluating the risk of suicide and in the therapeutic process, the precise intervention knowing these variables and being able to address these cognitive distortions in time is capable of giving a turn to the cognitions that affect us.

Some techniques to be used are the cognitive restructuring proposed by Aaron T. Beck; this tool is recognized worldwide as very effective to eliminate/treat anxiety, depression and stress. The idea is to address cognitive patterns, dysfunctional beliefs to try to modify or weaken them.

Bibliographic references:

  • Thomas Joiner, PhD. (June 2009). American Psychological Association APA. Retrieved from The Interpersonal-Psychological Theory of Suicidal Behavior: Current Empirical Status: