Suicide has likely plagued our communities from the outset of human existence, however, the study of suicide began much more recently in the late 19th century. Emile Durkheim, the father of sociology, examined suicide from a sociological perspective in his book Le Suicide: Étude de Sociologie. In fact, Durkheim proposed that suicide was innately social in nature. Viewing the rise in suicide rate in Europe in the mid and late 1800s, Durkheim hypothesized that this increase was due to a shift in society. As industrialization was well underway, there was the beginning of a shift in society, away from the traditional communal life to modern individualist life. Durkheim believed that these shifts were reducing the social integration of many members of society, leading to isolation and the eventual taking of one’s own life (Gerardi, 2020; Kushner & Sterk, 2005; Mueller et al., 2021).
In 2005, Clinical Psychologist and suicide expert, Thomas Joiner proposed the Interpersonal-psychological theory of suicidal behavior (IPTS), which is now being applied to a wide array of suicide research (Joiner, 2021). The theory posits that if an individual perceives themselves as burdensomeness or feels alienation and isolation it may result in suicidal ideations (contemplations about suicide). However, for an individual to commit suicide they must feel both of these things, and they must believe that this will never change (Forkmann et al., 2020).
Joiner’s theory has subsequently gone through much scrutiny by the scientific community. Through empirical testing, many researchers have found that the aforementioned perceptions do play a role in suicidal behaviors, however, the relationship between these pillars is less certain (Chu et al., 2017; Forkmann et al., 2020; Spencer-Thomas & Jahn, 2012). Further research needs to be conducted to better understand the validity of the IPTS.
It is through philosophical and empirical thought that we will deepen our understanding of suicide. With a better understanding of the problem at hand, we can pursue more effective preventative measures!