Commonalities Across the LifeSpan

Edwin Shneidman’s Ten Commonalities of Suicide

  • The common purpose of suicide is to seek a solution.

Individuals experiencing suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide) view suicide as the solution to a problem, one in which they believe cannot be solved in other ways. In this way, suicidal acts are purposeful.

  • The common goal of suicide is cessation of consciousness.

The goal of individuals experiencing thoughts of suicide is to end their experience of intolerable and unendurable pain. Death or the cessation of consciousness is viewed as the solution.

  • The common stimulus in suicide is intolerable psychological pain.

Individuals experiencing thoughts of suicide are seeking to end or find an escape to an intolerable pain, emotion, or anguish. They want to stop the “pain of feeling pain”. Suicide is always about pain for everyone involved.

  • The common stressor in suicide is frustrated psychological needs.

All humans have needs. These needs may include a sense of belonging, a need for safety, acceptance or achievement. We all have numerous needs on which we place value or some degree of importance and when these needs are not met we may experience the intolerable, unenduring psychological pain that for some can lead to suicide.

  • The common emotion in suicide is hopelessness-helplessness.

A feeling of hopelessness and helplessness is of particular significance in the suicidal individual. Suicidal individuals experiencing a sense of hopelessness believe that nothing can end their pain except suicide.

  • The common cognitive state in suicide is ambivalence.

Most people who have thoughts of suicide are torn or unsure about suicide. It is not that the person with thoughts of suicide wants to die; rather they want to end the intolerable, unendurable pain they are experiencing and cannot imagine another solution to their problem. Ambivalence is demonstrated in many ways that we commonly refer to as warning signs; ways in which the suicidal person signals their desire for help.

  • The common perceptual state in suicide is constriction.

Constriction is a state in which a person with thoughts of suicide loses their ability to think in abstract terms, see alternatives and problem solve. Thinking becomes narrowly focused to an either/or thought process. Constriction is a very dangerous state for the suicidal person.

  • The common action in suicide is escape (egression).

We have all at times wished for an escape or break from something in our life however it is important to distinguish between a need for a temporary break such as a vacation and a need for a permanent escape. The act of suicide is intended as a permanent escape from intolerable, unendurable pain.

  • The common interpersonal act in suicide is communication of intention.

Most people with thoughts of suicide communicate their intentions in some way. This may be done consciously or unconsciously. We often refer to these communications as warnings signs. LivingWorks refers to these communications as “invitations” to tell us that a response is required. Since humans are very unique and creative invitations can vary significantly however there are some common invitations to be alert to.

  • The common consistency in suicide is with lifelong patterns.

Throughout our lives we develop and/or learn ways of coping with challenges, life transitions, psychological and emotional pain. Individuals who experience thoughts of suicide may have developed or learned unsuccessful methods of coping with stressors that affect their capacity to deal with psychological and emotional pain. An inability to cope successfully contributes to thoughts of suicide.

Edwin Shneidman often referred to as the father of suicidology began studying suicide after WW2. One of the leaders in suicide research, training and prevention he founded the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Centre and later the American Association of Suicidology.
  • Life span perspectives of suicide: Time-lines in the suicidal process. Edited by Antoon A. Leenaars. New York; London: Plenum Press, (c1991).