Imagine my surprise when finding yet another theory of suicidal behaviour on offer to add to the existing fifteen or sixteen already available to suicidology. I mention this because unfortunately I’ll not be able to make it to Boston (Harvard Medical School) on 9 December 2016 to hear Tom Joiner deliver his latest insights upon ‘a new theory’. But why ‘surprise’, I hear you say.
Well it takes me back to Aristotle’s ‘well-known’ definition of truth:
“To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.”
[Accessed on 22 Aug 2016 at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth-correspondence/]
Further ‘research’ via Dr Google offered the following from ‘Daniel Super, Game Programmer’ on the subject of opinion and truth:
“People have many different opinions because they have different life experiences and perspectives. Very little can be said with absolute certainty outside the realm of mathematics.
In many things there may be no truth at all. Moral questions cannot be answered definitively for all possible conditions, even the ones that seem obvious like ‘is it immoral to kill another human?’ have notable exceptions in most people's eyes. As for religions, I'm convinced that none of them even remotely approach any sort of truth.”]
[Accessed on 22 Aug 2016 at https://www.quora.com/Why-do-people-have-so-many-different-opinions-Is-there-only-one-truth-to-things].
So here’s my argument. I shall not attempt here to delineate any or all 15 or 16 theories about human suicidal behaviour, but you can find out more here (Lester, 1994). I tend towards the view – or it’s my opinion – that each act of suicidal behaviour, properly defined, is unique. The exhaustive efforts by suicidology to categorise, classify, typify, generalise, compare, contrast and/or rationalise human suicide behaviour represents, in my opinion, mission impossible. That is not to say that a journal article by David Lester (1994) offering a method for studying the lives of those deceased by suicide by application of multiple theories of suicide was not a more than useful exercise. It does make interesting reading.
Ten years on, Leenaars’ (2004) important, 460 page text offered additional insights into understanding suicide that (he argued) are essential for psychotherapists (and others) working in suicide prevention. On his first page, he stressed the uniqueness of each human being: “We must do justice to the fascinating individuality of each person [that] is humankind’s complexity . . . this is as true for suicide as for any behaviour. Suicide is complex.” (Leenaars, 1994: 1). Shneidman (1985) agreed, arguing that “each suicide is an idiosyncratic event . . . there are no universals, absolutes or ‘alls’ ” (Shneidman, 1985: 121). “To understand what [suicidal behaviour] is about, one has to know the problem that [suicide] was intended to solve” (Shneidman, 1985: 129).
Harvard Medical School (2016) Assessing and treating self-destructive behaviours. Two day course, Dec 9-10 2016. Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel. Boston, Massachusetts
Leenaars, A.A. (2004) Psychotherapy with suicidal people: a person-centred approach. West Sussex, England: John Wiley and Sons, Ltd
Lester, D. (1994) Research Note: A comparison of 15 theories of suicide. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behaviour, 24(1), Spring 1994
Shneidman, E.S. (1985) Definition of Suicide. New Jersey: Jason Aronson Inc.