Moscow Research Institute of Psychiatry
Suicide is a controversial phenomenon that people of different cultures and even of different epochs have had difficulty naming. It used to be an enduring theme of many medical, psychological, philosophical, and moralistic discussions. It is a paradoxical act of ultimate self-destruction, a flight from life to death. To commit suicide is to overcome the fear of personal death and to make a step into nothingness. Such a desperately brave deed requires an abandonment of one's sense of immortality, which we all have, a change of values and worldviews. But if one's suicide attempt proves unsuccessful, the question becomes how to explain to oneself and others one's recent act of self-violence. To discover these explanations, we conducted a study of 319 people, ranging in age from 18 to 25; they were all either students (n = 156) or patients in an emergency toxicology ward (people who had attempted to poison themselves, n = 163). This article summarizes theories of suicidal behavior and of the fear of death together with the ideas of cultural anthropologist E. Becker on these matters and puts suicide into the terror-management perspective. The suicidal act is viewed as a mortality salience, and the hypothesis is that people who deny their recent suicide attempt (n = 33) and who have one (n = 95) or several (n = 35) suicide attempts in their personal history exhibit different terror-management patterns in comparison with each other and with the control group. They fall back on different resources with various degrees of effectiveness. Implications of these results for understanding suicidal and postsuicidal behavior are discussed and suggestions for rehabilitation are made.
Keywords: terror management, mortality salience, fear of death, suicide attempt, causa sui project, hardiness.