Around the world, more than a million people die by suicide each year. Yet many of us know very little about a tragedy that may strike our own loved ones—and much of what we think we know is wrong. This clear and powerful book dismantles myth after myth to bring compassionate and accurate understanding of a massive international killer.
Drawing on a fascinating array of clinical cases, media reports, literary works, and scientific studies, Thomas Joiner demolishes both moralistic and psychotherapeutic clichés. He shows that suicide is not easy, cowardly, vengeful, or selfish. It is not a manifestation of “suppressed rage” or a side effect of medication. Threats of suicide, far from being idle, are often followed by serious attempts. People who are prevented once from killing themselves will not necessarily try again.
The risk for suicide, Joiner argues, is partly genetic and is influenced by often agonizing mental disorders. Vulnerability to suicide may be anticipated and treated. Most important, suicide can be prevented.
An eminent expert whose own father’s death by suicide changed his life, Joiner is relentless in his pursuit of the truth about suicide and deeply sympathetic to such tragic waste of life and the pain it causes those left behind.
“In this very readable book, Joiner’s wide ranging knowledge of the subject leads to deeply penetrating thoughts on the psychology of suicide. He attacks myths from multiple perspectives, drawing on materials from biblical times to the present, scientific research studies and clinical case studies, animal studies, literature, popular culture, and film. The book also advances Joiner’s own theory of suicide: people who kill themselves feel that they are a burden to their socially significant others and feel alienated from society. Whether readers are beginning students or advanced researchers, they will find an abundance of stimulating thought and data here.”—W. Feigelman, Choice
“Myths About Suicide seeks to debunk the myriad ways that suicide is stigmatized by ignorance, disgust, contempt, and callousness.”—Peter Monaghan, The Chronicle of Higher Education
“When people kill themselves and those left behind are interviewed, they often respond with timeworn phrases, understandably. But such cliches often only spread myths… Joiner doesn’t discuss the morality of killing oneself, nor how suicide can sometimes be a reasonable option. Rather, he seeks to spread the truth about suicide while ‘leaving a healthy fear of it intact.’ In that way, many lives may be saved and much anguish averted. Joiner’s theory is that people desire suicide when they simultaneously hold these two psychological states in their minds for long enough: the perception that one is a burden and the sense that one does not belong. Only a more widespread and accurate understanding of suicide, he insists, can help counteract such states and prevent unnecessary deaths.”—Susan K. Perry, Psychology Today
Introduction: Our Most Basic Terror and Our Most Tragic Thoughts
1. The Suicidal Mind
2. Suicidal Behavior
3. Causes, Consequences, and Subpopulations
Conclusion: Stigma—the Future of a Partial Illusion
About the Author:
Thomas Joiner is Distinguished Research Professor and Bright-Burton Professor of Psychology at Florida State University and author of Why People Die by Suicide.