Suicidal Mind

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Suicide haunts our literature and our culture, claiming the lives of ordinary people and celebrities alike. It is now the third leading cause of death for fifteen- to twenty-four-year-olds in the United States, raising alarms across the nation about the rising tide of hopelessness seen in our young people. It is a taboo subtext to our successes and our happiness, a dark issue that is often euphemized, avoided, and little understood. In our century, psychology and psychiatry alike have attempted to understand, ...

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Overview

Suicide haunts our literature and our culture, claiming the lives of ordinary people and celebrities alike. It is now the third leading cause of death for fifteen- to twenty-four-year-olds in the United States, raising alarms across the nation about the rising tide of hopelessness seen in our young people. It is a taboo subtext to our successes and our happiness, a dark issue that is often euphemized, avoided, and little understood. In our century, psychology and psychiatry alike have attempted to understand, prevent, and medicalize these phenomena. But they have failed, argues Dr. Edwin Shneidman, because they have lost sight of the plain language, the ordinary everyday words, the pain and frustrated psychological needs of the suicidal individual.
In The Suicidal Mind, Dr. Shneidman has written a groundbreaking work for every person who has ever thought about suicide or knows anybody who has contemplated it. The book brims with insight into the suicidal impulse and with helpful suggestions on how to counteract it. Shneidman presents a bold and simple premise: the main cause of suicide is psychological pain or "psychache." Thus the key to preventing suicide is not so much the study of the structure of the brain, or the study of social statistics, or the study of mental diseases, as it is the direct study of human emotions. To treat a suicidal individual, we need to identify, address, and reduce the individual's psychache. Shneidman shares with the reader his knowledge, both as a clinician and researcher, of the psychological drama that plays itself out in the suicidal mind through the exploration of three moving case studies. We meet Ariel, who set herself on fire; Beatrice, who cut herself with the intent to die; and Castro, a young man who meant to shoot his brains out but survived, horribly disfigured. These cases are presented in the person's own words to reveal the details of the suicidal drama, to show that the purpose of suicide is to seek a solution, to illustrate the pain at the core of suicide, and to isolate the common stressor in suicide: frustrated psychological needs. Throughout, Shneidman offers practical, explicit maneuvers to assist in treating a suicidal individual—steps that can be taken by concerned friends or family and professionals alike.
Suicide is an exclusively human response to extreme psychological pain, a lonely and desperate solution for the sufferer who can no longer see any alternatives. In this landmark and elegantly written book, Shneidman provides the language, not only for understanding the suicidal mind, but for understanding ourselves. Anyone who has ever considered suicide, or knows someone who has, will find here a wealth of insights to help understand and to prevent suicide.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In a superbly written book, Ed Shneidman develops his theory that persons commit suicide if death is more attractive than life. He gives moving examples of how he could convince some, not others, that they are making the wrong choice."—Frederick Redlich, M.D., former Dean of Yale Medical School

"The clear lessons and gripping life stories in this book will let every type of reader, layperson, or professional know instantly what has taken a lifetime of study and clinical experience to know. Shneidman has searched, found, and now shows us his astonishing discovered truths."—Caroline C. Murray, Ed.D., Lecturer, Harvard Medical School, Emerita

"The Suicidal Mind is an important book written by a master teacher, clinician, and researcher of human behavior of which suicide is a part. It is a book that requires the serious attention of all thoughtful persons for the many profound insights it provides into human nature in general and suicidal behavior in particular."—Shirley L. Zimmerman, Ph.D., University of Minnesota

"The dean of suicidologists and preeminent among them, Professor Shneidman has studied the suicidal mind for more than 40 years and has plenty to tell us about it. He leads the reader through these pages like a friendly guide, using the experiences of Ariel Wilson, Beatrice Bessen, and the unforgettable Castro Reyes to explain to us suicide's commonalities. Free of jargon, vividly written, this is a book for those who comprehend little about suicide, and for those who grasp much. Every reader, naive or sophisticated about this subject, will arise from reading The Suicidal Mind understanding much more."—John T. Maltsberger, M.D., Harvard Medical School

Kirkus Reviews
Three case studies from the files of a UCLA thanatologist demonstrate in chilling detail that killing oneself is no easy matter.

Shneidman, who limits his comments to cultures with a Judeo- Christian tradition, proposes the not especially novel idea that psychological pain, or "psychache," is the primary cause of suicide. Using a form adapted from Henry A. Murray's Explorations in Personality to rate the psychological needs of individuals, he concludes that most suicides fall into five need clusters. (There is at this point a gratuitous insertion of so-called experts' assessments of the needs of Hitler, Martha Graham, Marilyn Monroe, Captain Ahab, and others.) His case studies demonstrate three of these clusters: the need to be loved, the need to strike first, and the need to belong. The first case study consists mostly of transcribed audiotapes from Ariel (pseudonyms are used throughtout), who chose self-immolation but survived with horrible burns over most of her body. Beatrice, the second case, wrote out her life story while she was Shneidman's patient; her choice was knives and starvation, and it is unclear whether her attempts at suicide have ceased. Castro, the third case, was unable to speak to Shneidman, having blown away most of his face while trying to blow his brains out, but he wrote out for him a long account of the episode, as well as many notes and letters. Shneidman sums up with a list of ten psychological commonalities of suicide—the common emotion is hopelessness/helplessness, the common action is escape, etc.—and a list of 24 psychotherapeutic maneuvers that he deems appropriate in treating potential suicides.

Though providing few fresh insights, this succeeds on another level: By revealing the possible ghastly consequences of failed attempts, perhaps it may help deter some from trying to take their own lives.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195103663
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 5/23/1996
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.81 (w) x 8.63 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Meet the Author

About the Author:
Edwin S. Shneidman, Ph.D., is Professor of Thanatology Emeritus at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine. He is the founder of the American Association of Suicidology, and the author of Voices of Death, Definition of Suicide, and Deaths of Man, which was nominated for a National Book Award.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2004

    Amazingly insightful...

    Mr. Shneidman provides an accurate, valuable, and sometimes frightening glimpse into the mind of people who think about and commit suicide. Anyone who has been suicidal will recognize themselves in his descriptions. I HIGHLY recommend this book for the family and friends of anyone who has been suicidal or committed suicide.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2008

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    Posted March 23, 2009

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