Birth Trauma and Suicide: A Study of the Relationship between Near-Death Experiences at Birth and Later Suicidal Behavior

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: The relationship between birth trauma and suicide is discussed. A critique of psychoanalytic theory is presented. A number of studies linking suicide to birth trauma are surveyed. A synthetic theory of this relationship is described and the positive role of therapy in resolving birth trauma-related conflict is explored.

The classic model for exploring the dynamics of suicidal behavior is the Psychoanalytic approach and is defined in the National Task Force on Suicide Report1 as dealing with suicide from a client's internal perspective which comes closest to my approach in this article. Suicidal "depression" is considered by psychoanalysts to be a determining factor for the eventual act itself with various internal states manifested externally in suicidal behaviour.2 These internal states are referred to in psychoanalysis as "motives".3 The motives or states that coincide with my findings on this matter will be elaborated on later and include: "control"4 (where taking one's own life is considered a final act of "free choice"); "escape from an intolerable situation, pain or panic"5, and the "inability to conceive alternative actions to death"6.

Psychoanalysts view high risk patients as having a dynamic internal process that gradually drives them towards suicidal behavior.7 It has been concluded that, although environmental circumstances may provoke a suicidal act, as Emile Durkheim's Statistical Social model suggests (1951)8, the substance for suicidal feelings and thus the focus for treatment, is intertwined with the psychodynamics at play within the "hidden" or repressed realm of the person's unconscious and, therefore, internal experience:

The suicidal drive in the last analysis is from within the individual, rather than from without. Suicide is the terminal act in a complicated psychic drama, the final response of a person to his own needs, desires, and circumstances. External events may precipitate that act, and in certain circumstances such as mass suicide in the face of persecution, may dictate it. Countless persons faced with what appear to be the same provocations do not commit suicide. The primary impulses which lead to suicide lie hidden in the depths of the individual's personality.9

In 1985 and again in 1987, for the first time in history, two scientific studies10 were published formulating statistical data on the relationship between suicide and birth trauma. Both studies found birth trauma to be a high risk factor for later suicidal behaviour. In fact, birth trauma was found in one study11 to be the highest risk variable out of 46 variables, including social and environmental factors.

In the first study Dr. Lee Salk12 (1985) discovered that the most significant correlation made leans toward prenatal and birth conditions in the obstetrical histories of the suicides under study. He found that out of ten perinatal risk factors, three (respiratory distress, absence of prenatal care and chronic maternal disease) had the highest prevalence in suicides when compared to two matched control groups. Each of these risk factors were significant enough to occur independently in 81% of the suicides studied.

In the second statistical study on suicide and birth trauma, Dr. Bertil Jacobsen13 (1987) found more specific correlations between methods used to commit suicide and specific birth imprints. Asphyxiation during birth, for example, was noted as being four times higher in suicides by strangulation, hanging and drowning than in control groups. Likewise, mechanical injuries during birth involving the head and neck, which Jacobsen categorized as forceps deliveries, breech births and knotted umbilical cords, were present in twice the percentage of suicides as in the controls.

As early as 1933, researchers14 recognized that suicidal people, more often than not, had a specific method determined with which to take their lives. Moreover, it was found that, no matter how inaccessible or how long it took to access, the suicidal person would not deviate from his/her chosen method. …