The International Handbook of Suicide Prevention: Research, Policy and Practice

By Rory C. O’Connor; Jane Pirkis | Go to book overview

1
Challenges to Defining and
Classifying Suicide and
Suicidal Behaviors

Morton M. Silverman


Introduction

After over a century of serious attention to the public health problem of suicide and suicidal behaviors, there have been many significant advances in suicidology; yet challenges remain. We now know a great deal about the epidemiology of suicide and suicidal behaviors. We are beginning to develop a body of knowledge about the biological underpinnings to suicidal behavior through research on the neurobiology and genetics of risk for suicide. However, we still know little about protective factors and what places an individual at acute risk for suicidal behavior. We need to bridge the gap between our expanding knowledge base of the incidence and prevalence of suicidal behaviors in different populations, the etiology, progression, and transmission of suicidal behaviors, and the development of effective clinical and population-based protocols, practices, procedures, and policies.

In order to achieve this goal, we need to translate what we have learned from epidemiological surveillance and research studies into practical clinical and populationbased applications. Similarly, what is learned in clinical settings needs to be communicated to researchers and theoreticians so they can better investigate and understand these behaviors. However, the suicide literature remains replete with confusing (and sometimes derogatory or pejorative) terms, definitions, descriptors, and classifications that make it difficult, if not impossible, to compare and contrast different research studies, clinical reports, or epidemiological surveys (Crosby, Ortega, & Melanson, 2011; Jenkins & Singh, 2000; Rudd & Joiner, 1998; Shneidman, 1985; Silverman, 2006), or to make comparisons, generalizations, or extrapolations (Linehan, 1997; Westefeld et al., 2000). Hence, advances in suicidology are hindered by a lack of a standardized nomenclature and classification system. This remains a challenge.

Most individuals who die by suicide are reported to have communicated their intent to others (usually next of kin or friends), and the majority have also visited or been treated by mental health professionals, primary care providers, or other physicians

The International Handbook of Suicide Prevention, Second Edition. Edited by Rory C. O’Connor and Jane Pirkis. © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Published 2016 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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