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

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

10
Understanding the Suicidal Brain
A Review of Neuropsychological Studies
of Suicidal Ideation and Behavior

Kees van Heeringen and Stijn Bijttebier


Introduction

The core question in suicide prevention is: Why does a person in a particular situation take his or her own life while another person in the same situation reacts in a different way?

There is no doubt that environmental and social characteristics exert a strong influence on the occurrence of suicidal behavior. Comparative postmortem studies have clearly shown changes in the brains of those who die by suicide (Furczyk, Schutova, Michel, Thome, & Büttner, 2013), suggesting that changes in the characteristics of the brain play an intermediate role between such environmental influences and the occurrence of suicidal behavior. Successful prevention of suicidal behavior may thus depend on our ability to modify specific characteristics of the brain, and knowledge of related brain functions may thus contribute substantially to successful suicide prevention.

From a neuroscientific point of view, the core question in suicide prevention can thus be rephrased as follows: What differences exist between suicidal and nonsuicidal individuals in brain functions that are involved in the processing of information between sensory input and decision making, thus leading individuals to attempt suicide or to take their own lives? There are two ways to study these differences and their effects on the occurrence of suicidal behavior in vivo: by means of functional imaging studies or by means of neuropsychological studies of the brain.

A number of the key neuropsychological factors have been specified within the integrated motivational-volitional model of suicidal behavior, which includes motivational and volitional phases to map the development of suicidal ideation and behavior (O’Connor, 2011; see also Chapter 13 by O’Connor, Cleare, Eschle, Wetherall, and Kirtley in this volume). The motivational phase includes a number of factors with neuropsychological characteristics such as problem solving, memory biases, and future thinking. The volitional phase outlines the factors that determine whether an individual with suicidal ideation will go on to engage in suicidal behavior, including impulsivity and planning, which may be related to neuropsychological deficiencies.

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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