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Edwin Schneidman’s 10 Common Characteristics of Suicidal People

Schneidman presents the following in the belief that knowledge of these characteristics may
help the general public and mental health professionals reduce suicide rates.

1. Unendurable psychological pain. Suicide is
not an act of hostility or revenge but a way of
switching off unendurable and inescapable
pain. If you reduce their level of suffering, even
just a little, suicidal people will choose to live.
2. Frustrated psychological needs. Needs for
security, achievement, trust, and friendship are
among the important ones not being met.
Address these psychological needs and the
suicide will not occur. Although there are
pointless deaths, there is never a “needless”
suicide.
3. The search for a solution. Suicide is never
done without purpose. It is a way out of a
problem or crisis and seems to be the only
answer to the question: “How do I get out of
this?”
4. An attempt to end consciousness. Suicide is
both a movement away from pain and a
movement to end consciousness. The goal is to
stop awareness of a painful existence.
5. Helplessness and hopelessness. Underneath
all the shame, guilt, and loss of effectiveness is
a sense of powerlessness. There is the feeling
that no one can help and nothing can be done
except to commit suicide.

6. Constriction of options. Instead of looking for
a variety of answers, suicidal people see only
two alternatives: a total solution or a total
cessation. All other options have been driven
out by pain. The goal of the rescuer should be
to broaden the suicidal person’s perspective.
7. Ambivalence. Some ambivalence is normal,
but for the suicidal person ambivalence is only
between life and death. In the typical case, a
person cuts his or her own throat and calls for
help simultaneously. The rescuer can use this
ambivalence to shift the inner debate to the
side of life.
8. Communication of intent. About 80 percent
of suicidal people give family and friends clear
clues about their intention to kill themselves.
9. Departure. Quitting a job, running away from
home, leaving a spouse are all departures, but
suicide is the ultimate escape. It is a plan for a
radical, permanent change of scene.
10. Lifelong coping patterns. To spot potential
suicides, one must look to earlier episodes of
disturbance, to the person’s style of enduring
pain, and to a general tendency toward
“either/or” thinking. Often, there has been a
style of problem solving that might be
characterized as “cut and run.”

Hubbard, R. W., & McIntosh, J. L. (2003, April 25). The Expanded Revised Facts on Suicide Quiz. Paper presentation at the
annual meeting of the American Association of Suicidology, Santa Fe, NM.
Hubbard, R., & McIntosh, J. (1992). Integrating suicidology into abnormal psychology classes: The Revised Facts on Suicide Quiz.
Teaching of Psychology, 19, 163–166.
McIntosh, J. L., & Hubbard, R. W. (2004, April 16). A Facts on Suicide Quiz: Reliability and Validity. Paper presentation at the
annual meeting of the American
Association of Suicidology, Santa Fe, NM. Schneidman, E. (1987, March). At the point of no return. Psychology Today, 54–58.