News of suicide by young men shocks us completely. We immediately start thinking about what they might have been going through, what took them to take this step, and what about their close ones in the family. Does this lead us to ‘mental illnesses’ or ‘vulnerability’ in the face of rejection and perception of failure? Norwegian Researchers try to get some answers.
Despite tremendous attempts to identify successful preventative interventions, suicide among young men remains a serious public health concern in many nations. Norwegian researchers discovered there had been no indications of a significant mental illness by speaking with close friends and family members of young men who had seemingly normal lives before taking their own lives. This runs counter to other studies that indicates a significant risk factor for suicide is depression or another mental condition.
The scientific evidence for effective prevention techniques is still lacking in Norway, where there is still a high risk of suicide among young males. The majority of research on suicide is conducted on clinical populations, and in many nations, the main goal of suicide prevention initiatives is the identification and management of mental health disorders.
Researchers from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health spoke with close friends and family members of ten young men who, in spite of their achievements, had taken their own life in their early adult years to learn more about how they knew the deceased and comprehended the suicide.
The key finding indicates that these young men seemed to have developed a fragile, achievement-based self-esteem in adulthood as a developmental compensatory mechanism for their lack of self-worth. This left them open to rejection and the perception of failure.
No signs of mental illness
“Contrary to previous research suggesting that mental illness — in particular depression — in the period prior to death is an important risk factor for suicide, few of the informants in our study mentioned depression or other mental illnesses in their narratives,” says researcher Mette Lyberg Rasmussen, the first author of the recently published study.
Vulnerable to rejection and failure
“The study’s main findings uncover a particular vulnerability to feeling rejected and to not having succeeded in achieving their goals,” explains Rasmussen.
“In these situations, there is a strong sense of shame and of being trapped in anger. This develops into unbearable thoughts that the vulnerable person cannot regulate or manage and leads to a feeling of a life not worth living. The former strategy, which involved compensation with continual increased efforts, does not work anymore, and suicide becomes a way out of a situation of unbearable psychological pain,” says Rasmussen.
Based on a distinct qualitative data set, the study examines 10 suicides involving young males (18–30 years old) who had never received mental health treatment or attempted suicide before. The data set includes 61 in-depth interviews and 6 suicide notes. Rasmussen and her co-authors studied in-depth interviews with mothers, fathers/father figures, male friends, siblings, and (ex-)girlfriends regarding the deceased’s suicide, considering the complexities of each individual’s experience.
Materials provided by Norwegian Institute of Public Health. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Mette L. Rasmussen, Hanne Haavind, Gudrun Dieserud, Kari Dyregrov. Exploring Vulnerability to Suicide in the Developmental History of Young Men: A Psychological Autopsy Study. Death Studies, 2013; 1 DOI: 10.1080/07481187.2013.780113
Norwegian Institute of Public Health. “Suicide in apparently well-functioning young men.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 February 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140226074923.htm>.
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