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Knowing Suicide Motivations Can Help Prevent Tragedies, Study

Update Date: Jun 13, 2013 12:48 PM EDT

A new study reveals some of the most common reasons why people take their own lives and provides the first scientifically tested measure for evaluating the motivations for suicide.

Researchers said the latest study published in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior will help doctors and researchers improve suicide prevention and treatments as well as reduce the likelihood of further attempts.

"Knowing why someone attempted suicide is crucial - it tells us how to best help them recover,"Professor David Klonsky of the University of British Columbia said in a news release. "This new tool will help us to move beyond the current 'one-size-fits-all' approach to suicide prevention, which is essential. Different motivations require different treatments and interventions."

The study involved 120 participants who recently attempted suicide with "intent to die" within the past three year. The participants were asked to complete a questionnaire that asks questions related to 10 different motivations for attempted suicide. Researchers said The Inventory of Motivations for Suicide Attempts (IMSA) is the most accurate and first scientifically tested tool for evaluating a person's motivations for suicide.  For the study, Klonsky and his team used a series of analyses to make sure that the questionnaire yields reliable and valid information about suicide attempt motivations.

Researchers found that many motivations believed to play important roles in suicide are relatively uncommon.  For instance, suicide attempts were rarely the result of impulsivity, a cry for help, or an effort to solve a financial or practical problem.  Instead, the two reasons found to be universal in all participants were hopelessness and overwhelming emotional pain.

Researchers also found that suicide attempt influenced by social factors, like efforts to get help or influence others, generally exhibited a less pronounced intent to die, and were carried out with a greater chance of rescue. 

On the other hand, suicide attempts motivated by internal factors, like hopelessness and unbearable pain, were performed with the greatest intent to die.

"It may be surprising to some, but focusing on motivations is a new approach in the field of suicide research - and urgently needed," Klonsky explained. "Until now, the focus has been largely on the types of people attempting suicide - their demographics, their genetics - without actually exploring the motivations. Ours is the first work to do this in a systematic way."

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