Suicide prevention has been a widely discussed topic as of late. Paris Jackson — Michael Jackson's son &mdash- attempted it recently, and last month, a 12-year-old Queens girl hung herself because of cyberbullying. But a new study says that there are deeper motives behind why a person commits suicide, and its authors say that it's the first time motivations for suicide can be scientifically tested.

"Knowing why someone attempted suicide is crucial &mdash it tells us how to best help them recover," Professor David Klonsky, of the University of British Columbia Department of Psychology and co-author of the study, said in a press 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 examined 120 who were either outpatients or undergraduate students who had recently tried to commit suicide with "intent to die" during the previous three years. They answered a questionnaire called the Inventory of Motivations for Suicide Attempts, which tested for two factors: intrapersonal motivations related to ending emotional pain and interpersonal motivations related to communication or help-seeking.

They found that, contrary to popular belief, the participants didn't attempt suicide because of impulsivity, a cry for help, or an effort to solve financial or practical problems. Instead, the motivations, which were universal in all the participants, were hopelessness and an overwhelming emotional pain.

The researchers also found that when a participant was influenced to commit suicide because of social factors, and they asked for help or tried to get someone to influence their decision, their intent to die wasn't as strong. This is compared to participants who were motivated by internal factors, who kept their "hopelessness and unbearable pain" a secret — these people showed the greatest desire 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 said. "Until now, the focus has been largely on the types of people attempting suicide — their demographics, their genetics &mdash without actually exploring the motivations. Ours is the first work to do this in a comprehensive and systematic way."

Although it may seem obvious that hopelessness and emotional pain can lead someone to commit suicide, it could be possible that addressing a person's feelings instead of policies on racism or cyberbullying may be more effective.

A recent study found that volunteering regularly can reduce blood pressure by 40 percent. Volunteering has been shown time and again to improve one's health, possibly because helping others boosts positive feelings.

According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, "positive activity interactions," such as helping someone with their groceries, writing a thank you note, or even counting your blessings, can help treat depression, according to HealthDay News.

"They seem really trivial," she said. "They seem like, what's the big deal, you feel good for 10 minutes. But for a depressed person, they aren't trivial at all. Depressed individuals need to increase positive emotions in their life, even a minute here and there."

Lyubomirsky stresses the importance of positivity, and says that "it takes effort to continually remind yourself to do acts of kindness for others, although I think it gets easier over time."

She says that positive activity interventions come in four forms:

  • Being kind to others
  • Expressing gratitude
  • Thinking optimistically
  • Meditating on the good things in life

In a world where one million people commit suicide each year, according to the World Health Organization, and almost 40,000 suicides in 2010 in the United States, positivity can contribute to an "upward spiral."

"You may be more approachable to others, or be more creative and imaginative," Lyubomirsky said. "It snowballs, and you are more likely to experience even more positive emotion."


Klonsky D, May A. Assessing Motivations for Suicide Attempts: Development and Psychometric Properties of the Inventory of Motivations for Suicide Attempts. Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior. 2013.