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Explaining Suicide: The Views of Survivors of Serious Suicide Attempts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2018

Ian O'Donnell*
University of Oxford, Centre for Criminological Research
Richard Farmer
Department of Public Health and Epidemiology, Charing Cross Medical School, London SW1 9NH
José Catalán
Psychological Medicine Unit, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London SW1 9NG
Dr O'Donnell, University of Oxford Centre for Criminological Research, 12 Bevington Road, Oxford OX2 6LH



There is a dearth of information on the motivational aspects of serious suicide attempts, in particular those which involve violent methods. Clarification of the reasons which lie behind such acts may suggest appropriate preventive strategies.


Interviews were carried out with 20 individuals who had attempted suicide by jumping in front of a railway train. Demographic and psychiatric data were collected for each case and the Suicidal Intent Scale was administered.


In most cases the act had been impulsive and was characterised by an extremely high level of suicidal intent. The majority were receiving psychiatric treatment at the time of their suicide attempt. In some cases, survival and the aftermath of the attempt appeared to have a beneficial effect on mental state.


While high levels of psychiatric morbidity and high suicidal intent were common, impulsivity and improved mental state indicate that there are similarities between high and low suicide intent survivors.

Copyright © 1996 The Royal College of Psychiatrists 

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