Attempted Suicide

Attempted Suicide

Attempted Suicide Definition:

Attempted suicide refers to an unsuccessful act of self-destruction, wherein an individual intentionally engages in behavior with the aim of ending their own life but does not succeed in doing so. This phenomenon is of significant interest to sociologists as it provides insight into the motivations and underlying factors influencing individuals who contemplate or engage in suicidal behavior. Distinguishing between genuine attempts at self-destruction and cries for help, known as parasuicide, poses a challenge for researchers and mental health professionals.


Attempted suicide encompasses a spectrum of behaviors ranging from serious, life-threatening attempts at self-harm to acts that may be more symbolic or attention-seeking in nature. Sociologists recognize the complexity of suicidal behavior and seek to understand the diverse motivations and circumstances that lead individuals to contemplate or enact such actions.

Understanding attempted suicide requires a multifaceted approach that considers individual, relational, community, and societal factors. This perspective integrates the roles of personal distress, social relationships, and broader cultural and economic contexts in shaping suicidal behaviors.


An example of attempted suicide may involve an individual who ingests a large quantity of medication with the intention of ending their life but is discovered and receives medical intervention before significant harm occurs. Alternatively, a person may engage in superficial self-harm, such as superficial cuts or scratches, as a means of expressing emotional distress or seeking attention.

Sociological Perspective:

From a sociological perspective, attempted suicide is viewed as a multifaceted phenomenon influenced by various social, psychological, and environmental factors. Sociologists examine the societal structures, cultural norms, and interpersonal relationships that shape individuals’ perceptions of self-worth, coping mechanisms, and access to resources.

A. Social Factors:

Sociologists explore how social factors such as socioeconomic status, employment status, social support networks, and access to healthcare influence the risk of attempted suicide. Individuals facing economic hardship, social isolation, discrimination, or other forms of adversity may be at heightened risk. The relationship between social inequality and suicidal behavior is particularly pronounced, as marginalized groups often encounter barriers to accessing mental health resources and support.

B. Psychological Factors:

Psychological factors, including mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, play a significant role in suicidal behavior. Sociologists investigate the interplay between individual psychology and social context, examining how stigma, shame, and perceived burdensomeness contribute to feelings of hopelessness and despair. The internalization of societal expectations and the pressure to conform to normative standards can exacerbate psychological distress, leading individuals to view suicide as an escape from insurmountable problems.

C. Cultural Norms:

Cultural norms and attitudes toward suicide vary across societies and can impact individuals’ willingness to seek help or disclose suicidal thoughts. Sociologists analyze cultural beliefs surrounding mental health, suicide prevention, and help-seeking behaviors, exploring how these factors shape individuals’ responses to distress and suicidal ideation. For example, cultures with strong stigma against mental illness may discourage open discussions about suicidal thoughts, leading individuals to suffer in silence.

D. Structural Violence:

Structural violence, defined as the systematic ways in which social structures perpetuate harm and inequality, can contribute to feelings of powerlessness and despair among marginalized populations. Sociologists examine how structural factors such as poverty, racism, sexism, and LGBTQ+ discrimination intersect with mental health disparities and increase vulnerability to suicidal behavior. These forms of systemic oppression create environments where individuals feel disenfranchised and without viable means to improve their circumstances.

Theoretical Frameworks:

1. Durkheim’s Theory of Suicide:

Émile Durkheim’s seminal work on suicide provides a foundational sociological framework for understanding attempted suicide. Durkheim categorized suicide into four types based on the relationship between individuals and society: egoistic, altruistic, anomic, and fatalistic.

  • Egoistic Suicide: Results from a lack of integration within society, leading to feelings of isolation and meaninglessness. Individuals who feel disconnected from social groups may attempt suicide due to a perceived absence of support and belonging.
  • Altruistic Suicide: Occurs when individuals are overly integrated into a group, feeling compelled to sacrifice themselves for the group’s benefit. Attempts may be driven by a perceived duty to others or to uphold group values.
  • Anomic Suicide: Arises during periods of social or economic upheaval, where established norms are disrupted, leaving individuals feeling unanchored and directionless. Rapid changes that disrupt the social order can precipitate attempts as individuals struggle to adapt.
  • Fatalistic Suicide: Stems from excessive regulation, where individuals see no escape from oppressive conditions. This can occur in environments with rigid rules and little opportunity for change or personal agency.

Durkheim’s theory emphasizes the social context of suicidal behavior, suggesting that societal integration and regulation play critical roles in influencing the likelihood of suicide attempts.

2. Social Stress Theory:

Social stress theory posits that life stressors, such as economic hardship, relationship conflicts, and social isolation, increase the risk of suicidal behavior. The accumulation of stressors can overwhelm an individual’s coping mechanisms, leading to attempts as a means of escaping unbearable pressure. Sociologists use this framework to explore how external stressors, combined with inadequate social support, contribute to the decision to attempt suicide.

3. Symbolic Interactionism:

From the perspective of symbolic interactionism, attempted suicide is understood through the meanings individuals attach to their actions and experiences. This approach examines how individuals interpret their circumstances and how these interpretations influence their behavior. For instance, feelings of worthlessness or the perception that one’s problems are insurmountable can lead to suicidal ideation and attempts. Symbolic interactionism also explores the role of societal reactions and labels in shaping individuals’ self-concept and actions.

4. Sociocultural and Economic Models:

Sociocultural and economic models highlight the impact of cultural values, economic conditions, and social policies on suicide rates. These models consider how societal expectations, economic stability, and access to resources shape individuals’ experiences and decisions regarding suicide. Economic downturns, for example, often correlate with increased suicide rates as financial stress and uncertainty impact mental health and access to care.

Additional Sociological Insights:

1. Gender and Suicide:

Sociologists investigate gender differences in suicidal behavior, noting that while men are more likely to die by suicide, women are more likely to attempt suicide. Research explores how societal expectations of masculinity and femininity influence help-seeking behaviors and coping strategies among men and women. Men may avoid seeking help due to cultural norms that valorize stoicism, whereas women might be more likely to engage in help-seeking behaviors, but may also use less lethal means in their attempts.

2. Suicide Clusters and Contagion:

Sociologists study the phenomenon of suicide clusters, wherein a series of suicides occur within a specific social group or community. Research examines the social dynamics and contagion effects that contribute to suicide clusters, highlighting the importance of preventive measures and community support. Media portrayal and community responses to suicide can influence the spread of suicidal behavior within groups.

3. Prevention and Intervention:

Sociologists contribute to suicide prevention efforts by evaluating the effectiveness of public health initiatives, mental health services, and crisis intervention programs. Research informs policy recommendations aimed at reducing stigma, promoting mental wellness, and improving access to support services for individuals at risk of suicidal behavior. Effective prevention strategies often involve community-based approaches that address both individual and structural factors contributing to suicidal behavior.


In conclusion, attempted suicide is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that warrants attention from sociologists, mental health professionals, policymakers, and society as a whole. By understanding the social, psychological, and environmental factors that contribute to suicidal behavior, researchers can develop more effective prevention and intervention strategies to support individuals in crisis and reduce the incidence of suicide. Addressing the root causes of suicidal behavior requires a comprehensive approach that includes promoting mental health awareness, fostering supportive communities, and addressing societal inequalities that exacerbate feelings of hopelessness and despair.

Through the application of sociological theories and frameworks, such as Durkheim’s typology, social stress theory, and symbolic interactionism, we gain deeper insights into the diverse motivations and circumstances leading to attempted suicide. These perspectives underscore the importance of considering individual agency, social context, and structural factors in understanding and addressing suicidal behavior. A holistic approach that integrates these insights with practical interventions can enhance our ability to prevent suicide and support those at risk, ultimately contributing to a healthier and more resilient society.

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