Is suicide an impulsive act?

Sometimes it seems like the decision for suicide is made very quickly.

Suicide is an act that usually shocks and hurts the bereaved. In addition to the loss, the motives often remain poorly understood.


After the suicide of a close person, numerous questions are raised, some of which are hard or even impossible to answer. The bereaved are often asking themselves if the deceased was planning the suicide for a long time or if they acted in a moment of despair during an adverse situation (e.g. loss of a job, dispute with a partner, severe illness). Explanations like these can often seem reasonable, but research shows that in most cases, suicide is not an impulsive act. An individual who has never thought about taking their life until that time does not decide to make a suicidal attempt in a moment of distress.

 In reality, suicide is usually a result of a long lasting and complex process in an individual.

 The suicidal process

The suicidal process includes different stages, through which despair and the belief that life is not worth living, are strengthened. The idea of suicide may develop into an elaborate suicidal plan and actual suicidal behaviour in the form of a suicidal attempt or completed suicide.

Stages of the suicidal process are rarely followed as a gradual progression from the initial stage of feelings of hopelessness towards suicidal behaviour. In individuals who have attempted suicide, their motives for suicide often varied greatly. Therefore, someone can be seriously considering suicide at some point in time, but after a talk with a good friend or an expert their distress can decrease and their life can regain meaning. If this individual finds themselves in distress again after some time, the suicidal process can continue with more thoughts about suicide.

The development of the suicidal process depends on many factors arising from the individual and environment, and develops differently in different people.

 In some individuals, certain stages of the suicidal process are more pronounced and last longer, while in others some stages are barely detectable and the suicidal process takes place very quickly for them.

 The decision for suicide

The decision for a suicidal act is often taken quickly and seemingly without previous planning. This can even happen within a few hours before the act, but this does not mean that the individual was not thinking of suicide previously. The majority of people after a suicide attempt report that they were previously thinking of suicide for some time or were planning it. Although occasional thoughts of suicide are relatively common, very few people carry out the suicidal act.

The decision for suicidal behaviour is influenced by various factors. Among other things an exposure to suicidal behaviour in the media plays an important role. It affects the formation of attitudes towards suicide.

 When an individual finds themselves in distress they can quickly adopt suicide as an acceptable way to solve problems, especially if they have previously experienced a suicide of a close or admired person in their life. Therefore, it is necessary to pay special attention to people in distress where imitation of suicidal behaviour may exist.

In a situation of acute suicidal risk, situational factors may also be crucial (e.g. access to a method for suicidal act). The number of suicide attempts decreases if the method for a suicidal act is not readily accessible. In addition, people with plans for suicide can change their mind if they receive a positive message from the environment about how life is worth living and that their problems can be solved. In these cases, the suicidal process can end without a suicidal act.

 Help in distress

If you are thinking about suicide or are close to someone at risk for suicide, do not hesitate, seek help. Talking about distress can bring brings a sense of relief, clarity, and can develop a new perspective on problem solving.

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