What are the terms used to understand suicidal behaviors?

Updated: Aug 29, 2019
  • Author: Stephen Soreff, MD; Chief Editor: Glen L Xiong, MD  more...
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Suicide means killing oneself. The act constitutes a person willingly, perhaps ambivalently, taking his or her own life. Several forms of suicidal behavior fall within the self-destructive spectrum.

Death by suicide means the person has died. It is important not to use the term successful suicide; the goal is to prevent suicide and provide treatment.

A suicide attempt involves a serious act, such as taking a fatal amount of medication and someone intervening accidentally. Without the accidental discovery, the individual would be dead.

A suicide gesture denotes a person undertaking an unusual, but not fatal, behavior as a cry for help or to get attention.

A suicide gamble is one in which patients gamble their lives that they will be found in time and that the discoverer will save them. For example, an individual ingests a fatal amount of drugs with the belief that family members will be home before death occurs.

A suicide equivalent involves a situation in which the person does not attempt suicide. Instead, he or she uses behavior to get some of the reactions that suicide would have caused. For example, an adolescent boy runs away from home, wanting to see how his parents respond. (Do they care? Are they sorry for the way that they have been treating him?) The action can be seen as an indirect cry for help.

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