On mental pain and suicide risk in modern psychiatry

Ann Gen Psychiatry. 2024 Jan 16;23(1):6. doi: 10.1186/s12991-024-00490-5.


Facing suicide risk is probably the most difficult task for clinicians when dealing with patients in crisis. It requires professional, intellectual, and emotional efforts. Suicide risk assessment can sometimes be distressing for clinicians, and such a state may favour the avoidance of an in-depth exploration of suicidal thoughts and behaviour. Patients often feel subjected to interpersonal assessments with little opportunity to explore their perspectives. The "One size fits all" approach tends to create distance and paradoxically contributes to an increase in the risk of suicide. Traditional clinical factors may be of limited value if a shared understanding of the patient's suicide risk is missed. To understand the suicidal mind, it is necessary to take the point of view of the subject in crisis. In this essay, the "operational model of mental pain as a main ingredient of suicide" provided by Edwin Shneidman' is overviewed with the aim of a better empathic understanding of patients' sufferance. With a phenomenological approach, the suicidal crisis appears as a complex, pervasive state rather than as a symptom of a mental disorder, as the new paradigm also suggests. In this regard, the "mentalistic" aspects of suicide propose a broader insight into the suicidal scenario far beyond the diagnosis of psychiatric disorders. In this article, the perspective of individuals who deem their mental pain to be intolerable is described to make sense of their ambivalence between the wish to die and the wish to live that can prevail if relief is provided.

Keywords: Empathy; Mental pain; Phenomenology; Psychiatry; Suicide risk.

Publication types

  • Review