Suicide and impossible worlds: An empirical investigation of worlds theory
Bunford, N. & Bergner, R.M.
Background: Suicide has a devastating impact on both survivors and society, and many obstacles to improving prevention efforts stem from our inadequate understanding of suicidality. A potential source of this shortcoming is that the majority of empirical studies focus only on a single specified etiology of suicide. Aims: To address this limitation, we present a further promising way to understand the suicidal state. We do so (1) by providing a brief review of something known as worlds theory (Bergner, 2006), and (b) by presenting the results of a study exploring the relationship between a person's taking it that his or her world is impossible/nonviable and his or her suicidal state. Methods: In this research, participants were asked to assess the perceived levels of world viability (vs. impossibility/nonviability) of 12 actual persons depicted in clinical vignettes. Results: As predicted, participants judged the worlds of suicidal committers significantly more nonviable than those of suicide attempters, and these in turn significantly more nonviable than those of mentally disordered but nonsuicidal persons. Conclusions: These findings indicate that the worlds of suicidal persons are unlivable--in worlds terms: impossible. We discuss implications of these findings for understanding the suicidal state and for intervening therapeutically.