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Menninger, K.A. (1933). Psychoanalytic Aspects of Suicide. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 14:376-390.

(1933). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 14:376-390

Psychoanalytic Aspects of Suicide

Karl A. Menninger

It is logical to expect that a better understanding of how and why man destroys himself would prove of the utmost practical importance. The facile explanations for suicide which are offered daily in the drama and in the newspaper may leave us with an easy satisfaction which of itself should make us suspicious. In real life there is no such evident justice or such naïve simplicity in the workings of fate and retribution. Scientific study of suicide generally falls back upon barren statistical analyses; the general medical literature ignores suicide as if it were scarcely entitled to recognition as a cause of death.

We have reason to expect a clarification of the motives for this phenomenon from an understanding of the unconscious motives, i.e. from psycho-analysis. Yet not since June, 1910, has suicide been a prominent subject of discussion even before psycho-analytical bodies.

It is easy to jump to the generalization that suicide represents in simple form an expression of the instincts toward self-destruction which we now consider as standing opposed to the life instinct. To do so, however, would leave entirely unexplained the extraordinary circumstance that so powerful and universal a principle should come to complete fruition in such a relatively small number of instances. It would also leave unanswered the question of how far external forces and events determine the suicide, a question which in the popular mind admits of answers implying the most astonishing naïveté. If one is to judge by the explanations to be read with monotonous invariability in daily newspaper accounts, life insurance reports, death certificates and statistical surveys, suicide is the logical consequence of circumstances, particularly ill-health, discouragement, financial reverses, humiliation, frustration and unrequited love.

To the psycho-analyst, what is most significant is not that these simple explanations are continually offered in a world where science and everyday experience alike confirm the untrustworthiness of the obvious, but that they are so patiently and unquestioningly accepted.

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