Last Words: Analysis of Suicide Notes from an RECBT Perspective: An Exploratory Study

Abstract

A sample of 86 suicide notes was analyzed to identify the common cognitive and emotional themes contained in the text from a rational-emotive and cognitive behavior therapy (RECBT) perspective. Using grounded theory and statistical analysis to examine the data, this study found that the most frequent emotional categories to be present in these suicide notes are autonomous depression, sociotropic depression, guilt, shame, hurt and anger. It was also discovered that men, more than women, are likely to write about their experience of guilt in their suicide notes at the end of a relationship, while women are more likely to express feelings of hurt. This study may enable RECBT practitioners to better understand the cognitive and emotional factors of suicide behavior, and it may encourage future research into more specific suicide prevention protocols.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Unknown gender happens when the names in the notes have been removed by the authorities prior to releasing for research.

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Correspondence to David Lester.

Appendix: Sociotropic Depression and Autonomous Depression

Appendix: Sociotropic Depression and Autonomous Depression

Sociotropy is when a person has a combination of beliefs, cognitions and behaviors that are based on a dependency on relationships and personal satisfaction derived from connection with other people. Sociotropic thinking will often mean that an individual has rigid demands about issues such as love, approval, empathy and connectedness to others (Sato and McCann 2007). When people have this type of thinking, they can be extremely nurturing in relationships and have a strong desire to be very involved with others. Because of these desires, depression is likely to be activated when the rigid demands that individuals hold about these demands are not met in the way that they planned, and often this is based around loss of love (Dryden 2009). For instance, a person might believe, “I must be loved by my husband…” but, if the husband does not reciprocate or show “enough” love to the individual, then she may start to evaluate her self-worth based on her rigid demands not being met. “I must be loved by my husband or it means that I’m worthless.” In addition to this self-worth evaluation, other non-self-worth thinking may be activated when this demand is not met. “I must be loved by my husband or it means that I’ll always be alone.” Again, she is disturbing herself by her demand not being met (Dryden 2009). It is also possible that a person will further disturb themselves by employing both self-worth and non-self-worth thinking into their rigid demands. “I must be loved by my husband, or it means I’m that I’m worthless and I’ll always be alone.”

People who become autonomously depressed have cognitions that are based on their uniqueness, well-being, competence, self-reliance and their ability to control their environment through goal achievement and personal status (Sato and McCann 2007). Often autonomous thinking is based on living the life a person strongly desires, and depression is likely to be activated when the individual’s rigid demands about these themes are not met or are blocked by others or by life conditions (Dryden 2009). For instance, a person might believe, “I must achieve the goals I set for myself…” but, if the person does not achieve these goals or if other people or life events get in the way of this demand being satisfied, they might begin to evaluate their self-worth based on the rigid demands not being met. “I must achieve the goals I set for myself or it means that I’m a failure.” In addition to this self-worth evaluation, other non self-worth thinking may be activated when their demand does not come true. “I must achieve the goals I set for myself or I can’t stand it.” Just as in sociotropic thinking, these individuals are again disturbing themselves because of the resulting condition of their demands not being met (Dryden 2009). It is also possible that individuals will further disturb themselves by employing both self-worth and non self-worth thinking into their rigid demands. “I must achieve the goals I set for myself or it means I’m a failure and I can’t stand being a failure.”

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Coster, D., Lester, D. Last Words: Analysis of Suicide Notes from an RECBT Perspective: An Exploratory Study. J Rat-Emo Cognitive-Behav Ther 31, 136–151 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10942-013-0166-z

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Keywords

  • Suicide notes
  • Rational-emotive therapy
  • Depression
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Anger