Understanding the psychology of suicide: the IMV model

‌A new paper by IHW's Rory O'Connor and former IHW researcher Olivia Kirtley explores the integrated motivational-volitional (IMV) model of suicidal behaviour, a framework that describes the biopsychosocial context in which suicidal ideation and behaviour may emerge, the factors that lead to emergence of suicidal ideation and that govern the transition from suicidal ideation to suicide attempts/death by suicide.

Suicide is a major public health concern accounting for many deaths globally each year. There have been significant advances in understanding suicide risk in recent decades, but our ability to predict suicide is no better now than it was 50 years ago.

There are many potential explanations for this lack of progress, but the absence, until recently, of comprehensive theoretical models that predict the emergence of suicidal ideation distinct from transition between suicidal ideation and suicide attempts/suicide is key to this lack of progress. This article presents the integrated motivational–volitional (IMV) model of suicidal behaviour. The authors propose that defeat and entrapment drive the emergence of suicidal ideation and that a group of factors, entitled volitional moderators (VMs), govern the transition from suicidal ideation to suicidal behaviour. According to the IMV model, VMs include access to the means of suicide, exposure to suicidal behaviour, capability for suicide (fearlessness about death and increased physical pain tolerance), planning, impulsivity, mental imagery and past suicidal behaviour.

This article is part of the theme issue ‘Evolutionary thanatology: impacts of the dead on the living in humans and other animals’.

First published: 14 March 2018

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