Understanding And Dealing With Violence And Suicide Pacts

By: Michael G. Conner, Psy.D, Mentor Research Institute
Internet:  www.OregonCounseling.Org

While there is a growing awareness by the American Public that suicidal behavior is not unheard of and is surprisingly common among teenagers, the phenomena of teenagers forming violence and suicide pacts stretches our imaginations to the limit. The recent double suicides across the country in which children, young men and women and even our elderly are committing suicide by hanging, overdosing, shooting themselves and even confronting law enforcement in a show-down shocks Americans that are already numb.  On a Portland steel bridge a young man and a woman hang their self in public view.  In Springfield, Oregon a student tells students to kill him when he is captured.  In Littleton Colorado, teenagers open fire in a school under circumstances in which they apparently never intended to be taken alive. 

I have consulted and conducted crisis interventions here in Oregon and other states that involved suicide and violence pacts in public schools. My role has primarily been that of risk assessment and intervention in cases where violence and suicide pacts were discovered.  In my experience dealing with 9 cases, there are three factors at work in a suicide pact.

  • A public suicide is intended to inflict harm and to punish others.
  • The suicidal act is a way to escape or avoid painful emotional problems that are the result of individual and social problems.
  • Suicide is a choice during circumstances in which people can see no alternative or they see that important choices and rights have been or will be taken away.

Less common but related factors are:

  • The impulsive suicidal act is a means to avoid consequences for some recent behavior that has consequences.
  • The suicidal act is the result of strange and bizarre beliefs that are caused by an untreated mental illness or a severe medical problem.  In this case one or more people in the pact have a mental illness or medical problem.

The dynamic of a suicide pact goes like this:

  • These people are in the midst of severely painful emotional problems and turmoil.  There is a severe depression in addition to other psychological problems.  They feel helpless and hopeless.  (See also, Understanding And Dealing With The Risk Of Suicide)
  • People like this find each other and try to support each other in living.  A person in misery can appreciate another person's misery.  People who feel helpless, hopeless and angry feel better in the company of others who feel the same.
  • They attempt to find activities or interests in common that will be of mutual support.
  • They discuss their thoughts and feelings openly with each other. This may include violent and suicidal thoughts
  • Suicide becomes a little easier and less frightening.
  • Efforts to help each other fail and efforts to get help from others fall on deaf ears.
  • At one time these people may have attempted to encourage each other to live.
  • Eventually they lose hope. 
  • The essential dynamic of a suicide pact is that the pain and fear of living becomes worse than the fear of dying.
  • Suicide is not an easy decision.  Nobody wants to die alone.   Suicidal people can encourage each other in their suicidal behavior.
  • A suicide plan that involve a public display develops out of a motivation to give death a sense of purpose and meaning.
  • A public suicide is usually intended to send a message, inflict emotional harm and to punish others.
  • A suicide following violent behavior is intended to escape responsibility and accountability.  Strangely, such suicide are a means for people to stay in control and to make their own choices.
  • People who tried to support each other in life now support and encourage each other to support each other in suicidal and other violent behavior.

For additional information on Understanding And Dealing With The Risk Of Suicide see:

www.OregonCounseling.Org and look under Preventing Violence, Homicide and Suicide In American Schools