In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Suicide

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Reference Works
  • Handbooks and Guides
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Protective Factors
  • Assessment
  • Management and Treatment
  • Prevention

Social Work Suicide
Ronald W. Maris
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0041


Each year about 30,000 people in the United States and 1 million worldwide die by suicide, and 650,000 people in the United States receive emergency treatment each year after attempting suicide. Despite society’s concern for the act of suicide, there is no process designed to screen for suicide that has been proven to reduce mortality rates. Further, predicting which individuals who verbalize suicidal ideation will actually attempt suicide has not been achieved with a high degree of sensitivity or reliability. This entry provides information on risk factors for suicide, evaluation, initial management, and appropriate follow-up of the suicidal patient. The issue of suicide has mystified clinicians and academicians alike. The question: Why is it that members of the only species capable of taking an action of self-harm will, at times, decide to end their own lives? The issue of suicide is dichotomous: on one hand, suicide is viewed as a sin, a coward’s way out; on the other, it can be a heroic gesture if, for example, a soldier volunteers for a “suicide mission.” Suicide is an act that captures the hearts of millions, challenging the mind with extreme and vast questions, running the complete gamut of emotions from fascination to revulsion. Regardless of where the reader stands on this continuum, it is important to note that the subject matter is vast and the difficulties with completing studies on the subject are remarkable. In this light, this bibliography serves as a beginning point for examining this complex topic.

Introductory Works

Understanding suicide and suicide risk reduction strategies is a key component to effectively treating suicidal individuals within clinical practice settings. There exist, however, remarkable gaps and questions regarding professional training, cultural competence, and research in the area of suicide risk reduction. Feldman 2006 questions the degree of training received by social workers in graduate programs. Flynn, et al. 2009 provides information of criminology characteristics of suicide and homicide. Joe 2008 conducts systematic literature reviews to calculate research contributions related to professional practice, risk identification and cultural competence. Similarly, Macgowan 2004 challenges the structure of research studies on youth suicide prevention. Finally, Joiner 2005 provides salient information on key factors related to suicide risk and decision making. Finally Joe and Niedermeier 2008 provides a summary of peer-reviewed publications between 1980 and 2006 examining suicide risk factors.

  • Feldman, Barry N. 2006. Social work education in suicide intervention and prevention: An unmet need? Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior 36.4: 467–480.

    DOI: 10.1521/suli.2006.36.4.467

    The authors used a web-based survey (N=598) of social workers to determine education provided regarding suicide. Results indicated that most respondents report working with suicidal clients, yet they received little, if any, training in suicide prevention or intervention. Implications for social work education and practice are discussed.

  • Flynn, Sandra, Nicola Swinson, David While, Isabelle M. Hunt, Alison Roscoe, and Cathryn Rodway. 2009. Homicide followed by suicide: A cross-sectional study. Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology 20.2: 306–321.

    DOI: 10.1080/14789940802364369

    This study examined social, clinical, and criminological characteristics of a national sample of perpetrators to identify any previous contact with mental health services and to establish risk of suicide after homicide. Findings indicated that significantly fewer perpetrators of homicide-suicide, compared with those committing homicide or suicide alone, were in contact with mental health services.

  • Joe, Sean. 2008. Preventing suicide: A neglected social work research agenda. British Journal of Social Work 38.3: 507–530.

    Systematic electronic and manual searches for suicide research published in peer-reviewed journals by social work investigators from 1980 to 2006, to understand social work clinical knowledge related to suicide risk factors and effective treatments.

  • Joe, Sean, and Danielle M. Niedermeier. 2008. Social work research on African-Americans and suicidal behavior: A systematic 25-year review. Health and Social Work 33.4: 249–257.

    Social work’s knowledge base for recognition and treatment of suicidal behavior among African Americans is questioned. Findings from a systematic review of social work publications on African American suicide and suicidal behavior describe the state of social workers’ contribution to and knowledge of suicide risk factors and effective treatments.

  • Joiner, Thomas E. 2005. Why people die by suicide. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    Joiner describes three factors that mark those most at risk of death: the feeling of being a burden on loved ones; the sense of isolation; and, chillingly, the learned ability to hurt oneself. Joiner examines his theory against popular theories and provides current facts about suicide rates.

  • Macgowan, Mark J. 2004. Psychosocial treatment of youth suicide: A systematic review of the research. Research on Social Work Practice 14.3: 147–162.

    DOI: 10.1177/1049731503257889

    Review of ten relevant empirical studies was conducted to assess the degree to which current research is successful in reducing suicidal behaviors or suicidal ideation in young people. The findings reveal that most studies had significant methodological limitations. It is concluded the current research on youth suicide prevention remains weak.

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