Expertscape interviews Prof. Maurizio Pompili about suicide and where the latest research is headed. He is Professor and Chair of Psychiatry at the Sapienza Università di Roma in Italy, where he also directs its suicide prevention service. His Twitter handle is @mauriziopompili.
What do you consider to be the most significant advancement in Suicide research, and what has that impact been?
Prof. PompiliSuicide research has increased dramatically over the past few decades. Until the 1960s, suicide was a most enigmatic phenomenon and impossible to prevent. However, understanding of both psychological and biological aspects of suicidal behavior has advanced the knowledge of what is inside a suicidal mind -- that regardless of the situation, the suicidal mind hosts a drama made of mental pain.
Translating the enigma of suicide into the human experience of suffering provides the opportunity to uncover that, behind the wish to die that energizes suicide, is unbearable mental pain. This pain goes beyond any diagnostic criteria for psychiatric disorders; it points to the sufferance in a perturbed mind.
Make a prediction for us. What do you think will be the next big discovery in the study and treatment of Suicide and what will that mean for those afflicted?
Prof. PompiliI guess, what has been proposed as a psychological construct will be viewed through neuroimaging studies, providing a fuller understanding of what is a real condition occurring both in the mind and in the brain of a given individual.
How did you get involved in the study of Suicide?
Prof. PompiliMany people have asked me this question. I found a topic that specifically suited some aspects of my personality. The fact that I can help people with mental pain resonates with some challenging periods of my life when sufferance was just too much. I've never been involved with suicide risk, but I guess I experienced, unfortunately, sometimes overwhelming mental pain.
Do you have any specific advice for those now entering healthcare, and particularly those interested in this area of study?
Prof. PompiliYes, start with the understanding of the suicidal mind, getting to know how the suicidal process takes place, and read the very first books of those who founded suicidology.
What are the most important questions to be asking?
Prof. PompiliIt is what Edwin Shneidman, father of suicidology, suggested: "Where do you hurt? And how can I help you?"
What are you working on now, and what do you hope to discover?
Prof. PompiliI'm dealing with proposing a new model for depicting suicide. We are exploring variables such as temperaments, mentalization, and childhood physical and sexual abuse.
Here's a chance to talk about your institution. What do you like about working at Sapienza Università di Roma?
Prof. PompiliSapienza University of Rome is a very big and comprehensive academic environment. It is a lively and stimulating place for its great number of students, residents, junior doctors, psychologists, etc. Over the past years, I have been able, with the help of Sapienza, to organize a two-day conference each year on the occasion of World Suicide Prevention Day in mid-September. It has become a very popular event dealing with suicide prevention, receiving more than 2000 requests for registration and more than 40 speakers; it is the International Symposium on Suicidology and Public Health.
Should the public be encouraged by the progress being made in the field of Suicide?
Prof. PompiliYes, by all means. Hope should be the keyword and death is not the main topic in suicide prevention; it is, rather, the understanding of the psychological pain of individuals who wish to live without such drama.
Is there a particular organization that you'd like to talk about, one that is making a particularly important contribution to Suicide awareness, research or care?
Prof. PompiliYes, the International Association for Suicide Prevention is my main reference, I encourage visits to the website.
What makes your work in Suicide research rewarding, and what makes it challenging?
Prof. PompiliIt's rewarding in that I'm able to help people who are suffering, and relieve their pain. It's challenging in that it is not always easy and possible to get rid of suicidal wishes when dealing with patients, and of course the difficulty that comes with limited funds.
Thank you, Professor Pompili.
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