Martyrs' last letters: Are they the same as suicide notes?

Antoon A. Leenaars, B. C.Ben Park, Peter I. Collins, Susanne Wenckstern, Lindsey Leenaars

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Of the 800,000 suicides worldwide every year, a small number fall under Emile Durkheim's term of altruistic suicides. Study on martyrdom has been limited. There has to date, for example, been no systematic empirical study of martyr letters. We examined 33 letters of Korean self-immolators, compared with 33 suicide notes of a matched sample of more common suicides. An analysis of intrapsychic factors (suicide as unbearable pain, psychopathology) and interpersonal factors (suicide as murderous impulses and need to escape) revealed that, although one can use the same psychological characteristics or dynamics to understand the deaths, the state of mind of martyrs is more extreme, such that the pain is reported to be even more unbearable. Yet, there are differences, such as there was no ambivalence in the altruistic notes. It is concluded that intrapsychic and interpersonal characteristics are central in understanding martyrs, probably equal to community or societal factors. More forensic study is, however, warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)660-668
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Forensic Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Genetics


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