2020 James McKeen Cattell Fellow

Thomas E. Joiner

Florida State University

Thomas Joiner is a leading authority on suicidal behavior and its prevention. Joiner’s influential interpersonal theory of suicide refutes the public’s tendency to equate suicide with weakness and cowardice. His model holds that suicide risk begins with a sense of feeling disconnected from and burdensome to others, along with a decreased fear of pain and death and the technical competence to kill oneself.

To test and refine the interpersonal theory of suicide, Joiner has worked closely with the US Armed Forces, the Department of Veterans Affairs, firefighters, and other first responders. Further studies in a variety of clinical settings have generated additional support for his theory. Importantly, most of the more than 100 studies published to date on the theory were conducted by teams other than Joiner’s. This body of work speaks to the immense influence of Joiner’s scholarship. It also suggests that his work is inspiring new generations of scientists to study suicide.

Joiner’s work has resonated not only among scholars but also among members of the public. Indeed, Joiner strives to include those bereaved by suicide and those who have survived suicide attempts in research and prevention efforts. Each year, he holds dozens of workshops where community members learn about current suicide research and are empowered by empirically rooted strategies for helping people in crisis.

Joiner’s research has dramatically improved the way suicide risk assessment and intervention is conducted in day-to-day clinical practice, and it has saved lives.

Joiner is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.