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Nervenarzt. 2014 Sep;85(9):1117-27. doi: 10.1007/s00115-013-3844-2.

[In truth could nothing on earth help? Kleist's suicide from a psychiatric perspective].

[Article in German]

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Psychiatrische Universitätsklinik der Charité im St. Hedwig Krankenhaus, Charité - Universitätsmedizin, Campus Mitte, Große Hamburger Str. 5-11, 10115, Berlin, Deutschland,


Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811) was a German poet and dramatist. During the celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of his death in November 2011, his double suicide with Henriette Vogel on the shores of the Kleine Wannsee near Berlin was extensively and publicly debated in Germany. The meticulous reconstruction of his suicidal condition demonstrates that often only a few aspects of this condition are highlighted in German-speaking feuilleton or biographies. Contrasting the popular stylization of Kleist's suicide as a "well-defended deliberate self-killing" or a "romantic double suicide" it is argued that: (a) retrospective psychiatric diagnosis or psychological models of explanation are necessarily questionable (so-called pitfall of pathography), (b) Kleist's mental narrowness regarding suicide as a behavioral option was multifactorially motivated and (c) his sentence "The truth is that on earth no help was possible for me" clearly expresses his desperation but delivers no justification for his suicide. On the contrary, from a clinical ethical point of view suicide can only be justified if no improvement of the condition is objectively possible. Even if this would have been the case in Kleist's time, nowadays modern psychotherapeutic and pharmacological means are reliably and easily able to help people in comparable situations. With a discussion and meticulous reconstruction this paper increases the understanding of Kleist's suicide and opens a clear view on his life and works.

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