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is suicide a plague

“Suffering is our problem. Suffering, mental suffering, depression, panic, suicide. Suicide has become a sort of plague everywhere in the world. Suicide, from the Indian countryside, to the Foxcon factory to the Telecom France…according to the World Health Organization, suicide has increased 45% in the last 30 years, the years of the neoliberal dictatorship.” (Franco Berardi)

Is suicide a plague?
the problem

Almost 1 million people die from suicide every year; a "global" mortality rate of 16 per 100,000, or one death every 40 seconds

  • In the last 45 years suicide rates have increased by 60% worldwide
    • Suicide is among the three leading causes of death among those aged 15-44 years in some countries, and the second leading cause of death in the 10-24 years age group
    • these figures do not include suicide attempts which are up to 20 times more frequent than completed suicide
  • Suicide worldwide is estimated to represent 1.8% of total global burden of disease in 1998
    • 2.4% in countries w/ market and former socialist economies in 2020
  • Suicide rates have traditionally been highest among the male elderly
  • Rates among young people have been increasing to such an extent that they are now at highest risk in 1/3 of countries (developed & developing)
  • Mental disorders (particularly depression and alcohol use disorders) are a major risk factor for suicide in Europe and N. America
    • However, in Asian countries impulsiveness is said to play an important role
  • Suicide is complex with psychological, social, biological, cultural and environmental factors involved

World Health Organization

The problem
suicide and modernity

key motivation: to bring moral issues into study of suicide

  • methodological objective: application of sociological method to explain what appears on its face to be an "individual" phenomenon
  • separates distribution of suicide rates and the etiology (causes) of individual cases of suicide
Suicide and Modernity
slide5

Therefore, patterns of suicide rates must depend upon stably distributed phenomena of geographical, biological, or socialkind

  • ED considers geography and biology in detail, but rejects both, focusing on the social factor
19thcentury suicide DATA show stable distributions from year to year interspersed with periodic fluctuations
two key conditions that are chronic in modern industrial society

egoisim: a lack of integration of the individual into the social group

  • anomie: a lack of moral regulation
  • These conditions, in the extreme, pathological form express themselves as:
    • egoistic suicide
    • anomic suicide
Two key conditions that are “chronic” in modern industrial society
distribution of suicide rates in western europe are associated with religion

Predominantly Catholic countries have lower suicide rates than those which are mainly Protestant

  • Both creeds prohibit suicide w/equal stringency, so it's necessary to look for differences in the social organization of the two churches
    • Difference is that Protestantism is founded upon the promotion of a spirit of free inquiry
      • Catholic church is formed around traditional hierarchy of the priesthood, whose authority is binding in matters of religious dogma, but the Protestant is alone before God
      • Protestantism is "less strongly integrated" church than Catholicism
  • Suicide rates are higher among Protestants than Catholics or Jews
    • Jews, like Catholics, are considered more “communally oriented” than Protestants
Distribution of suicide rates in Western Europe are associated with religion
degree of integration in other sectors of society related to suicide rates in same way

unmarried persons show higher rates of suicide than married ones of comparable age

  • inverse relationship between suicide and size of conjugal unit
    • the greater # of children, lower suicide rate
  • suicide declines in times of national political crisis and in times of war
    • in war this holds for those in armed forces and civilians
      • political crises stimulate involvement in events, for a time, bringing about closer integration of society
degree of integration in other sectors of society related to suicide rates in same way
suicide rates occupational structure

Suicide rates higher in industry & commerce vs. agricultural occupations

  • Suicide rates are similarly high in ‘liberal professions’ as in industry & commerce
    • Highest rates among ‘men of letters’
Suicide rates & occupational structure
suicide rates socioeconomic level

Within non-agricultural occupations, suicide rates inversely related to socio-economic level

    • Lowest among chronically poor
    • Highest among well-to-do & those in the liberal professions

 Poverty itself is a source of moral restraint

Suicide rates & socioeconomic level
suicide increases during booms and busts

not simply the result of economic deprivation, since suicide increase in equivalent degree during sudden prosperity

moves both up and down in terms of prosperity have a disruptive effect upon accustomed modes of life

in either case, people’s habitual expectations come under strain

Suicide increases during booms AND busts
egoistic suicide

Egoistic suicide is caused where "the individual self asserts itself to excess in the face of the social self and at its expense…"

    • Egoistic suicide is particularly characteristic of contemporary societies
    • Egoistic suicide linked to the "cult of the individual" in contemporary societies
Egoistic suicide
altruistic suicide
Altruistic suicide
  • in altruistic suicide an individual gives his life for the social group
  • the primary type of

suicide in small,

traditional societies

where individuation

is minimal

which subgroup has the highest rate of attempted suicide

young white males

  • young black males
  • young Hispanic males
  • young Asian males
  • young white females
  • young black females
  • young Hispanic females
  • Asian females
Which subgroup has the highest rate of attempted suicide?

Source: CDC, Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), 2011

the group has these common risk factors for suicide

Highest rates of depression

Highest teen birthrate

Second highest school dropout rate

Research shows that additional factors may play a role; cultural clashes with parents, social isolation, and poverty

The group has these common risk factors for suicide
which subgroup has the highest rate of attempted suicide1

young white males (4.6%)

  • young black males (7.7%)
  • young Hispanic males (6.9%)
  • young Asian males
  • young white females (7.9%)
  • young black females (8.8%)
  • young Hispanic females (13.5%)
  • Asian females
Which subgroup has the highest rate of attempted suicide?

*Audio: "Why Are Young Latinas at Risk?," Talk of the Nation, NPR, 8/29/2006

Source: CDC, Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), 2011