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As one of the most widespread reasons of human death, suicide rates cannot be accurately fixed due to the lack of reported cases. According to the WHO, every year, approximately 800 thousand people commit suicide and even more individuals attempt to do it all over the world. In the United States of America, annually over 42 thousand people die as a result of suicide, which constitutes more than 115 individuals per day (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2014). Unfortunately, the issue is usually associated purely with psychological disorders, depression, and other personal problems. Indeed, committing suicide is more profound than it seems to be and it covers not only psychological and biological, but also social aspects. A famous French sociologist Émile Durkheim in his work Suicide presents the relation between the suicide and social causes. In order to find possible solutions to the problem it is important to emphasize social aspect as one of its major contributors.
Suicide and Its Reasons
Suicide is a phenomenon of depriving oneself of one own life due to a personal desire. In the period of the Roman Empire, suicide was considered to be an honored act. During that time, people adhered to the free human right, which led to many legitimate causes of committing the suicide. Fortunately, today the community treats it as a problem, which has to be eradicated.
Nowadays, the majority of social scientists and psychologist consider suicide as a behavior that comprises psychological, social, and biological aspects. In the first case, psychotherapists treat people who commit suicide as those who suffer from depression or other disorders. Moreover, it has been already proved that some individuals are disposed to the illnesses genetically. Thus, it is more likely that they can commit suicide. Among the general psychological reasons, one can distinguish such disorders as depressive syndrome, alcohol and drug addiction, bipolar disease, PTSD, psychosis, schizophrenia, and other serious illnesses.
The biological factor of suicide can hardly exist apart from the other two described contributors. As it was already mentioned, suicide is caused by a complex set of factors; thus, all the aspects are interrelated. In this way, the majority of psychological disorders are associated with the biological changes of an individual. For instance, impulsive reactions or aggression as well as chronical stress tend to be more than merely psychological issues. Furthermore, gender and age tend to be both biological and social factors, which are hard to divide into two separate categories. Moreover, biological aspect deals with physiological stress system and neurochemical issues, which influence the individual’s behavior and desire to die. On the other hand, social aspect implies stressful environment. For example, low salary, dismissal, divorce, loneliness, and family quarrels can be the causes of suicide. A research conducted by Patrice Corriveau over one hundred years ago in the University of Ottawa showed a direct relation between community treatment of the young people and suicide rates among them (Ungar, 2011). In the late 1800s, girls often killed themselves if they were pregnant and afraid to admit it. In the 1930s young men, who emigrated from European countries and were not able to find a job, killed themselves because of an extreme feeling of failure (Ungar, 2011). These two examples prove the importance of social conditions in the suicide rates.
Fortunately, most attempts to commit a suicide are not successful, but not in result of a personal decision, but due to a timely assistance. At the same time, the goal of the individual is usually not to die, but to get support. Being a call for help, suicide is a cruel method of drawing one’s attention to somebody’s problems. Still, some examples, which are discussed in further chapters, prove that there is percentage of people, whose aim is actually to end their lives.
Émile Durkheim and the Types of Suicide
Émile Durkheim is considered to be one of the key founders of the contemporary sociology. According to the scientist, society can be described as a reality unique to itself or sui generis reality (Jones, 1986), and liminal to its constituents. Sui generis reality can be explained in solely sociological aspect, as it may not be referred to through psychological and biological explanations. In this way Durkheim highlights the fact that society can be scientifically studied. Hence, he created a new method that concentrated on social facts.
The work Suicide, published in 1897, is included in the obligatory psychological program for students. The book reveals that apart from psychological, there are multiple social reasons for a suicide (Jones, 1986). According to the author, “suicide” is a death, which is the direct or ultimate consequence of the positive or negative act, conducted by a person himself or herself (Jones, 1986). The work presents the differences in suicide rates, depending on the social group peculiarities and religion. The scientist pays much attention to the distinctions between Catholics and Protestants. Durkheim claims that Catholics have a lower level of suicide cases, comparing to the second group. He explained it as a result of a stronger social control and unity. Among the other social factors, affecting the suicide rates, the author distinguished gender. According to his research, males are subjected to committing suicide more often than females. Furthermore, the lack of integrity in partnership and family also has negative influence, because suicide is more widespread among single and lonely individuals, while it is seldom among parents and couples. In addition, he claims that soldiers are exposed to suicide attempts more frequently than civilians, and it is interesting that the suicide level is much higher during peacetime than during the war periods. Thus, there are multiple social issues that can influence the suicide rates.
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Due to the above-mentioned fact, it should be emphasized that social factors can become essential contributors to the suicide attempts. In this way, the influence of social integration should be taken into account. A person, who feels that he/she belongs and relates to the society and is a part of the whole, is far from committing a suicide. On the contrary, the one, who does not feel this relation and whose society integration decreases, is more likely to end the life. According to Durkheim and his approach to the classification of suicide, there are four different types of it:
Egoistic suicide is represented by the feeling of full detachment from the society. The most vulnerable category of population in this case is elderly. People are usually a part of the whole when they have family relationships, team work, and other possible social ties. If these ties are weakened or broken due to various reasons, such as for example retirement age, there is a high possibility of committing a suicide.
Anomic suicide is peculiar for people, who feel an anomie, a state which is characterized by the sense of orientation loss in one’s life. It usually occurs in result of lack of social unity. Anomie takes place during the economic, social, and political disorders, and leads to dramatic changes in various fields of a human life. Being confused, lonely, and disconnected, some people resort to extreme measures, including committing suicide.
As far as fatalistic suicide is concerned, it can be present even in traditional societies with an excessive social capital. In this case, the major reason for it is the abundant society control over a person. Among the strike examples, the case of prisoners’ suicide as an alternative to oppression in the institution can be presented. In other words, fatalistic suicide appears due to a strong regulation, which blocks future opportunities.
Another category, which is altruistic suicide, also deals with excessive control, but in this case, the issue covers self-sacrifice for the sake of the group or the whole society. Suicide in the name of political or religious ideals is a bright example of this type. Taking, for example, the airplane crash in the Pentagon into count, one can consider it to be an attempt to reach collective aims through self-sacrifice. Hence, in order to fully integrate in the society, such people are ready to deprive themselves of lives.
Current Suicide Patterns in the US
As it was already mentioned, suicide is one of the top reasons for human lethality nowadays. People commit suicide in multiple ways, but the most widespread methods are hanging and firearms. While the mentioned lethality measures cover eighty percent of fatality rates, self-injuring and – poisoning have lower levels that constitute less than five percent (CDC, 2015). Global researches have indicated that suicide patterns are different in various countries. In particular, due to a high availability of guns in the US, the rates of suicide committed by firearms are increasing day by day. According to the researches, the suicide level has been growing gradually since the year 2000, reaching the point of more than 12 people per one hundred individuals in 2010 (CDC, 2015).
The studies of Durkheim and current researches have certain similarities between the risk factors of suicide. They particularly cover different rates of suicide cases, depending on gender, age, race, family environment, career, education, and some other indicators. According to Durkheim, the prevalence of suicide in definite social groups can be explained by a different level of social cohesion and unity. In this way, if the representatives of a certain group commit suicide more often than the participants of another community, it is caused by the weakening of this cohesion and lack of protection for people, who feel upset. The recent studies of AFSP showed that in 2014 white people had the highest suicide rate, while American Indians and the Natives of Alaska took the second place (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2014). Hispanics, Asians, Pasifics, and Blacks had approximately similar levels that were much lower than the two mentioned above (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2014). Thus, social conditions should be taken into account, when studying the reasons for suicide.
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As far as age is concerned, 85-year people were subjected to committing suicide the most (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2014). According to Durkheim’s position, old people are the most vulnerable category of population in terms of the suicide attempts, which is explained by almost total detachment from the society after retirement. In addition to the social factor, there are also psychological and biological issues, such as undiagnosed depressive syndromes that can progress after the loss of family members or friends (social factor). An interesting fact is that comparing to younger individuals the elderly treat suicide more carefully, planning all the details in order to make the suicide attempt successful. This is the basic reason, why in most cases these attempts are lethal. Among the other causes that one should take into consideration is the fact that health issues decline the chances for survival. The youth have much lower lethality rates, but suicide remains one of the major reasons for mortality within this age category. The other top reasons of it include experimentation with drugs and alcohol, character impulsiveness, as well as stressful transitional period from a teenager to an adult. Thus, age is another social aspect, which influences the suicide level.
The study of American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2015 emphasizes the peculiarities of suicide cases according to gender and age (Schwartz, 2015). Suicide levels increase during the economic fall and decline in the periods of economic increase and positive stability. Basically, in this case suicide victims are mainly middle-aged people, in particular males. In this way, it would be correct to suppose that the major causes that push these people to commit suicide comprise financial and work related issues. According to the study of Toronto Public Health conducted in 2014, the two contributors mentioned above are considered to be the direct reasons of suicide among males, who are at the age from 45 to 64 years (Schwartz, 2015). In the era of technological progress, when a company chooses an applicant for a job position, the preference is given to young people who are full of energy and ideas as well as are aware of the tech development. On the contrary, 50-year-old males are considered not useful enough, despite of their profound experience and background knowledge (Schwartz, 2015). In this way, such people become isolated, detach from society, experience depressions, and eventually decide to die. This fact proves the role of social environment in this problem.
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Improvement of the Problem
There are active debates on the ways of reducing the suicide level in the US. One of the major topics for such debates is the prohibition to own guns. While some people consider this method to be quite effective, others do not correlate the arms with suicide, claiming that if a person decides to die, the goal can be achieved even without a gun. According to logical thinking, the latter statement is correct, but in practice such policy is really fruitful. For instance, the suicide rates in Israel reduced significantly after forbidding soldiers to take the arms during the weekend (VPS, 2015). In this way, this approach can help to decrease the death rates among the US citizens, and especially among males, who use guns more often than women. The implementation of a strict gun policy that would control production, selling, and possession of arms would be the best governmental solution.
Still, people who are obsessed with the idea to end their lives and who are influenced by such factors as social environment, depression, and substance abuse, will not stop even when the last gun is withdrawn. Thus, apart from excluding the suicide tools, it is essential to pay attention to the physical and psychological health of the population as well as to monitor life conditions. This is a task for both the government and a person. Being constantly educated on the importance of psychological balance, people will not neglect visiting psychotherapist as well as will adhere to such preventative measures as minimizing stress, healthy diet, sport activities, changing the place of work for a milder one, etc. One should understand that prevention of a problem is the best way to solve it. Hence, educating people on suicide risks and the ways to avoid them is another significant aspect. In fact, it will be hardly possible without special government programs. Participation of the US government should include insightful presentations, seminars, meetings, TV shows, and other ways of teaching. Moreover, there should be constant inspections of home and working environments. Such measures will be successful in relation to the detection of early psychological problems that arise in childhood, especially under the influence of abuse. They also analyze social issues, related to the working process, such as for example, moral pressure on the employee.
In conclusion, suicide is an urgent issue for discussion all over the world. Even though the problem is usually referred to as a result of the psychological disorder, the real reasons of it can be different. Émile Durkheim emphasized that apart from psychological and biological factors, the social influence should be taken into account. The scientist provided a profound research on the effects of such factors as gender, religion, partnership, and age, on the suicide rates. Furthermore, in the work Suicide he categorized suicide into four types: egoistic, anomic, fatalistic, and altruistic. There is a direct link between Durkheim’s conclusions concerning the high suicide risks within particular population categories and the recent statistics. This is exemplified by high suicide rates among the elderly, certain nations, lonely people, etc. In addition, according to the current studies, there is a relation between the gun availability and suicide levels. Nevertheless, pure elimination of a killing tool cannot eradicate the problem. In order to improve the situation, the government should actively participate in the life of their citizens. Special programs and constant examinations of health, work, and family environment will definitely contribute to the positive dynamics. Moreover, a person should pay more attention to his/her state, change the environment, and consult specialists in case of a need.
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